One of my favorite elements about the yearly luncheon hosted by CRM in the fall, is the opportunity to sit in the room with ministries that represent the diversity that exists in the body of Christ along lines of culture, ethnicity, denomination and language. Lutherans, Catholics, Non-denominational, Evangelical Free Church, Presbyterian, Methodist and others gather each year to share about the ministry that God has bestowed upon them.
Represented are numerous cultures and ethnicities, each bringing an understanding of the Christian faith reflective of their cultural backgrounds. As a Catholic, the more I became familiar with the diversity that exists within the Christian community, the more I appreciated God’s vastness as well as the witness of Christ’s incarnation.
Christian Unity Week was recently celebrated. You would wonder why as Christians, we can’t just all seem to get along, and to those looking in, the divisions are one of the first things they bring up as a barrier for them. Can’t say I don’t blame them at times. Sometimes I wish it were as easy as “Why can’t we just love Jesus.” And actually when it gets down to it, that is what we desire. But the reality is, we all show love in different ways. My dad’s way of telling me he loved me was to ask if I needed any more golf balls. It is what he loved and that was how he showed his love for me. Fortunately I got that.
We must allow for God to express love to us and for us to return it through a diversity of expression, lest we tie the hand of God. I once heard that Catholicism meant a “universal” church, but not a “uniform” church. This describes the body of Christ. Each revelation of God’s love, expressed through each body, congregation and denomination, reveals that much more of God. Make me think of the title from J.B. Phillips’ book, “Your God is Too Small.” Something to avoid! So I am challenged to learn more of the history of Christian denominations and the work that God did through these faithful ministries, often in the context of a certain time and place. We have much to learn, and unfortunately, much to lose.
Christianity is an incarnational tradition. Jesus came into this world to be a living sacrifice for us. But the cross is part of a larger Biblical narrative. Jesus provides an incarnational expression of how God’s love is mediated, and yes, within the prevailing culture of the day. God mediated to us through Jesus, what is meant to live as a follower of Christ. We must avoid Gnostic tendencies and seek to encounter our culture as Jesus did.
Pope Francis in his recent address for Christian Unity Week, spoke these words: “This evening, as we gather here in prayer, may we realize that Christ, who cannot be divided, wants to draw us to himself, to the sentiments of his heart, to his complete and confident surrender into the hands of the Father, to his radical self-emptying for love of humanity. Christ alone can be the principle, the cause and the driving force behind our unity.”
The theme for Christian Unity Week was: “Has Christ Divided Us?”. I agree with Pope Francis when he says the Christ “cannot be divided,” but it does not mean that we need to be “uniformed.” Let us be mindful of what is truly of God and what is truly of our culture, so that we live and learn from, and with our differences, gathered around Christ who unifies us in the deepest sense. God’s Peace.
Dr. James Puglisi is the Associate Director of Campus Ministry at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. He received his B.A. from Allegheny College, Meadville, PA in Anthropology of Religions received his Doctor of Ministry from Catholic Theological Union in the area of Practical Theology. His doctoral writing was titled “Shalom: The Role of Truth Telling in Creating Communities of Racial Reconciliation within Institutions of Christian Higher Education.” He teaches courses in the area of migration and culture and has presented at conferences on racial reconciliation and inter-religious dialogue. He is originally from Pittsburgh, PA.