7 Reasons for a Muted Celebration of Church Union
That moment of tribalism known as our denominational anniversary will soon be upon us, and we will be asked to celebrate. Here are seven reasons why our celebration should be muted, or perhaps avoided altogether:
Denominations are a human construct. The church was created by God, born in the fire and wind of Pentecost, and continues to be a source of mercy and grace for countless millions around the world. Individual denominations, including our own, should always be regarded as a minor scandal in furthering the Realm of God. John 13:34-35 ("A new commandment I give you...") demands that the followers of Jesus focus on the kind of unity that will inspire others. He didn’t mean be true to your tribe.
Denominations come and go. The church I serve was founded in 1821, and has been part of five denominations so far: Methodist Episcopal (USA), Methodist Episcopal (Canada), Wesleyan Methodist, Methodist Church of Canada, and The United Church of Canada. It would be naive to assume that the latest one is the last.
Ninety years is a blink of the eye. So we’ve managed to survive for four-and-a-half percent of the history of the Christian Church. In human terms, we’ve just learned to tie our shoes.
We still have much for which to apologize. The Presbyterian Church in Canada only wanted to use their own name, the name they had from 1560. Instead, we forced them to go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada just to get their own name back—the case wasn’t settled until 1939. For that, and countless other things, we still have lots of soul-searching and apologizing to do.
We’re a confused mess right now. This year’s theme seems to be ’change everything and do it quickly.’ When you close one church a week, people look to their leaders for stability, not a reckless desire to suddenly change everything.
Denominations don’t matter to the next generation of Christians. This is a hope-filled idea we tend to ignore. The Christian Church has a bright future, but our denomination—the jury is out. The Good News of Jesus Christ will still have the power to transform lives long after we’re gone (see #2).
It feels like that “team meeting” just before Walmart opens. “Go team!” feels a little forced right now, and I’d rather just pray for believers around the world who need encouragement.
Our denomination is great—most days—and we can be proud of the many things we have done. But too much celebration feels like triumphalism, even empire. So let’s give one cheer for the team.