We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Friday, February 7, 2014

Unity is Not That Simple

In a posting entitled, "Unity not Uniformity in Post-Christendom," blogger John Vest offers a solution to the ongoing decline of American churches and denominations, which is to discover a new mentality that values a deeper unity in our diversity.  As he sees it, all of our denominations continue to be infected with a Christendom mentality that is the legacy of our past.  When Christianity became the Empire's state religion, theological uniformity of belief became a driving concern  of the imperial government, and we have been infected by that concern ever since.  In the U.S., each denomination has continued to insist on uniformity within its fellowship, which has brought us to the era of decline that is our current state.

Writing as a Presbyterian, Vest suggests a denomination like the Presbyterian Church (USA), "could reinvent itself as a post-Christendom denomination by abandoning its insistence on uniformity. We could develop a polity that allowed conservative and progressive churches to coexist with different beliefs and practices. We could discover and articulate what unites us without having to impose uniformity. This would be a post-Christendom move."

There is a serious problem with Vest's suggestion.  For those who feel a deep concern for theological uniformity, which they would call "integrity" rather than "uniformity," the demand for an end to a shared commitment to a core set of theological principles is itself the imposition of a liberal uniformity on them.  It is liberals who want to "coexist," and from a traditional perspective that is exactly "the problem with liberals": they are seen by many traditionalists as constantly compromising those things that are most important and precious.  The call for non-conformity, then, is itself a demand for conformity.  Vest is exactly right when he notes that all of our American denominations have inherited the DNA of Christendom.  It is so deeply rooted in us that we can't escape its reality.

The "way out" is not unity.  We are different.  We will remain different.  The way out is for churches of all stripes to discover ways to reconnect themselves with the Spirit as best as they can and to pursue their ministries and fellowship in as Christ-like a manner as possible.  For progressive, we simply need to accept the reality that a large number of churches and denominations are going to continue to demand that we conform to their theologies.  Our "problem" of course is that even if we were to choose one of the more traditional theologies, a hundred other more traditionalist groups, churches, and denominations would still condemn us for not adhering to their theology.  Unity just isn't going to happen however we slice it.

Instead, we need to get on with the business of being the most faithful and spiritually alive churches that we can be and leave unity to that day when the Kingdom dawns.