Riverside Baptist Church @ The Wharf has, since June, been worshipping @ Westminster Presbyterian Church just down the road from our building site. Since no leading celebrity or leader in either traditions has arrived to pat us on the back for this ecumenical experiment, I want to commend these two congregations and their pastors for the courage it took. Mind you, not the courage to share a building because that is nothing new or brave. Churches rent space from one another all the time. But when it came time to make an arrangement where we, Riverside, would worship next (after our interim experience at Jefferson Academy Middle School) and I approached Pastor Ruth of Westminster, we made a decision to share worship together. THAT is POWERFUL. And why is that so powerful? Many reasons but let’s just cut to the quick and hear the prayer of our Lord as rendered by the Gospel of John in chapter 17:
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one.”
Many who seek a church do so without flinching in the face of the obvious: churches are divided. And they are divided not only along cultural, racial and ethnic lines but their pastors and priests will not offer communion to those who are outside their flock or fold. We may as well have erected barbed wire fences between our various communions. So when I sat in the sanctuary of Westminster Presbyterian on this past Sunday and received communion, I did so with a heart full of gratitude that we—whatever differences we may have—came to the Table of our Lord as ONE. Do not let this slip past your gaze. This is a powerful experience. We could have been worshipping in the basement at a different hour and not shared our worship but we rejected that approach. We believe in the gift of the unity of Christ. And we have been worshipping for a few months now as though we actually believe in those radiant words found in the Letter to the Ephesians (chapter four):
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
Mind you—we must mind this—our unity is not our accomplishment. This is God’s gift to us in Christ. What Westminster and Riverside have done up to this point is simply to believe in that unity and live up to it and through it. We have rejected the logic of “if…then” as the scholar of ecumenism, Michael Kinnamon, puts it. You know, “if certain conditions are met then certain steps can be taken.” Instead, as Kinnamon prophetically states it, we embrace the Gospel logic of “because…therefore.” Because God loves us we are free to love our neighbor. “In the same way,” he writes, “because we are one in Christ, therefore we are freed and empowered to seek common mind on those matters that have kept us apart.” [The Vision of the Ecumenical Movement]. To say we have no need of one another, Kinnamon reminds us, is a sinful denial of this unity that was achieved for us by the costly grace of Jesus Christ. Westminster Presbyterian, I salute you! Riverside Baptist, I salute you! Let us worship together the One God who is above all and through all and in all. Those who are weary of business as usual, with divisive and provincial notions of church and worship, we invite you to join us on Sunday. ~See you Sunday as One people