January 2009, the Barna Group released an article stating, “By a three to one margin (71% to 26%) adults noted that they are personally more likely to develop their own set of religious beliefs than to accept a comprehensive set of beliefs taught by a particular church. Although born again Christians were among the segments least likely to adopt the a la carte approach to beliefs, a considerable majority even of born again adults (61%) has taken that route.” These statistics on religious isolation are staggering! It seems that people are losing sight on the power of religious unity. Also, does this contribute to or a result of the breakdown in the “family concept” in our world today? Hmmm. Just wondering…
Yesterday, Wednesday April 28th, my colleague Dale Coulter spoke at Regent University Chapel. His message addressed the value of the body and/or community. In part, his concern was that while Christians share the liberty of individual creativity and giftings, there is a fine line between unity in diversity and corruption of community. It is true that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. There is freedom of expression, gifts, creativity, etc. Yet, (as Coulter explained) when the Jazz Ensemble frees the improvisationist to embellish the beauty of a piece with her own creativity, she must be careful that the liberty granted does not destroy the harmony of the whole.
In Galatians 5:13, Paul states, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” The message seems clear that while we have freedom to explore the wonders of God’s truth– all truth is God’s truth, our wondering must neither destroy the whole nor the power and harmony of the whole.
Individuals are increasingly unilateral or isolated in their religious pursuits, but so are churches. Recently, I learned that in Hampton Roads alone, there are approximately 3,000 churches. Each one attracts particular people for different reasons. There is certainly less and less separation by theological stance now than in the last century. Yet, the proliferation of churches continue for several reasons– some seem to be good reasons and others are questionable. These churches offer gifts to the community of Hampton Roads– gifts of various sorts.
I have noticed in my two year residence here and in my travels around the country that by in large the churches are increasingly divided. It is hard to get them together for any common cause. In Hampton Roads, I observed the seemingly impossible task to pull churches together for the purpose raising funds and soliciting relief help for Haiti after the recent earthquake.
Wyclef Jean did a better job pulling Hollywood together and pooling resources to assist Haiti in relief than the churches in this community. I call this a tragedy of disunity! With all of our freedom of worship and ecclesiological structures, there must be practical ways to unify or come together for common existential causes. Yet, I have not witnessed this as a reality. There is no wonder there is so much existential mayhem and decadence!
I have, furthermore, noticed that many of these same churches cling to tragedies and existential challenges as opportunities to score ministry points for their own ministries. They raise funds for national and international tragedies, feed the hungry, pass out turkeys during Thanksgiving and gift baskets during Christmas. At their annual meetings, on their television shows, in their radio broadcasts and newsletters, they announce to their adherents how much they have done for the year. Their followers are excited to hear how many people their offerings fed last Thanksgiving and how many thousands of baskets they gave away at Christmas and how much money they raised for Haiti, Chili or China for relief.
Let’s reason together. How many people eat once a year? How many people need gifts once a year? And if one church can raise this amount of money for an international disaster, how much can we raise as a community of churches?
These are results of individualism that has crept into the churches. Both individual Christians and churches have left the foundation of Christ– Christ is one Body! Our creative giftings as individuals and separate communities interfere with the power of coming together and standing as one!
If we stand as one, our mark in the world for Christ would be more defined! If we stand as one, we can help rebuild local, national and international communities for Christ! If we come together as one, we can make demands in Congress pertaining our fractured world, existential depravity, gang violence, domestic abuse, economic stress, fatherlessness, poverty, communal pangs, and endless distress.
In conclusion, someone sent me an article from Fanhouse,. Sunday evening, April 18th, National Columnist for Fanhouse, David Whitley reports that the field was empty. Just a day earlier (Saturday), the BYU women’s rugby players had happily posed for a team photo under the stadium’s scoreboard. The lights said the Cougars had just beaten Wisconsin-Milwaukee 46-7. Whitley quotes Coach Tom Waqa saying, “We won today. But the girls’ biggest opponent is tomorrow. That is adversity.” However, with a national championship in sight, the girls insisted to decline the opportunity. They refused to play Sunday because they acknowledge Sunday as the Sabbath. As part of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Later Day Saints, they believe that Sunday is the Sabbath holy and must be kept holy.
Having been raised as a Sabbath-keeping Pentecostal, I am aware that Sunday is not the biblical Sabbath. Saturday is more correctly the biblical Sabbath. However, I am attracted to the story above on two fronts: 1. The Cougars played together and defeated Milwaukee. One of these girls could not have won alone 2.) The Courgars made a stand together and insisted to keep the Sabbath holy. If only one of the girls stood, I would congratulate her but she might not have made the headlines. So, I might not know about it. However, the power of unity won against Milwaukee. And the power of unity is the force behind the headlines. A Whole team of uniquely gifted young ladies stood together and tied themselves to principles and standards pertaining Sabbath observance. What a witness!
I am applying a self-evaluation– Where do I fit in these statistics? Am I caught up in my own ideas and intellectual gifts that I have lost hold of the power of a unified stand? What about you?
Standing together, we can change communities and the world!