My Catholic and Orthodox colleagues, brothers, sisters, and friends continually remind me (either explicitly or merely by their presence in my life) that one of the sad realities of Protestantism has been the fragmentation of Christ’s Church. I agree. We’re splintered. And I believe that this grieves the heart of God (John 17). However, I resonate (obviously) with Protestantism’s zeal for biblical truth and desire to seek the worship and work of the Church in its purest form possible, re-formed according to Scripture. This tension is something I’ve come to rest in...though it’s a restless rest.
My fellow pastor (and someone I greatly admire), Dr. Marty Martin, has frequently shared with us from the fruits of his ministry for two years recently in the Democratic Republic of Congo, working with Food for the Hungry there in what is perhaps the darkest, most broken country in the world. One of Marty’s many joys was worshiping with the Anglican church in Africa. Marty frequently points out in our own church’s worship how, when we utilize readings from the lectionary,* we are joining hands with saints across the world who, this very day, are reading and thinking about the same biblical texts we are.
That got me thinking about the broad sweep of churches and denominations that utilize the Revised Common Lectionary* on a regular basis. It blew me away to realize that, though the Church is splintered across many denominational lines, many of them plan their worship around the same set of Scripture texts each week. Even amidst our differences, even as we worship in different ways, with different emphases, and in different places, the Holy Spirit is doing a beautiful and subversive work among us. While we maintain differing convictions about doctrine, ecclesiology, and church life and ministry, we still “come together” on Sundays (or Saturdays for Adventists) to hear God speak to us from the same passages of Scripture. The Holy Spirit, is cutting out some rectangles and installing windows in the walls that separate the various expressions of Christ's body. Through the lectionary, I peer through the glass and see my United Methodist brothers and sisters down the street worshiping our Lord Jesus Christ. I see my Congolese brothers and sisters across the globe lifting up the Trinity. I see the Korean Presbyterians exalting our great God.
Of course this isn’t the be-all and end-all of church unification. Free church worshipers, the Orthodox, and many others don’t use the Revised Common Lectionary (some use other lectionaries, and others don't use a lectionary at all), and even if they did, there’s still a lot that divides us. It just intrigues me that the Spirit has made the Revised Common Lectionary a cross-denominational tool for subversive unification of our worship.
*A lectionary is a roadmap of biblical readings...there are many lectionaries out there, but most of the time their goal is to provide a reading plan through large portions of the Bible within a given timeframe, most often a year or three years.