Image by de la Ronde via Flickr
Towards the end of a recent post, I suggested we need to add formation to mission and unity, in order to comprehend the three legs of the ministry of the churches.
Without mission, the Gospel will not be experienced.
Without formation, Christians are ill-equipped for mission and people who hear and respond will find little or no support and are likely to fall away.
Why is unity also essential? The traditions are nothing if they are not lived. I realised only recently the extent to which I have been formed by singing traditional hymns. Hymns I remember finding incomprehensible a few decades ago make sense today. I don't remember this happening; they have grown into my consciousness over many years. This is why Methodist hymn books are important to my tradition, they are approved by conference after a long process to ensure they reflect Methodist doctrinal standards.
Christianity is an incarnational faith, known not through words on a page (scripture, hymns, prayer books, creeds, etc) but through life experience. As we live, we unpack and learn to use the contents of the Christian storehouse as presented to us through our own tradition and others.
So, when we consider unity, we consider relationships between several expressions of the same faith.
We tend to make mistakes of two types. One is to make absolute claims for my own tradition and the other is to insist all traditions should be the same. Indeed, upon analysis these are almost the same mistake. The former cuts itself off from the others and the latter claims all should join together on negotiated terms. Both tend to impose a single approach.
These two tendencies have been identified by Yung Suk Kim's boundary protected and boundary overcoming communities; he suggests a third approach, apocalytic community, that seeks reconciliation rather than structural unity. I have visited these themes several times.
So, why is unity essential? I will address this in my next post.