A common impulse in the face of the division of the Christian church is to look for unique pearls of distinctly Christian wisdom and beauty in the various different traditions of the Christian faith. In so doing, we construct some notion of the divergent streams of the Christian faith as different and uniquely beautiful tributaries of one Christian stream, each of which has its own “distinct contribution”. It is a common, and I think, profoundly modern liberal sentiment that each and every stream of the Christian tradition possesses shards of the Christian wholeness which should be appreciated and appropriated by the truly pious and refined Christian.
This tendency can lead one from a liberal sentimentalism about all roads leading the same place, or an ultramodern ecclecticism which plunders all the various traditions of their interesting bells and whistles for the sake of creating some new, perfect kind of church. This is a particularly evangelical and American proclivity, exemplified, for example in Brian McLaren’s book A Generous Orthodoxy. His egregiously long subtitle proclaims that he is a “missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed- yet hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian.” I will leave aside the obvious stupidities of such a cumbersome proclamation. If people don’t realize that the concept of an “Anabaptist/Anglican” makes no sense whatsoever, I won’t be able to convince them of it.
The point is, however that this impulse to skim elements off the top of the various streams of the Christian tradition assumes that the existence of all these traditions is a fundamentally good thing. That is the proposition I wish to call into question. This is not to say that the church should not bear within herself the fullness of human diversity and culture. Rather, it is to say that the various “traditions” of the Christian faith are only intelligible in the context of the church’s history of schism and division. As such they are not goods to be celebrated, but the result of sin for which we must strive to repent.
The stains and scars of schism have left no part of the church untouched. Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Protestantism, Anabaptism, all confessional streams of Christian fellowship have been shaped into the distinctive bodies that they are through their complicity in schism and division. As such, the wholeness for which the Christian church longs will not be found by trying to figure out what distinctly Roman, Eastern, Reformed, Lutheran, or other such traditional distinctives we can all embrace. Rather, the wholeness and unity to which we are called in Christ will only be realized when all Christians come together in the most abject posture of repentance and penitence. There will be no reunion for the Church without repentance. And they way toward such repentance is not to look for how we can all appreciate our distinctiveness as specific ecclesial bodies, it will rather be found in the abandonment of such distinctives in weeping, confession, and prayer. How that might come about, only God knows. But the Triune God is the one who calls things into existence which did not exist, who declares that those who were formerly no people are now the people of God, the one through whom the things that are nought bring to nothing the things that are. Therefore I have hope.