you remember those bizarre scenes in Bethlehem last Christmas? In the Church of
the Nativity, supposedly built over the very place where Jesus was born, a
fight broke out between some priests who were cleaning the church in preparation
for the Christmas services.
different denominations share the Church of the Nativity. Each has its own
section, and they guard it very carefully. But during the cleaning, Armenian
and Greek Orthodox clergy became involved in a dispute over that territory. So
about 100 robed priests got into a scuffle with buckets and brooms. The riot
police had to be called in to separate them.
They made no arrests because, said the official police report, “They
were all men of God”.
it’s a strange way for ‘men of God’ to show their godliness.
although most ‘men of God’ don’t go to the lengths of attacking their rivals
with brooms, churches do tend to guard what they consider ‘their territory’
very carefully, don’t they? The various denominations
take their ‘distinctives’ very seriously, whether it be worship styles, what
they allow themselves eat or wear, what days they observe as holy, or which version
of the Bible is the ‘right one’. When we do this, we risk making the same
mistake as the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, who paid great attention to
minute details, but lost the big picture of what worship is all about.
John 17:21, Jesus prayed that his church would be ‘one’. I don’t think he meant
they should all be exactly the same in every detail. As President of Grace
Communion International, I visit churches all over the world. It is unrealistic
to expect a congregation in Africa or Central America to be the same as one in Europe
or the American mid-West. Even in the early church, Jewish and Gentile
congregations did things in different ways.
are those differences as important to God as they are to us? Jesus did not say
we would represent him properly only if we got doctrine, worship, or liturgy
exactly right. He said, “This is how
everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you
have for each other” (John 13:35 The
is why it is important that we work together as Christians, setting aside our
differences and focusing on what we have in common at the center of our faith and worship. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to happen nearly as often as it should. But when it does,
it is very satisfying.
I was invited to a meeting of leaders from several different denominations. There
were leaders from the Assemblies of God, Foursquare, Nazarene, Free Methodist,
Salvation Army, Church of God, Pentecostal Holiness, United Pentecostal,
Wesleyan, Evangelical, Brethren in Christ and a few others I don’t recall. I
was told that this was the second time in the history of the Church that
leaders from 13 Wesleyan based denominations gathered together in this fashion.
Instead of bickering over details, we found ourselves enjoying one
another’s company, and saying so. It was a reminder that the territory which
should concern us as Christians is not our differing customs and traditions. Rather,
we have been given a field to cultivate together–a world that has not heard the
gospel and does not know Jesus and the life he gives us.
Sadly, we offer the world an unattractive and confusing example
when we squabble, fight, and throw brooms at each other. But when we work
together in love and harmony, setting aside our differences, we offer a
positive example–an example that Jesus said would show the world that we are his disciples. And that’s the greatest
privilege we have as his brothers and sisters, and as members of his worldwide
and international Body.
I’m Joseph Tkach, Speaking of LIFE.