During her first week of brushing up on church history, writer Rachel Held Evans began a blog list of learnings with this statement: "Christians have never been in full agreement when it comes to theology." In Worlds Within a Congregation: Dealing with Theological Diversity, Paul Jones writes,
There is no such thing as the Christian faith, in the sense of anything resembling a common, agreed upon substance of belief held as a uniform center by those calling themselves Christian. Currently there are more than two hundred fifty recognized denominations, which together weave the tapestry called American Christianity.I am comforted and challenged by these reminders. I've been reminded lately that no matter how clear we are about our mission and values, churches wind up being a collection of such a variety of individuals. We bring our many experiences, backgrounds, personalities, and previous church histories with us. We see God, scripture, life and ministry from different angles. It's what makes things lovely and beautiful...and very difficult.
The question on my mind is just how much theological diversity faith communities can handle without a disruption in fellowship. Is there a way of being church in which the lines that have been drawn in the sand splitting so many faith groups, congregations, and denominations can be avoided?
Theological diversity is nothing new as Jones affirms, "What is new in our era, then, is not the fact of diversity but the call of the church to celebrate this diversity in a gesture of rare and expectant honesty" (p.36).
New and existing congregations have the opportunity to be safe places of belonging, where we can wrestle with our beliefs, honestly express our different perspectives and still practice the way of Jesus together. We have the opportunity to express the gospel in our context as we say no to allowing differences to divide us and yes to peace and love toward each other. Instead of huddling together with a homogeneous group of like-minded followers, we have the chance to work out our beliefs with fear and trembling.
That is good news for those who think they have to believe before they belong.
That is good news for churches.
That is good news for all of us, if only we would dare to embrace it.