Evolving Questions

Ecumenism – Reflections on the Body of Christ


One of the things I have really been wrestling with lately is “ecumenism.”  I know fancy word.  How fancy?  Too fancy.  Basically I have been wondering about the true unity of the universal Church also known as the Body of Christ.

Last week at the Winona Ministerial Association, I was in charge of the devotional and what had really been weighing on my heart was Paul’s word to the church in Corinth.  Specifically was the passage from 1 Corinthians 1:10-17.  I really enjoy the Message because of the way that Eugene Peterson uses language.  It just jolts and really gets you thinking at times and his rendition of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:11-13 which reads:

I bring this up because some from Chloe’s family brought a most disturbing report to my attention–that you’re fighting among yourselves! I’ll tell you exactly what I was told: You’re all picking sides going around saying, “I’m on Paul’s side,” or “I’m for Apollos,” or “Peter is my man,” or “I’m in the Messiah group.”  I ask you, “Has the Messiah been chopped up in little pieces so we can each have a relic all our own?  Was Paul crucified for you? Was a single one of you baptized in Paul’s name?”

Peterson just makes Paul’s words so “in your face.”  I mean the visual image one gets of Christ being “chopped up in little pieces so we can each have a relic all our own” is vivid and it gets the point across.  In my own reflection I can’t help but read these word’s from Paul and wonder if it couldn’t speak to the Body of Christ today by just replacing Paul, Apollos, Peter, Messiah with names for our denomination (or non-denominations).

So often I feel we give lip service to “ecumenism” or just assent to some ideology we know we are suppose to believe in.  We often talk about how we are all a part of the Body of Christ, etc.  But within the same breath we often make sure to mark the boundaries between “our” Christianity and “their” Christianity.  “I’m on the Methodist side.”  “I’m for the Roman Catholic Church” “John Calvin is my man.” “I belong to the Lutherans”  Is there some point where our demarcations of boundaries actually displaces Christ as the central part of the faith? I often wonder if we truly are the Body of Christ, why don’t we do more together? Why don’t we celebrate when other “denominations” are growing and transforming lives?

It is a struggle I have and I don’t have answers.  I only have questions.  I have to believe that we can overcome the differences and I hope to see it and experience it in my ministry.  I so badly want to see issues that divide us to become secondary to the primary message of the Good News and yet that means all sides have to be willing to come to that point and say we can disagree on issues and still be united.  Can it happen?  And if it can’t does that say something about how we powerful and influential we really feel God is in our lives?

Right now the following picture really feels more to me like what the Body of Christ is like…….

Will "we" have that?

So today at lunch time I went down to the Guild Hall at Central UMC and had dinner with those invited to the “Golden Years Celebration” (read that as those 65+). It was a good time of food and distracting myself by texting the youth that were helping by serving the tables.

At the end of the meal they did a variation on a Hymn Sing. It was a variation because it really wasn’t an open hymn sing where those gathered choose the music but rather was already planned out. Not surprisingly though many of the hymns included in the sing probably would have been chosen by those gathered. As I sat there singing with them and joining the tunes that I grew up hearing my mother play on the piano as she practiced for Sunday worship, I started to ask myself the following questions:

“What will be my generations “hymn sing”? Will there even be such a thing for us or even those a generation before me?”

Now I realize that there is a chance that some “praise” hymns could take the place of those old-time hymns, but I wonder about the staying power since none of the instruments used for “praise” hymns (outside of the piano) seem to have the same staying power as “the organ.” Then I started wondering if we have lost our connection between music and spirituality. Personally, I don’t think that connection is lost. There are so many songs I have heard by what some would call “secular” artists that explore the human condition and navigate the condition through relationship to God in some way. These songs feed my soul, but you know what they aren’t part of “worship” within the church building and to be honest they weren’t written to be sung by “all.”

Have we as a society moved so far away from the corporate task of music in worship that all we have is the “old” hymns or hymns created within the “old” medium to help us join together in song? Obviously this isn’t fully the case as many churches have other mediums than the organ and piano upon which they corporately join in song, but even when that occurs I can’t help but have a feeling of passive reception.

I don’t know if I will ever figure it out. This question is just one of the many questions I have been having about worship lately. As I myself seek to enter into authentic worship that comes from celebrating the presence of God in my life and the community around me, I can’t help but wonder about what worship will be when I am in those “Golden Years.” Will my authentic response to God within the medium of Worship evolve and change as my life changes? I have to believe it will. When I was 17, I had a better chance of connecting with God by interacting with those who had music that connected with the my teenage angst, but now I connect more with the mellow reflective music (granted I still love punk but only in smaller doses)?

Which leaves me with the following question to ponder: When we stick in one pattern of worship to we cease to authentically engage with the presence of God within the work of worship?