Anglican. Baptist. Brethren. Assemblies of God. Vineyard. Elim. Newfrontiers. Foursquare. The list goes on. There are so many churches in the United Kingdom, all with their own worship styles, preaching practices and theological frameworks. But if we're aiming for unity as evangelicals, is it a problem that we are split down denominational lines? Shouldn't we all go to one Church? Amaris Cole asked some her colleagues from across the Alliance.
No. God created us in diversity, with differences in style on so many levels - learning, worshipping, fellowshipping, communing. I suspect if we all went to one Church we'd just end up in a very mono-cultural way of doing things. Meeting with God and other Christians in a diversity of ways is one way of bringing glory to the creator God whose imagination is beyond anything we could… imagine. We could, of course, get a bit better at being more accepting of difference, keeping a check on how valuable our particular preferences really are, and making more of effort to cross those diversity lines. We will be one Church in heaven so we might as well start practising for that perfection now.
While I love the idea of mixing and mingling with people of various theological persuasions, I have to admit that my head hurts at the idea of getting through 10 minutes of a 'united church' service without having multiple theological disagreements/ walk-outs/exorcisms. This might be because I have a varied church history myself, and understand how deeprooted our theological differences and church practices can be. I grew up in the Plymouth Brethren - a preacher's kid, no less - and on the conservative side. Growing up, we didn't have musical instruments in our services - especially drums, as they're the devil's instrument (I know you all thought it was pipe organs), women didn't speak, and anything charismatic was regarded as misled at best, or possibly demonic. We thought a lot of things were demonic. I'm being a bit tongue in cheek of course, but I do see things differently now; I'm part of the Church of England, and definitely on the charismatic side. The worship at our church is LOUD. And our vicar aims for 50/50 representation for female speakers. They couldn't be more different, and I like that. And unfortunately, I know that both sides would find the others' services deeply uncomfortable, if not offensive. I'm not sure what to do with that, to be honest - maybe we could do with learning more, being offended more, by each other's theologies? But the pragmatic side of me feels like this is an issue that won't be resolved this side of heaven. And maybe even then, the angels might have to hide the drums?
Christine Gilland Robinson
Brethren/Church of England
Unity is beautiful. It's a central characteristic of the kingdom of God. Uniformity is not. In a lot of cases it's pretty ugly and painfully represses the
creativity of God and those made in His image. This is where the Creeds are pretty significant. Their role in creating a theological framework that liberates and facilitates space for creativity and diversity is stunning. They help enable the Church to live within both truth and grace.
The Church, in its priestly role of mediating between God and the world, is meant to reflect the divine beauty and glory. No single style, emphasis, or even theological interpretation, will ever do this justice.
So if 'one Church' means a limiting of creativity and reflecting of the divine glory, then no we shouldn't all go to one Church. However, if we could humbly stand together as 'one Church' and accept a breadth of theology, style and emphasis, and if we could choose to recognise Christ in each other and celebrate each other's ability and calling to reflect different aspects of the vast expanse of God's glory, then perhaps formal denominations wouldn't need to exist. There would still be a role for networks of churches with a similar emphasis to relate to and support each other, but the (often arrogant) lines of separation that denominations sometimes create wouldn't be needed.
Previously Assemblies of God/Church of England
Denominations are funny. I've been to a few different churches in my life, all associated with a different body of churches. At the moment I go to an Anglican church that looks like a Vineyard church and meets in a warehouse on an industrial estate, but I used to go to a Vineyard church that met in 17th century church building - and grew up in an independent church that meets in a school hall.
The types of denominations I experienced are all fairly similar. They might have slightly different theology, or ways of doing things - but at the core they are all spirit-filled, Christ-centered communities striving to change the way they live.
Shouldn't we be trying to live together - regardless of denomination or affiliation? Healthy discussion and differing views could then happen within one Church - rather than scattered outside with hundreds of different denominations. Regardless, the most important thing is working together - whether that is within denominations or across denominations.
The Church is not something we go to, rather it's a community of people we belong in. More a family than an event. So then the question becomes should we all belong to one family? And what defines being identified as a member of this family? I think we should all belong to one family, but that there will be some members of the family who we see as immediate relations and others who are more like that distant second cousin you rarely see. And while we might have different surnames and family traditions, there's still that bond of sharing in the same family spirit.