If, like me, your memory of British TV goes back a few years you will have instantly recognised some of the characters from BBC’s Play School, sitting underneath the famous Play School windows. In every episode the time would come when one of the presenters would introduce a film clip of an activity or an exotic place by saying, “Today we can see such and such a thing through the square/round/arched window”.
For me, this is one way of thinking about the advantages of followers of Jesus being ‘one’. Each individual Christian, local church or denomination is like the view through one of the windows.
Imagine that through the windows we catch glimpses of what God is like and what he does in the world around. Put all the views together and you get a much bigger picture of God than each of us would have as individuals.
In his book “The Body Broken”, Robert Benson is discussing the ways we come to know God. He says:
“Think of…large windows, so to speak, through which groups of people are looking in order to catch a glimpse of the Mystery itself. Certain groups look primarily through certain windows: Catholics rely heavily on the view through the window of tradition, while Baptists look more through the window called scripture…While none of us, either as groups or individuals, are likely to be found looking only through one window, our primary points of view are pretty clear. One realises pretty quickly that no one window affords a view of the entire Mystery itself. One can also say that in the course of one’s own journey, one has looked through different windows and different combinations of windows.”
If you don’t respond to the ‘Playschool illustration’, maybe the “Cathedrals and Chapels illustration” will work for you. This is developed by Brian Zahnd in his book “Beauty will save the world”.
Put succinctly, a cathedral is a huge building which often contains several chapels, all of which may be used simultaneously for worship. If Christianity is the cathedral, built around our confession of “Jesus is Lord”, then the denominations are the chapels where we each worship according to our own particular understandings of our faith and practice. This is great as long as we don’t make the mistake of thinking that one of the chapels is the whole cathedral…although this seems to be all too common.
Zahnd goes on to describe a significant discovery:
“One of the greatest discoveries I have made in my Christian journey is the discovery of the entire Body of Christ – the whole vast cathedral of Christianity…Whether it’s Orthodox theology and art, Catholic appreciation for mystery, Anglican liturgy and prayer, Protestant prominence of scripture, Evangelical emphasis on conversion, Pentecostal experience of the Holy Spirit – all of these ‘chapels’ have their particular treasures that have made Christianity for me much more rich, beautiful and astonishing.”
A bigger picture of God, much more humility about our own interpretations and theologies, a larger resource for worship and prayer, a united witness, and a chance to represent the alternative and subversive Kingdom of God all flow from our commitment to be one church in our locality and our world, meeting in different places and in different ways but united in our love for Jesus, our love for one another and our love for those who have yet to be introduced to Jesus.
That excites me.