Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Big Country, Big Church

It has been an interesting week for me. I started out Monday at 6am, driving to the St. Louis airport. I flew to Chicago, waited for my connection for three plus hours, flew to Colubmia, SC, and drove to Clemson, SC. Got up Tuesday morning first thing, drove to Augusta, GA, drove back to Columbia, flew to Washington-Dulles, and then home. Got up this morning, worked for a few hours, drove back to the airport, flew to Denver (where I am writing this), waiting to fly to Vancouver, British Columbia. On Saturday, I'll make the return trip via Denver to home.

I couldn't help but think about how big our country is. Especially flying into Denver, looking at the Rockies, realizing that just 36 hours ago I was driving through the pine forests of McCormick, South Carolina. It makes you wonder how we can speak in any meaningful way about what "Americans" think, believe, feel. Even if you could get the opinions of 300 million people, still the land itself, the geography, is so big, expansive, and different. How do you get your mind around all this?

As I was thinking about this, I couldn't help but think about the church along similar lines. Perhaps the thoughts were spurred on by reading Richard Mouw's Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport. I love reading Mouw, not only because he is brilliant, but also because he is so irenic. I aspire for that; often fall short. And while one particular chapter in the book made me nervous (those who have read it can probably guess which chapter that was), still it was a good two hour read (the length of the flight from STL to Denver).

Anyway, if you apply the imagery of America's geographical immensity to the church, I think some helpful thoughts could result. For example, it would make us much more humble about our little corner of it. When I'm in St. Louis, the Arch seems so big; the new Busch Stadium so large; Forest Park so expansive. But then you see the Rockies or the Big Sky country of the Plains--and you realize, you know, maybe St. Louis isn't so big after all. Maybe the differences between the Plains, Kentucky, the southern shores, and other locales actually pictures a larger diversity in God's own mind. And maybe, just maybe, the Church is big enough for a diversity of opinion.

The real question, of course, is how far to push diversity, how much change occurs before meaningful fellowship around a common creed, worship, and polity ceases. Too much diversity within a given tradition and it ceases to represent that particular tradition and becomes, in fact, something new. Yet, while we may not want too much diversity within particular denominational groups (and perhaps those who desire diversity may actually desire a different denomination where their views are actually the majority), that doesn't mean that everyone must walk in lockstep with us.

Mouw has a great picture of this drawn from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451; those who have read the book probably remember it. He pictures the various religious communities as "book readers" who preserve certain "books" or perspectives (or identities). He imagines himself saying, "Hi, I'm the Canons of Dordt." I guess I would like to be known as the one who says, "Hi, I'm What is Presbyterianism (a little pamphlet by Charles Hodge, for those who don't know)." But that doesn't mean that the library (to change the image) isn't big enough for a range of different books; nor does it mean that every book has to be the same.

Don't know if these ramblings make sense...but they occurred to me sitting here in Denver.

No comments: