Celebrating Christian Diversity

Stained glassSome of us prefer to worship under stained glass windows following a recognized liturgy punctuated by time-tested hymns.

Others attend church services in auditoriums in which highly skilled bands,  rock star preachers, large screens and special effects are the chosen media for the gospel message.

StageMy husband and I attended three different churches, each from a recognized Christian tradition, over the Easter weekend.  We visited my parents’ church for a Good Friday Tenebrae service, experienced a Saturday night Easter Vigil with our son, and then worshipped at our own church on Easter Sunday morning.

The saving truth of the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday was clear, beautiful and heartfelt in each service, although expressed with unique emphasis.

I loved it, and the combined experience felt like a rich celebration of Christian diversity.

Christians are notoriously divided over both style and substance of church services, and they always have been.  It’s no wonder we have umpteen Christian denominations and then various divisions in many of those.  Is this ok?  After all, we think, Jesus prayed that we would be one.

I once expressed concerns about this to a friend, and she responded with a fresh and welcome perspective.  In her wise and winsome way, she said that she thinks of each unique Christian denomination as emphasizing and preserving a valuable piece of our unified tradition and heritage. 

A wonderful feature of Christianity is that it can be expressed in any culture, as opposed to other world religions that come packaged along with a culture.  Therefore, church services in suburban American will look very different from those in China or Brazil or Pakistan or from the church down the street.

We can be “one,” as Jesus prayed, without liking the same music.  We can be “one,” and still take different views on baptism, eschatology, and predestination (to name just a few of the doctrinal issues over which churches have divided.)

We are ONE big, diverse, multi-faceted, wildly talented, passionate, and expressive family in Christ. 

Let’s learn to celebrate each other.

If you are a Christian, have you experienced a variety of worship styles?  Do you enjoy visiting churches from different denominations?

If you’re not a Christian or a regular church attender, do you see Christians as united or divided?  Diverse or monolithic?

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ appointed it.”  Eph. 4:3-7

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16 Responses to Celebrating Christian Diversity

  1. Donna Nelson says:

    I enjoyed the various responses to your blog and your reply to KJ. Very well said!!

  2. GodGirl says:

    A fresh perspective on diversity – well expressed.
    It’s true when you consider the differences cross-culturally as well, that we are bound to express our love for God in different ways, depending on our background, personality, etc. I think the main thing is that the gospel is preached faithfully, with Christ at the centre.
    My frustration is when churches claim their way/style is the only way, and criticize and demean other denominations from the pulpit… I much prefer positive, grace-filled churches which are focused on what God’s calling them to, rather than criticizing or being intimidated by what others are doing.

    • Judy says:

      I agree, Ali. Most Christians I know, consistent with the comments below, are very gracious and respectful of different traditions. But I know there are still contentious divisions within the church as well. I’m so encouraged by the reaction to this post, however, because they are all so gracious! Thanks for yours!

  3. Larry Who says:

    I’ve attended many different churches over the years from large denominational churches to small non-denominational home churches. Our choices of where we attend on a regular basis depend on what we think a church should be. So, do we choose a church for worship or music reasons? Or for great sermons? Or for Bible studies? Or for outreaches? Or for social justice reasons? Or for children’s programs? The reasons are endless and each of us may have a different viewpoint on what suits him best.

    I myself like small home fellowships where each person is encouraged to share what the Lord has laid on his heart for that meeting. Some may sing songs. Some may teach. Some may preach. Some may prophesy. Some may pray. What a person does may vary from meeting to meeting, depending on what the Holy Spirit lays on his heart. Is there a leader in charge? Maybe, but usually, a hands-off one. Also, these home fellowships generally have a meal where all get to know each other and how their week is going.

    I know my personal vision of a church may not be for everyone, but it’s what I love.

    • Judy says:

      Hi Larry, Years ago we attended a church in which we gathered and worshipped in a free and informal way for a while. It was an interesting experience. In a way it was rich to hear from different voices, but sometimes it was also a little too unstructured for my taste. Ideally, if truly led by the Spirit, it would be perfectly structured, but not all of us always hear and follow the Spirit as well as we should. (I’m speaking for myself:) I can see the appeal, though, if its done well. You ask very intriguing questions: why do we choose to attend one particular church over another? It’s been my experience that no church really does it all well. Why that might be is a whole different discussion. Thanks, as always, for your thoughts Larry! Have a great weekend!

