4:1 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
My grandfather Karl Michael Hanf was in elementary school when he became a Lutheran. When his mother and father and their children immigrated to America they were devout Roman Catholics. When it came time for their only American born son, Karl, a gift of their old age, to enter school, she enrolled him in the parish school where they lived in Toledo. The priest, who incidentally was not German, angered my great grandmother by insisting on charging her for school books on top of his tuition. She thought this was outrageous. My grandfather was pulled out of school and immediately enrolled in the German Lutheran parish school nearby. The Hanfs are Lutheran due to school fees.
I have heard many stories about how we became the shades and colors of Christianity we have become. Some stories involve theological reasons. Those that do I would classify as minor differences in understanding not major, but people disagree. Many involve a conflict with a pastor, an organist, or member. Choosing the church that we belong has become highly personalized.
There are problems with choosing a church like we would the perfect melon at Krogers. Sometimes, we bear gifts that could be wonderful for a “melon” that is not quite ripe. Sometimes, we need to stay and help a pastor mature and grow who insists on charging us unjustly for our school books. After 2000 years of people moving around from church to church in healthy and unhealthy ways we are left with a lot of churches, many that are hostile to each other.
It recently made the news that a few congregations out of over 10,000 were leaving the ELCA over a 2009 sexuality statement that allowed for churches to call a pastor who is active in a homosexual relationship. The 2009 statement didn’t say this was the official position of the ELCA or that all churches had to agree with this choice. It basically said that after ten years of debate, study and discussion, the ELCA could not agree on this issue and for a time would allow different opinions to exist without breaking communion. Our call to be church was stronger than our disagreement over this single issue. Nearly 200 churches disagreed with this decision and many, many, more individual ELCA Lutherans in the pews left for another expression of Christ in their community.
Lutherans have been splitting over issues since Martin Luther was still warm in his grave. Since Luther, Calvin and the other reformers, thousands of denominations have sprung up. Each emphasizes some particular part of faith they have become convinced the church they are leaving is neglecting. These include baptism, communion, Holy Spirit, music, scripture, clean living, and many others. By 2010, if you are Christian in America, you don’t lack for choices.
Paul’s clear hope was that the early church would not fracture like this. For cultural, geographical and temperament reasons, a variety of churches will always be needed. Yet, it should be the goal of all expressions of Christ to work for unity. The things we disagree about are far outweighed by what we all profess, the revelation of God in Jesus. This unifying belief should allow us to not only get along, but to join together in ministry.
At Messiah, we are working towards this. Parkview Presbyterian and St. Pius are partners with us at the Joseph’s Coat ministry. Messiah is part of a large group of Christian churches in Reynoldsburg, that will soon open the doors to an East Side Food pantry. Pastor Thadd is a leader in an initiative called Love Reynoldsburg that on October 16 will draw together 100’s of Christians from more than 12 churches to do something we all agree upon, love our neighbor. On Reformation Sunday, at our 11:00 service the lead choir at St. Pius will come and share a musical gift with us. Their pastor, Monsignor David Funk will take a significant role in the worship service, too. On the day that Lutherans have traditionally marked what divides us; we will announce what unites us.
If we cannot overcome our divisions, we will not be able to communicate invitation, acceptance and grace to our neighbors. All of us in the faith, should work towards unity in Christ, because together we are a much greater witness of love then we ever are apart. To summarize Paul, one Spirit, one Father, one baptism, one Lord of all, one faith unites us all.
Peace, Pastor Karl