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Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Unity - or uniformity?!

On Monday evening, in Bergerac, I was one of a fairly large number of people who had gathered together midway through the International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. We were certainly a mixed bunch! Anglican, Roman, Romanian Orthodox, Pentecostal, Reformed Protestant, Free Evangelical and, of course, this Presbyterian! ( I apologise if I missed out anyone!).

It was a pleasant gathering, and I met some people whom I might not otherwise have met. I also learned that the Orthodox churches are as numerous as the groups/denominations within Presbyterianism!

And I thought of school! You see, I was privileged to receive my secondary education at a Grammar School - and I shall always be grateful for what I learned there, and for learning how to learn! However, what I thought about on Monday evening was my school uniform. I thought, specifically, of the blazer (jacket!) that I wore. Every pupil wore a school blazer. There was no option. And every blazer had two particular items that came to my mind at that ecumenical service.

The first item was the label. This was a very important item that gave a great deal of information about the garment. It named the manufacturer; it provided the size; it gave instructions for cleaning; it intimated the type of material with which the blazer had been made. Each piece of information was important - and there were a large variety of permutations! Your blazer might have been privately-tailored; it might have been a 36" chest size; it might have been made in pure new wool; it would have required very careful cleaning. Mine, on the other hand, might have been a 34" chest, polyester, manufactured by a department store, and able to be washed with anything else! 

The second item that came to my mind was the badge. This was the School Badge - and it was the same on every blazer, regardless of size, quality, or manufacturer. The badge provided only one piece of information - it proclaimed the identity of the school which its wearer attended.

There was another important difference between the label and the badge. The label, even with all of its important information, was tucked away inside the inside pocket, or underneath the collar. The badge, on the other hand, was displayed proudly on the breast pocket!

I see a clear analogy. If I tell you about my denominational label, you will know some important things about me. You will have an idea as to my views on church government; on the proper subjects for water baptism; on the centrality (or otherwise!) of the Written Word of God; on the use of musical accompaniment when singing at a worship service; etc., etc. 

However, my badge is "disciple of Jesus". My "label" has changed on a number of occasions over the years - just as did the label on my school blazer. My badge has remained the same since I first surrendered my life to the Lord Jesus, and promised to follow Him until that life's end.

When I meet with other people, I look first for the badge. Is this person a true disciple of Jesus; dependent upon Him, and Him alone, for salvation? If so, then we are brothers (or brother and sister) in the Lord. Oh, I may eventually want to know about your "label" - but it's the badge that counts; it's the badge that tells me that we are united in Him.

In that sense, I would contend that Christian Unity does, in fact, exist. Denominational unity may not; there may not be any sign of uniformity; but I truly believe that those who are His are already one in Him. Perhaps it will be as we recognise that fact, that we will see denominations working more closely together. Let us pray that it may be so - to the glory of His holy Name.

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