In that amazing way that only seems to come through a sense of God at work by the Spirit, there was a consistent theme running through much of the activity and challenge on the recent trip to Geneva. (Although I suspect that the lecturers who organised the trip would like to claim that that was its intention all along). That theme can probably best be described by paraphrasing (my excuse for poorly translating) the main sermon point from the French service in the Cathedral St Pierre on the Sunday morning:
Unity does not mean uniformity; diversity does not mean division.
It seems to me that one of the main challenges the churches and denominations face, perhaps moreso in this time than any other, is to work with greater integrity and grace with one another. As the Christian faith suffers at the hands of an increasingly secularised society (and, indeed, an increasingly more apathetic society – perhaps the greater danger), the public perception of division and disagreement within the Church (upper-case ‘C’, no one denomination) can only hasten its marginalisation.
The answer, of course, does not lie in creating uniformity and stifling diversity. I can’t think of anything more dire than an army of Christian clones who all act the same and think the same. And indeed, does creation itself not argue against such an approach? How easy would it have been for God to create each person in His own likeness, in exactly the same way, over and over again? Yet that is not what we have. Instead, there is an enormous variety of gifts and talents, of creativity and uniqueness.
Our trip included a visit to the World Council of Churches and it was fascinating getting a first-hand account of what their aims were and the challenges they face. Here, perhaps more than anywhere, the reality of unity without uniformity and diversity without division ought to have been clearly seen. And yet, we still heard stories of disagreements, but also some interesting little hints of change, of long-standing barriers gradually being broken down and challenged.
Of course such changes take time and there will always be voices who oppose such cross-denomination activities. But we were reminded one evening that the Reformed church’s cry of ‘semper reformanda’ is so often mistranslated as ‘always reforming’. Rather its more correct understanding of ‘always in need of reform’ seems to be something that we need to grab hold of as relationships with others develops. It says that we don’t have all the answers or the correct way of doing things. And this, of course, is another cause of Christian ‘clones’ – a sense of having the correct answers and the right way of ‘doing’ church means that one never questions, but simply adopts.
Isaiah 53:6 tells us that we have all wandered off the path, like sheep. We may well all behave like sheep, but with the exception of Dolly, even sheep aren’t clones. Time to stop behaving as though we need to be.