  4. Well done, Judy! And you elicited some good discussion. You struck a chord.
    Yes, I’ve experienced diversity in worship. As long as the Word of God is honored as our sole authority, and the Gospel is preached, I am happy. I’m happiest when surrounded by beauty, and when hearing beautiful music (like heavenly singing, this seems), but lately friends have introduced me to some new style and awesome Christian music.
    Yes, it truly seems that the Lord preserved different truths from His Word in various denominations. Actually, this is fascinating. It can be, and is, perceived as mere divisiveness by some people, and sometimes it is simply that.

    • Judy says:

      Hi Maria, I suppose there is always an element of divisiveness. However, I wonder if we’re really more unified than we think. Interesting to ponder, isn’t it? Thanks for your thoughts!

  5. Patty B says:

    With moving around a lot I have had the privilege attending a few different style churches and even in my denomination depending where you live in the country may be a bit different, but the wonderful thing is the message is always the same – Praise His Name – Lord God Jehovah!

  6. Helen says:

    I went to 2 different churches over Easter and I am very grateful for the different choices we have. One is not better than another, just different. I liked the music better at one, but the message better at the other. God is good in America in giving us so many choices. I enjoy hearing what other friends liked about their services!

    • Judy says:

      So true, Helen, that we have abundant variety available to us. I’ve never really thought to be grateful for that – thanks for the thought!

  7. Carol says:

    Excellent post Judy. We are stronger when we are diverse. I have long appreciated this truth about Christianity. There are actually only a small number of fundamental truths in Christianity and they generally do not have to do with praxis. I appreciate the many styles of worship as long as God is the centerpiece of that worship.

  8. Your post is so loving and inclusive! I love the diversity in the Christian family! As long as we accept our differences on trivial matters and focus on the risen Lord in our walk and worship. My closest friends go to churches I don’t mind; but do not prefer. It’s okay with me as long as Christ is preached and there’s no deviation from essential Christian doctrine.

    Blessings ~ Wendy

  9. Peter Wiebe says:

    What a wise perspective your friend had. Thanks for sharing, Judy. God bless you.

  10. That’s good, Judy!
    I have heard that Sunday is the most segregated day in America. Martin Luther King was obviously referring to racial division when he said that, but thankfully, for the most part, I don’t believe churches are separated by race any longer; as you said, most people attend churches where they’re comfortable with the style of worship etc. As long as the true word of God is being preached, I think God probably enjoys this diversity.

  11. I love this blog.
    I think we have long forgotten that the church belongs to Christ, not us. I have a diverse faith background and tend to fall into liturgical service preference. Our pastor says the word “liturgy” means “work of the people.” ( leitourgia = work of the people). I know that I need to participate, to kneel, to stand, to walk to the altar for Eucharist. That’s me. Others require a different environment to grow their faith.
    But I think the more ecumenical Christians become, realizing we are all part of a catholic (universal) church, the less divided we will appear to those around us who don’t participate, have left the church because of those many differences, and to those who just don’t believe at all. The news and surveys grow more grim each year as “Christians” are losing ground and fewer claim the faith, or a belief in God at all. I’ve been a believer since I was 7 years old so I realize I can’t even know what we look like from the outside.
    All I know for sure is God captures one heart at a time. When He taps on our shoulder, there’s no mistake. And I’ve always felt that he doesn’t care what church we go to, as long as we are close to him. It’s an individual responsibility and yet a joy to be shared with anyone.
    I watch the “Life of Pi” the other night. The young boy was Hindu, became Muslim and met Christ when he accepted a dare from another boy to go into a Catholic church in the countryside to drink the Holy Water. Yet through that act of what we would call rebellion, he met Jesus Christ. My favorite scene is an after-dinner conversation when his father lectured him on not being religious, but to only be reasonable. After a short silence, Pi says “I think I want to be baptized.”
    One heart at a time.

    • Judy says:

      I love your phrase “an individual responsibility and yet a joy to be shared…,” and that Christianity is essentially a relationship as God “taps on our shoulder.” I wonder if we have compartmentalized faith into the Sunday worship service, putting way too much emphasis on it, rather than living a life in relationship with Jesus every day and celebrating that in community on Sunday mornings. My journey has been similar to yours, KJ, in that I’ve been connected with a variety of churches and have found tremendously rich growth and insight among believers from dozens of different churches in Community Bible Study. God is endlessly creative. Why would we think he wants us all to worship him in the same way? I think he thoroughly enjoys our unique and diverse expressions and experiences. Thanks for taking the time to comment, my friend!

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