A year ago, I wasn’t thinking much about the universal church, that body of Christ consisting of all people who have put their faith in Christ’s death and resurrection for salvation.
But then again, most of you probably weren’t either : )
In fact, (forgive me if this comes as quite the shock), I’d never really thought much about the universal church at all! Why would I? Having had plenty of personal friends at church I was content to leave the rest of Christendom (whatever that was) to itself.
Growing up I’d had some vague idea that there were other Christians “out there” who didn’t look like me (in my church-approved culottes : ) and who didn’t go to a church like mine. But that vague awareness stayed pretty hazy and I never got around to being judgmental about those Christians. Some people around me seemed fixated on impugning those people (their motives, music, actions, dress, and relationships), but I didn’t really care. Again, I had my friends (also in culottes) so I was good.
As a teenager I began to skim the surface of the deep and murky waters of ecclesiology because, well, I met some Mennonites. And some Methodists. And even one (lonely) Presbyterian. And, wait a minute, they believed a lot of what I believed! They were Christians too?! Awesome! (Because you know, there was that one Mennonite boy that I’d developed quite the crush on…)
Anyway, by the time I’d graduated college, I’d had a chance to interact with these other branches of Christianity and I was happy to discover that yes, you could disagree on a mode of baptism, church governance and even end-times scenarios and still truly love Jesus and trust him for his redemptive work on the cross. Yay for the wide reaching arms of the gospel! However, given the information I had at the time and people that I ended up befriending, I decided to continuing throwing my lot in with the Baptists. They were my people. (And it probably didn’t hurt that I had settled down and finally picked a nice Baptist boy to marry, much to by parent’s and pastor’s relief, I’m sure.)
So there I was. Happily married and ready to remain content and comfortable within my small circle of Baptist friends. Sure, there were other, different¸ Christians out there, but I didn’t need to think about them too much. I read a book or two by a Presbyterian (and enjoyed some heated discussion with Paul about infant baptism.) I enjoyed the solemnity of a Plymouth Brethren breaking of bread service. And, sure, I visited a Mennonite congregation to listen to their gorgeous four-part hymn singing. But the universal church as a concept? What did it really matter? How would it ever impact my everyday life?
Enter the event that completely upended my comfortable life; Paul’s selection as a Chaplain for the US Air Force.
More importantly, Paul’s assignment to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and his new job as the pastor for the Prairie’s Gospel Chapel Service.
Suddenly Liz was not in her Baptist Kansas anymore.
The truth is that over the last nine months I’ve had close interactions with people from the following denominations; Full Gospel, Reformed Baptist, AME, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian Church of America, Independent Baptist, Plymouth Brethren and Vineyard. I’ve visited several services from some of those groups and most recently went to a conference comprised of even more branches of Christianity.
It’s been a lot to take in, frankly.
But as I’ve been taking it in, I’ve also been thinking about the gospel and it’s unifying effect. The phrase, “we’re more alike than we’re different” has been ping-ponging around in my head for a while. And since that dumb ping-ponging is getting old, I’ve decided to write down my thoughts and put them into two blog posts ; )
Hopefully, some of what I write will give you all some clarity about what exactly we are doing in ministry out here (I’ve gotten a sense of confusion when I talk to people, “wait, he’s a pastor? But a chaplain? What??”) and hopefully it will also fling some thoughts out there so that they can ping-pong in your head too (I’ve heard that’s how you get rid of the ones in my head : ). I’ll write about my experience of being the minority in a church (it’s really awkward) and I’ll write about the unifying quality that I have seen in all the believers that I’ve met (it might not be what you think.)
It may be that my thoughts help you come to some of your own conclusions, thus making it less necessary for you to experience a drastic change in your life in order souse out your beliefs about the universal church.
But hey, the Air Force could always use a few more Chaplains…. : )