As I explore the shape of my spiritual unsettling I'm brought back to the understanding that the locus of our life is we're all "in Christ." If we know him as Reality there is a fathomless union of great mystery we share with one another even if we don't apprehend it from one day to the next. Our union is spiritual and organic; eternal and now; seen and unseen. Christ has knitted us together as brethren, including those who came before and will come after until the new heaven and the new earth are joined in eternal liberation.
This "mystical" but real-time union has the power to make porous the "containers" we're so used to, and open us to our common filial heritage and identity, I think. Our discreet spiritual communities are part of a relational tapestry which reaches into eternity, but ties us here to brethren all over the earth, one Body in many countries, intertwined and "led by (his) cords of kindness and bands of love." (Hos. 11:4)
I bet for most of us if we really thought about it, the notion we're tied in union with Christ, and in family together has more the character of a spiritual platitude than a lived out reality. Our divisions are legion - everything from theology to spiritual practice to politics. Such differences have served for centuries to "contain" our individual spiritual and church identities, for all intents and purposes working to sequester us behind walls of our own crafting. Sometimes in the history of the Body of Christ we've even killed over spiritual and theological convictions of purity and practice. Our containers fostered hatred with heads held high.
I realize there've been substantial issues to clarify and resolve in the history of the Church, but in those resolutions we suffered collateral damage in the sundering of the Body into Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Copts, Methodists, Episcopalians and Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Church of Christ, Church of God, non-denominationals, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Quakers, Calvary Chapellians, the House Church movement, missional Jesus-followers, and on and on. Even with some denominations there is further splintering over sectarian jots and tittles, all held with great fervor and a keen sense of righteousness. Notice I included "churches" many would consider cultish, and perhaps they are. But all of them see they are living the proper and true Christian life. Many might even extend the same distinction to most of the others on the list, but how much reaching across the table goes on, I don't know. I know some does.
The point I want to make clear in this post is life in union with the Holy Spirit is the "brew" I keep referring to. The Holy Spirit needs no "container." Jesus has made us justified to God through our faith and we have peace with him. (Ro. 5:1) Through grace and by faith, we are at peace with God, and he sees us as dearly loved children called to live a life of love. (Eph. 5:1) Such a life of love not only must extend into our communities with folks who do not follow him, but we must begin to love our brethren who attend the church up the street, down the road, or across town. I know there are differences we have to recognize and more than likely will still disagree over (Oh, that church [smirk]), but if we shelter in our own faith community, we miss the opportunity to create common ground, and learn how to have differences, even substantial ones, while rallying around what we all hold dear or feel convicted about. It's not been tried much as far as I've experienced in my 40 years.
I'm also talking about more than being ecumenical. I'm talking about being brethren, unified passionately in a suffering world where we need to take the astounding resources God has given the Church on earth, pool them as the Spirit summons and directs (which he will more than we realize if we let go a little) and get on with feeding plus equipping the poor, drying the tears of the rejected, rescuing and enfranchising the oppressed, protecting the tyrannized while proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor to all who will listen. I don't believe God created the church to divide and stay in our containers until Kingdom come. They can't sufficiently contain the "brew" (no more than a 8 oz. glass can hold a 16oz. bottle of stout in one pour) of a Holy Spirit who will fulfill the redemptive Kingdom mission through the Church everywhere, including some churches you and I might be betting against that such a thing would ever happen.
Here's my question: what if we decided to ask God to forgive us for all the ways we've been willing to settle for the acceptable containers of our own churches. What if we repented and came out from behind the walls to reach across the table and forgive one another for choosing separation because of "irreconcilable differences." What if we dedicated ourselves to pooling resources: people, money, creativity, ideas, spiritual and natural gifts, time, buildings, etc. What if mature, courageous gracious, and irenic leaders from every flavor church in the neighborhood got together to humbly listen to God for a period, and then reach across the table to pursue what God has summoned them to. What if we learned to hear why our brother or sister took a position which seemed so irrefutably wrong? What if we listened for the heart animating the choice and chose to build a Kingdom relationship anyway? What if we let God sort it out and got on with fiercely reflecting Jesus to the world on our watch?
I know it's hard to "fellowship" with folks we feel are so egregiously in error, but is anyone defined solely by one set of ideas if you scratch below the surface? I know we can be wildly stubborn even contentious when we're right (on both sides of the ecclesial table, by the way), but there are epochs in the history of Man (yeah, I know I used the masculine pronoun for both male and female, so sue me) when a deeper, maturer and more grace-soaked wisdom and love is required. I believe we are in or heading into such times. Even with theological and social and political differences we can serve Christ as he pursues the least of his brethren and the most stubborn of his errant people. Sometimes miracles occur when we just say the meagerist of yes's to him; "I'll go if you'll make me able."
We know full well what it's like to walk apart. We've had centuries of that. What if we found out what it was like to walk together with those on the other side of the table who are willing to walk with us?
We're going to need to do that, mark my words...best start now.
If you didn't notice by now, the "container" I'm referring to is not frangible, but fluid and unseen. The Holy Spirit is like the wind, it: "blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going." He can't be pinned to the mat, kept in a box in the drawer, or contained in any one church or denomination. He blows through walls we erect. He goes where we'd rather look away. He's a friend of sinners, including those who offend or trouble our delicate spiritual sensibilities, including other Christians.
When we unite to be guided by the Spirit our "containers" become porous and permeable. We begin to look human and inviting. The broken and bent over aren't afraid of us or ashamed because of their failures and faults. They can glimpse Christ, many for the first time because our containers don't keep them out, and our containers don't block our view of others engaged in following the same Spirit, but not exactly as us, the true believers. I suspect the Spirit is calling us all to follow him together rather than maintain our own spiritual territories, pedigrees and positions on the issues of the day. We might even trust each other a tad. Can you imagine? I'm just beginning to.