Thursday, January 17, 2013

Christian Unity & Theological/Church Heritage

Tomorrow begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Jan18-25). A week of becoming more aware and appreciative of the great variety of ways of adoring God. "A week where people realize, perhaps for the first time, that their neighbours' ways are not so strange." Sunday evening our ministerial association will be hosting an ecumenical service, facilitated by a number of people from a variety of denominations. An evening when a myriad of theological and church heritages will be represented and united together in worship of our one God. As a matter of coincidental timing I was recently asked to write a short paper describing my own theological and church heritage. An interesting topic for one who was not raised in a church family. I'm not sure this is the response they were looking for but it was what the received, at least in part. I thought it might be a fitting blog post given the upcoming Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

My theological and church heritage is initiated first by my personal relationship with God. As a child I was not raised in a Church home, however I have had a love for God from as far back as I can recall. It is as though God has been wooing me from the day of my creation. I was always drawn to churches with their large stained glass windows, and beautiful Sunday morning bells. The memories of the churches I rarely attended are still very vivid. I can clearly see myself as a child sitting by the window on a Sunday morning, watching as people young and old, dressed in their Sunday best walked to church under the dawning sun. I can still hear the beautiful sounds of the bells ringing out enticing people to come. I can remember by name, the Sunday school teacher who taught me about Jesus the handful of times my aunt took me to the United church when I came to visit her. I remember Mrs. Kelly my public school teacher who gave us colourful books, almost like comic books depicting the stories of the bible. At the age of about 10 or 11, I started taking myself to church. I lived on an Air force base and the United Church was not to far from my home. I got involved in choir, and was the youngest and perhaps only non-grey haired member, for the short time that I attended.

As I entered my teen and young adult years, any embryonic thoughts of God were placed in my back pocket and the church was left behind. I moved out at 17 and as a result, finishing school, work, athletics and years later friends, partying and aspirations of climbing the corporate ladder took precedence. Yet even through these times, I could sense God's presence, His continued wooing. Then when I was about 24 I realized it was time for a change, it was time to respond to God's invitation, whatever that meant. I moved from Toronto to be closer to some of my family (this in and of itself is a work of God). I asked my Landlord where the closest United Church was and she instead invited me to attend her Free Methodist church, a denomination I had never heard of before. In fact I was not very familiar with many things of church still. I accepted her invitation and began going every Sunday to the FM church. I started to listen for God, and I heard about not only how much God loved me, which I never doubted, but what it meant to live for God, something I hadn't heard or at least recognized, during my minimal United Church experience. I started attending Bible Study, and the more I pressed in to God, the more He poured into me. It was not long after that, that I gave my life to the Lord, He always had my heart, at least in my ignorant understanding of what that meant, but now He had my life. Very quickly and dramatically my life changed. I started a youth ministry at our church about a year later, and subsequently became a lay pastor within the Free Methodist Church in Canada. With whom I now approximately 13 years later, serve as an associate pastor at a fabulous church.

I am an avid reader, and a lover of learning and academia. Before I accepted Christ, I had learned a bit about Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Mormonism, Scientology and other "religions" to get a better understanding of who this God is that was wooing me. In the end I knew it was Christ - it made perfect sense and confirmed what I already knew in my heart. So too it was with my Church/Theological heritage. While I loved the FM Church, I wanted to more about it. I studied, taking the myriad of courses offered by the denomination such as "The Heart of Free Methodism" and "Wesleyan Theology" among others, and fell in love with our heritage, our foundations, John Wesley and our ethos. I considered Calvinism vs. Armenianism. I experienced Baptist, Pentecostal, Salvation Army, Christian Reform, and United Church services among others, yet each time it was confirmed that the Free Methodist Church in Canada, is where God was and continues to call me to serve. Not that I do not find value in the other expressions of the Christian faith, indeed I do, in fact I have filled the pulpit in each of those denominations. Nor do I think that we as a Free Methodist denomination have everything right, cause we don't, but my theological and church heritage is Free Methodist. It is not my heritage because it is the church of my Father, or the church of my friends, it is my heritage because it is the church God has placed me in, and called me to serve, and for this distinction I am grateful. 

I am grateful for the FMCiC and plan (as God sees fit) to spend the rest of my days serving God and others as part of this particular expression of the body of Christ.  That being said, I'm not sure God is overly concerned about my theological and Church Heritage. So I hope that I can pass on first and foremost my passion for our one true God and as an aside my appreciation for the FMC.  I hope I pass down a heritage of teaching others how to think and not what to think.  In doing so, I pray they will listen and discern where it is God is leading them, and will faithfully serve where God calls them to.  I pray that our theological and church heritages do not continue to be the stumbling blocks to unity among the body of Christ, or more pointedly, to others coming to know Christ and his life saving and life transforming power in a real and personal way.  I pray as we are called to pray this week for Christian Unity - ONE CHURCH united under the headship of Christ our Lord and Saviour.

I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. ~John 17:23

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