We had the opportunity to experience this first hand this summer through joint services between Fourth Avenue Baptist, Glebe St-James United, and St. Giles Presbyterian churches. Each church is unique, not just of course in its building, or even its expression of worship, but in its people. The highlight for me was the addition of a fourth Gebe church for one Sunday, the “Centre Evangelique Foi et Victoire.” As you can probably guess this is a French speaking congregation. What you may not have guessed was that many of its people come from Africa, and so an African flavour (not to mention vibe) was added to our combined worship that Sunday with expressions of worship in French, Lingala, and Swahili. A unique experience for us all! In fact seeing Baptists and Presbyterians dancing was like witnessing a miracle! And I was glad my translator warned me that the French would sound longer than the English. Otherwise I might have concluded that those listening in French were getting a different sermon (and perhaps better!) than those listening to me in English.
Why is every church unique? Is it the failure of some head office somewhere to apply certain standards across the board? No, the Christian Church was never to be an experience of franchise. Instead, the Christian Church is to be the experience of family. And just as every family across the globe is unique, so too is every individual Christian family. This diversity is wonderful and to be celebrated, even enjoyed on those occasions we come together for wider ‘family re-unions.’
Not that there are no standards of course. The central confession of the Church worldwide today is the same as it was in the early days of the Church. The first Christians responded to the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus with the confession “Jesus is Lord.” Despite our diversity, this is the central confession that still binds us together. The resurrection and lordship of Jesus is what we find in the Bible. This is what we recognise every Sunday, “The Lord’s Day,” a day chosen for worship as commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus on a Sunday (and not because we think it is the Sabbath – it is not!).
Now some may say, “but pastor, this goes against the diversity of the Church you have just been celebrating as there are some churches today that are not comfortable with the affirmation that Jesus is literally raised from the dead or is ‘Lord’.” Indeed some church folk have written off the possibility of miracles and so have thrown the miraculously conceived baby Jesus out with the bath water. But to be a Christian church and be uncomfortable with the miraculous resurrection of Jesus would be like having a restaurant called “the Greasy Burger Pit,” that refuses to have meat on the menu. It leaves us asking that age-old question, “where’s the beef?”
The Church: A wonderfully diverse family of families. Each is unique, but it is not “anything goes.” We are not McDonald’s, but I’m lovin’ it.