As numbers in various church denominations decline, there is one argument, one old chestnut there is oft repeated: "If only we didn't have so many denominations, our churches would be fuller! Our congregations wouldn't be in such peril!" The position really doesn't bear arguing, but it does reveal a latent belief that if only everyone else were simply willing to worship as we worship, and pray as we pray, and sing the songs that we sing, everything would be fine. There is silent blaming in that argument, make no mistake.
Leaving aside the ludicrousness of such a position, Paul's words in 1 Corinthians Craig read today are particularly prescient. As Paul writes, he became "all things to all people". Well, how can this be so? Did he quite literally take on other faiths, other cultures, other ethnicities, in order to evangelize? Or did he, instead, so fully embody his words from his letter to the Galatians - Now there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one - that his capacity to appeal to and identify with the peoples he encountered became universal?
What Paul writes - indeed, what Jesus states throughout the Gospels and Paul expresses in his letters - is the immateriality of difference. Culture, division, "otherness" are not summarily erased through faith in Christ (clearly: there are at least three different Presbyterian denominations just in North America, let alone the myriad other denominations and churches across the continent and around the globe). But in Christ those differences are made immaterial to salvation. Jesus is the ultimate universal truth, regardless of the many aspects that unnecessarily divide us.
I've always hated talk of teaching people "tolerance". I don't want to teach tolerance. Indeed: I don't want to tolerate or be tolerated. I don't want to merely accept someone who is different: I want to embrace that difference, not as a source of division but as a source of glorious nuance and abundance. I find myself wondering if we, as Presbyterians in Canada, can honestly say that we are doing the same. Are we, as a church, seeking to "by any means save some"? Are we embracing the "wondrous variety" (as Morgan Freeman's character in Robin Hood so elegantly phrases it) God has painted into this world in so very many ways? And if maturity of faith is to be our very best self, are we ready to acknowledge that each self is, needs be, individual and unique?
In Christ, difference no longer means exclusion. In Christ there is therefore now no condemnation.
Jew or Gentile.
Slave or free.
Male or female.
Or neither. Or both.
Political left or right.
Straight or part of the LGBTQIAA community.