Vol 4: 26 Mission and Theological Diveristy: Finding a Safe Place Centered in Christ Jesus

When new persons come to worship in our Anabaptist community, I often find in response to a question about who we are and what we are like, state, “we are a theological diverse community centered in Jesus Christ.” It always evokes a question for further explanation. And in saying this, I realize that for some this can be refreshing and for others it can be somewhat threatening. It all depends how we go about practicing our theological diversity.

Our Mennonite congregation, being the only Mennonite community in the county in which we live, is comprised of persons from different spiritual backgrounds. Within our worshiping community we have Mennonites who were raised Mennonite – they have always been Mennonite, we have Roman Catholics who have come to appreciate an Anabaptist way of following Jesus – yet they still remain Catholic, and we have other Protestants, mainline and evangelical who have found their way to us to find healing and wholeness in living within a discipleship that is non-violent and seeking a radical attachment to Christ Jesus. Within this mix, we also have a wide range of theologies – if we were using a continuum ranging from liberal to conservative perspectives, I would say our community is representative of the whole continuum. But labeling one another in such a way is not conducive to our growing as Christ-centered disciples.

In some ways we are reluctant to engage our theological diversity, perhaps because we fear what might happen if we began to openly express what we all believed or do not believe. It seems sometimes easier to maintain our life as a worshiping community by not “rocking the boat” by revealing the extent of our theological diversity.

However, that is our reality, and I sense that for us to grow deeper in Christ, for us to grow in developing greater awareness of God’s missional activity in the world, for us to discover community that is more deeply nurtured by God’s Spirit, we are being called to be courageous in exploring our theological diversity. Perhaps, in exploring our theological diversity, we might even become more open to embracing the breadth of diversity which God desires for us as we seek to be God’s missional people.

I believe that God’s redemptive mission is leading us to be kingdom communities in which, Paul expresses in Galatians 3:28 – “you are all children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In my own context, I think I we could add that in Christ there is no liberal or conservative – whether it is theological or political.

I recognize and appreciate the reluctance of revealing and exploring the nature and extent of our theological diversity, and yet in confessing that we are a Christ-centered community, I believe a next step in our being a missional community is finding safe space in which we can have conversations centered in Christ, finding safe space in which we can discover in what ways how the Spirit of Christ is alive in each one of us, though we have differing theological perspectives. I think as long as we rely upon our abilities to navigate these dangerous waters – many communities have split over such explorations (or lack of such explorations), we will not do well. As one in our community had once mentioned to me – “We are community because we do not engage our theological diversity.”

But what if we commit ourselves to be centered in Christ, to be radically attached to him; what if we were stubbornly loyal to one another, believing that in confessing Christ’s Spirit which is in me is the same Spirit that is in each one of us; what if we trusted the Spirit to lead us in revealing and exploring our theological diversity so that we are all transformed in the way of Christ, in Christ-likeness.

Yes, I am probably naïve. However, I also strongly believe that in mutually submitting ourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21), in mutually submitting ourselves to be led by God’s Spirit, in mutually submitting ourselves to live missionally as the people of God, seeking for God’s reign to be manifest in the world, we can be a community that embraces not only our theological diversity, but all diversity to which we open ourselves – because what makes us one is not somehow getting rid of our diversity or ignoring our diversity, but rather, we become one, we are one through the living person and presence of Christ and Christ’s Spirit who make us one.

There is no need for encouragement to be united when we are all the same, when we are all homogeneous. The call to unity only takes place in a context of diversity.

And so as we seek to be God’s missional people, may we hear Paul’s encouragement to the church in Ephesus, as an encouragement for all of us seeking to live missionally: “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” (Ephesians 4:3-6).

  1. Linda Wiens says:

    I am puzzled about what you mean by the term “theological diversity.” I would like examples, or specific questions whose answers might illustrate it.

    I am not sure that there really is a “reluctance of revealing and exploring the nature and extent of our theological diversity”, and that we still need to find a “safe space” to do so. In our Sunday morning discussions and in his writings, James raises issues regarding what, specifically, we believe about Jesus as a Jew; what our personal creation story is; whther we see God as having gender; what “baptism of believers” means to us; how we think about resurrection or afterlife; etc. Are those issues of theological diversity? And if so, in what way do these differences matter to us as a body of Christ? Are we really reluctant to address such questions or have they just not been posed much in the past?

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