How Diverse Can A Church Be?

How Diverse Can A Church Be? June 9, 2010

When it comes to certain kinds of diversity, there is no limit. The church of which I am a member, Crooked Creek Baptist Church, has been racially integrated since it was founded.

When it comes to other kinds of diversity, it seems that it may be a challenge to have any kind of integration at all. Can people who prefer to worship with hymns, those who like something in the genre of rock, and those who prefer country ever worship together?

OK, so that last point was sarcastic (even if it contains a grain of truth). And whereas the first point may seem self-evident to many, it is clear that even today some churches have not actually achieved racial integration. That too deserves attention.

But in this post I want to focus on matters of theology and practice, because the Parchment and Pen blog recently asked “How Theologically Diverse Should Your Church Be?” I found the post disappointing, since its tone is regularly sarcastic where a genuine answer would have been possible.

For example, take the question (and rhetorical question/answer) “If I were to allow someone who believes in infant baptism to be on the staff, what do we do? Dunk adults at night, sprinke children at day?” Why could a church not consist of individuals with different views on baptism? Why could a church community not celebrate together with those who are baptized as adults and those who choose to baptize their children? Why is it apparently so hard for some people to say “I personally think things should be done another way, but I understand why you prefer to do it this way, and I can offer you community, friendship, support, encouragement and celebration, while continuing when occasion presents itself to discuss the things we disagree about”?

On related topics, Homebrewed Christianity has a series “Stuff Liberal Christians Like,” and the Episcopal Church struggles with different visions of the church’s exclusivity and inclusiveness, unity and diversity. Some Evangelicals are seeking dialogue with Muslims where others don’t know enough about Islam to do more than repeat stereotypes. And Evangelical concern for the environment is not a contradiction in terms, although here too there is ongoing disagreement.

And some react to diversity in the manner illustrated in this cartoon from NakedPastor:

Let me conclude by linking to an article by New Testament scholar David Aune on the New Testament as the root of Christian diversity. Here’s a quote to close with: “Diversity is a sign of vitality, not of decadence…Since most of our theological language is analogical rather than univocal, or metaphorical rather than literal, it seems to me that we do a basic disservice to the theological task when we transform diversity into contradiction, varieties into irreconcilables. Diversity is not only a sign of the vitality of the Christian religion, it is absolutely necessary if Christianity is to be meaningful and living for people of radically different social, cultural and historical contexts.”

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