In the last extended time Jesus spends with his disciples, He prays this prayer: "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17)
This seems to indicate that the idea of "oneness" is a big deal; so much so that the witness of the Christian Church, as a whole, is contingent on the notion of unity. The way this is often interpreted in the modern ecclesiastical world is this: “You (the other 8,632,970 flavors that are not mine) are welcome to conform to my flavor. Then we’ll truly be one and look like Jesus.” I think this way too, by the way. Feel free to conform to me. It will go better for you in my world, and in God’s, if you do. I believe I have it right, based on extensive study, prayer, and application of hermeneutical principles interpreted in the light of contemporary sociological and political events, as well as a direct pipeline from God to my soul. In Enneagram terms, this is classic Type 1 (Reformer) thinking. It is somewhat balanced by my Enneagram wings, which are Type 9 (Fuck it; leave me alone) and Type 2 (Why don’t you like me?). You think I’m joking? You must not know me well. I’m not kidding. Join me in the Truth, which is not Flavor #8,632,971, but a return to the original, Jesus-lovin’ deal.
God help me, I do think this way. This is a core part of my personality.
An alien anthropologist, tasked with chronicling the many varieties of Christianity currently found in America, would have a difficult time finding much in common in the 8,632,971 different flavors of Christian Church he/she/it would encounter. In one church, a man in an ornate purple and gold robe might be found chanting 3rd-century theology while slinging incense toward an altar. In another church, a hundred people might be found sitting around in a circle, sitting in silence that was only broken up by periodic a capella songs. In still another church, a rock band might be found strutting and fretting its hour upon the stage, leading fervent hootenannies expressing Jesus Is My Girlfriend sentiments. This is the American Christian Church – or actually just a tiny snapshot of it – circa 2019.
This is hardly a startling revelation. The Christian Church is nothing like the Christian Church. Really. Verily, even. It’s okay. Jesus – the Jesus the gospel writers wrote about – is now 2,000 years removed from leaving footprints in the sand except in the most metaphorical of senses. And like the telephone game in which a message is passed from one addled hearer to another, on and on down the line, the message in 2019 often bears little resemblance to the message that simple Galilean fishermen heard in the first century.
The standard response to this conundrum is that Christians are united by our belief in Jesus. Sure, the forms and the styles and yes, even the doctrines vary from group to group. But we’re all one in Jesus. We are family. All my brothers and sisters and me. We are family. Get up everybody and sing.
I like this sentiment. It’s catchy. My experience in living it has been less than ideal, both on the giving and receiving end, but it’s a nice theory. The problem is, and always has been, which Jesus we accept as the source of unity. And in the age of Rorschach Jesus, all 8,632,971 different flavors of Him, the issue is more confused, and the various Jesus Follower camps are as divergent and as diametrically opposed as they have ever been. Again, there’s nothing new under the sun. In Germany in the 15th century, Catholics slaughtered Lutherans, and Lutherans slaughtered Catholics, and Catholics and Lutherans together slaughtered Calvinists, and the poor, peace-loving Anabaptists, the forerunners of the Mennonites and Amish and Brethren, never stood a chance. They were wiped out by everybody. Praise God. This is how it tends to go, and how it has always gone. And this is the way it’s going in 2019 as well. Christians not only disagree with one another; they believe things that directly contradict one another and are diametrically opposed to one another.
United in Jesus means beating your swords into plowshares and toting your AK-47 into the sanctuary. It means loving and serving immigrants with the special love God has for them and caging immigrant toddlers at the border. It means believing that personal character and ethics matter and that it’s no big deal to carry on an affair with a porn star while your wife sits at home caring for your infant son. It means being “pro-life” for babies in the womb and treating born people with brown skin, or different religious beliefs, with hatred and scorn. This is the American Church in 2019.
Rorschach Jesus. Which one(s) will you follow? What and where is the unity? I wish someone would let me know.