The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins this Sunday. Once again it finds us broken and divided in the Church and the churches. We argue over everything from what color paint to put on the walls of a Sunday school room to who can serve and be served Holy Communion. Some “Christians” promote and thrive on division for one reason or another, usually power, money, and/or recognition. Most in the Church, though, long for God’s people to prove by their life together the power of God to bring harmony and peace. They look to the day when Jesus’ prayer that “they may all be one” (John 17:21) will be made reality. They join the prophet Ezekiel in hope that those who belong to God may be one in his hand (Ezekiel 37:19; the theme of this year’s Week of Prayer).

 

I doubt seriously that oneness will ever be achieved or practiced as once imagined, namely, structurally or by agreement on doctrines. And, indeed, I suspect that kind of unity is irrelevant today. Denominations as institutions simply don’t matter anymore. We live in a post-denominational age. 

 

And that’s actually good news, since it may force us to refocus our energy from ourselves back to where it belongs. As usual, young adults are leading the way in reminding us of the possibilities of paradigm shifts like that from denominational to post-denominational Christianity. Rodger Nishioka, of Columbia Theological Seminary, has pointed to eight trends in the viewpoints and interests of young adults we all need to pay attention to:

 

n  from tribal education to immigrant education;

n  from mission out there to mission right here;

n  from reasoned spirituality to mystery-filled spirituality;

n  from official leadership to gifted leadership;

n  from long-term planning to short-term planning;

n  from mass evangelism to one-to-one evangelism;

n  from “traditioning” to experience;

n  from duty and responsibility to “what’s in it for me?”

 

Nishioka says that the main thing young adults are interested in is not what denomination a congregation is, but whether the Holy Spirit is active there. Do they experience God in the midst of the gathered community?

 

A major indicator of how God is present among a people is their involvement in mission. Post-denominational young adults are telling us that they want to see those nearby (“right here”) served with compassion, given a voice, and treated with justice. I believe it is involvement in such mission—not agreement on doctrine, structure or ordination— that has the potential to unify Christians. As Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity, once famously said, “When you’re up on that roof, it don’t matter if you’re a Baptist or an Episcopalian; it just matters that you can hit the nail on the head.”

 

In serving our neighbors, especially the “least of these,” we serve Christ. Jesus himself said that our commitment to them is the basis on which we will be judged. So I dare say we won’t be held accountable for whether we wore the “right” vestment, believed the “right” doctrine or ordained the “right” people. We can find our unity again or for the first time if we simply follow Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

 

© 2009 Tom Cheatham

 

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