Five hundred years ago, our spiritual ancestors were on the cusp of an extended bloodbath of religious violence. In marked contrast, I just enjoyed a three-hour conversation over coffee. Our time was filled with laughter, joy and mutual sharpening. We parted ways with warm hugs. What a difference half a millennium has made. Thanks be to God!
Catholic, Lutheran and Mennonite are the three stripes of the Christian church in the small town where I pastor. While the story certainly isn’t faultless, these three congregations have a history of working together. We have hosted celebration dinners at the opening of one another’s new church buildings. We team up annually for a village-wide Vacation Bible School program.
Together we operate a community thrift store and food bank, and gather for ecumenical worship twice each year. Different flavours, to be sure, but these sisters and brothers in Christ have sought to extend his kingdom side by side.
At points in the conversation, we—the three Christian ministers of our town—nodded in unison with hearty agreement. At other points, we simply listened as the other articulated a theological idea or ministry practice we remained unconvinced about. Throughout, though, the central underlying theme of our camaraderie was this: “Jesus is Lord.”
Together, we unabashedly declare that through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, our sin has been forgiven and the power of evil has been defeated. Despite the variances in our doctrine and practice, we are truly sisters and brothers in Christ.
There is no question that there are some things that puzzle me about the way my Lutheran and Catholic colleagues practise their faith. Some differences give rise to pleasant curiosity. Other pieces I observe with concern, believing them to be distortions of the faith Jesus has called us to. It is my hunch that this is a mutual feeling for all three of us.
Perhaps some might long for the merging of these flavours into one shared expression of the Christian church. I am not convinced. Rather than whitewashing the significant secondary issues which distinguish us, I prefer to acknowledge and respect them. Sometimes, acknowledging the differences and then freeing one another to fully be who you believe God calls you to be, is a more beautiful glimpse of Christian harmony.
Someday, in the new heavens and new earth, we will stand side by side as one indistinguishable people, confessing together that “Jesus is Lord.” We will experience perfect Christian unity. Perhaps then, together we will understand fully what Jesus was getting at when he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Or maybe we’ll have ironed out the exact relationship between faith and works. And possibly, by that point, none of it will really matter.
Until then, we will live and serve as a Christian family here in our little town. We are members of one household, even though we may occupy different rooms. We will worship and serve in unison at some points and diverge at others. In all things, we will declare together, “Jesus is Lord!”
I’m thankful that long, coffee-fuelled conversations followed by hugs have replaced the fear and anger that once was.
Ryan Jantzi pastors Kingsfield-Zurich Mennonite Church, Ont., where he’s fascinated with exploring the interplay between traditional church and new expressions of mission.