In the current issue of Outreach Magazine, Pastor Bobby Gruenewald of LifeChurch.tv suggests four themes in the future of the church. One of the themes he identifies is, “The church of the future will become more unified.” Gruenewald believes that as the church of the 21st century realizes that there are many other belief systems and philosophies that offer various paths to God, Christians will come together around the lordship of Christ and become “more like the church Jesus started.”
I might argue that Jesus really started a movement not a church, but I understand what Gruenewald is saying and agree with the sentiment. Followers of Christ, no matter what their backgrounds, should be able to find their commonalities as they address the needs of the world. This can only be a good thing. Making a commitment to overlook the secondary differences that divide us and find ways to work together in mission and ministry can only bless the Kingdom of God. However, if Gruenewald thinks that this will mean we will more uniform in the way we do church, he is missing the real point of unity.
We are too far down the path of contextualized ministry to expect everyone to do things the same way. If anything, we have learned that by sharing the gospel in many different ways, we can reach many more people for God. Although each person has a common need for God, the way in which God speaks to that person is unique. Believers are called to join with others in worship and ministry, but this can still lead to a great deal of diversity in practice and belief among worshipping communities.
As Christians learn to work together, they build up and encourage one another. This is especially true when we share our various experiences and learn from one another. There are several blessings that will come as we learn to respect one another’s differences even as we find new ways to work together.
First, we will develop a greater appreciation of the rich worship experiences practiced by those of different ethnic backgrounds. These experiences embody the struggles and victories of God’s people down through the ages.
Second, we will come to see that those of a different economic background will perceive God’s action in the world in a variety of ways. This provides a different theological lens by which to interpret scripture.
Third, we will recognize that as Christians from various cultures work to reform their societies, they often adopt methodologies that may seem strange to us, but we will also find that we can learn some lessons from their strategies.
Fourth, we will understand that in the global church each tradition has something to offer that enriches the whole Body of Christ. We will come to really understand that the church is more than the sum of its individual parts.
Although we are called to serve the same God, we bring our own unique experiences to that service. Effective service in the Kingdom of God is based on faithfulness not conformity. We can learn much from one another.