In our first Thought for the Week from the Netherlands we’re really pleased to hear from the Pauluskerk in Breukelen, a village located between Utrecht and Amsterdam, and after which Brooklyn in New York is named. Breukelen has seven churches of different denominations, and here Revd Harold Schorren gives us his Thought at the start of the Week of Christian Unity.
We are now entering the worldwide Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that is traditionally celebrated between 18th and 25th January, between the feasts of St. Peter and St. Paul. This Sunday we will start with an Ecumenical Service in the Roman Catholic Church in Breukelen. During the week we will have a daily evening prayer, every day in a different church. Every year it is a feast to celebrate the Sunday with so many Christians from different denominations. But every year it is also difficult to see that only three of the sevens churches are willing to celebrate together. Sadly, the underlying problem relates to traditions, believes, dogmas… There seems to be no prayer to wash these away.
What is the purpose of our search for ‘Christian unity’? To my mind, it is not institutional unity we must look for. The diversity of churches in our world can be a colourful treasure of ways of praising, singing and celebrating. We don’t have to look for unity in form. Let there be different churches with different traditions. What I look for is the unity of Christians, unity of believers who want to be pilgrims to God’s future. Not captured in and bound by traditions and undisputable beliefs, but set free to follow our Lord Jesus Christ. Learning from Him about love that gives us the power to let each other stand up in new life. Living by his hopeful vision of a new creation: the Kingdom of Heaven. Together we can follow the path of love and the conviction that – in union with God – we can turn this world around, make the hell so many people are living in into a heaven on earth. While travelling we will sing the Magnificat with Mary:
He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent away empty.
When we are praying for unity or when we are praying for peace and reconciliation we cannot but think about our own beliefs, thoughts and actions at the same time. Am I a child of the future? Is my church a true instrument of peace? We know that the early Christian communities followed Christ in his love despite the hatred of the world around them. They shared everything, they looked after people in trouble with great mercy, and sought for justice for those who found no answer elsewhere. They didn’t live by church dogmas about original sin or trinity, or by the fear of condemnation. Just one creed: Love! And no tombstone that could silence their voice of love. They were willing to follow their Lord, breaking themselves to give live to others. Unfortunately, all that changed over time. Maybe one of the crucial moments occurred in 380 AD. The Roman emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the sole authorized state religion. At that time the persecuted started to become the persecutors. Other religions where persecuted and also other Christians that had other beliefs than the so-called orthodoxy. The focus on creating a new earth through the loving ways of Christ was abandoned for the focus on eternal afterlife, which could only be gained by subscribing to orthodox dogmas. Power corrupts.
We need this mirror of history and presence to grow in faith, to grow in unity and to become true instruments of peace as individual believers and as Church. Are we free from judgments? Do we liberate each other from traditions and dogmas so we can be pilgrims on our way to the promised land? The fact remains that in many churches women still have no voice and position. That gays have to fear their lives in many parts of the world where dogmas violently silence the voice of love. That other beliefs are severely persecuted where Christians are in power… These things divide Christians all over the world and even in a small village such as Breukelen. Seven churches. Seven different forms of celebrating. No problem. But let us pray that we can reunite in the love of Christ. Not to rule the world, but to serve the world. Not to bind each other, but to set each other free. Let God rule; He is Love! And in that freedom and in that serving attitude we will meet people of all denominations and of all religions as co-pilgrims on their way to a future of peace, as children of a new and heavenly future.