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Faith: Finding unity in diversity

A lesson from the Book of Ephesians

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Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

This summer has been surprisingly busy. I had a week in July with two funeral services, and then the same thing happened this past week, right along with Vacation Bible School.

This unfortunately means that while I may be writing ahead of time, my reading of the Echo Journal is rather behind, and so is my need for sabbath.

For the last month, the Epistle reading from Revised Common Lectionary has come semi-continuously from the book of Ephesians. In it, the writer tells the Gentile (non-Jewish) readers, “For (Christ Jesus) is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups (Gentiles and Jews) into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (Eph. 2:14, NRSV)

The categories “Jew” and “Gentile” aren’t particularly meaningful for us in our context today, but let’s think about replacing that category distinction with “denomination.” Differences between denominations, perhaps as deeply embedded as the differences between Jews and Gentiles in the first century Roman world, aren’t easily overcome to achieve complete oneness; but I wonder if complete oneness (an apparent goal in Ephesians) should even be considered as a goal.

In many places in the Bible, but especially prevalent in the Pauline corpus, the Church is identified with the Body, and the various Spirit-endowed roles, functions and gifts of various parts of the Body enable the Church to function.

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A rather poor anatomy analogy: Suppose we were all arms - no feet, no legs, no torso, no head, no hands. What would we be able to do? We probably could all agree on what the arm should be and do, but since arms can’t do everything, and one arm could probably do whatever a solitary arm does just as well as any other arm, we wouldn’t get very far.

Paul’s point is that the Church needs a variety of gifts to function properly, just as a body needs a variety of parts.

So, here’s a thought: Complete oneness through doctrinal, theological and ecclesial agreement in the Church of today is a pipedream - and one we perhaps shouldn’t even entertain, for we don’t all want to become just arms, anyway. We also need the feet, legs, torso, head and hands in churches and the Church.

This “diversity” means we won’t agree on everything. But just because we won’t agree on everything, can we not pair some of our gifts with others’ gifts as parts of the body pair together - and do this in both our faith and civic lives?

It was well publicized earlier this year that Our Savior’s Lutheran Church and Grace United Methodist Church, both in Pequot Lakes, engaged in a friendly competition to support the food shelf, perhaps in a way that neither of them would have been able to do on their own. This was a worthy project, but one that would, hopefully, have no denominational encumbrance.

Our recent endeavor in Pine River of Community Vacation Bible School would encounter more places where we have different doctrinal, theological or ecclesial understandings; after all, it was an educational collaboration between New Life Community Church, First Lutheran Church, Riverview Church and Mildred Bible Chapel.

But we still did it - together - and, as far as Vacation Bible School goes, I think it turned out great. What I am sure of is that it turned out far better than it would have if we would have highlighted our differences, and, based on those differences, all insisted on doing it all on our own.

Because we didn’t all try to do everything, we can all now enjoy, hopefully, a little bit of sabbath rest.

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Jacob Burkman is pastor at First Lutheran Church in Pine River.

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