It is not a rigid underlying belief system that leads to unity, but rather our works lead to unity in a diverse belief structure.
Watch it, it is mesmerizing.
The 32 metronomes start out discordant and none in sync. But over the course of barely over 2 minutes, they all find their way together–even the last offbeat guy on the right column around 2:30.
How did it work?
How did this work? The science is that the surface holding the metronomes is not solid but moves with the metronomes. The tiny transfers of force between the moving metronomes and the wobbly surface eventually even out all the metronomes–even the right column rebel.
If the 32 metronomes were placed on a solid, unyielding surface, unity would be much harder to accomplish.
Unity without Uniformity
I share this video because I think the analogy is helpful for conversations about Christian Unity in a world full of differing and discordant theologies.
Let’s run with an analogy. If the metronome beats are the actions taken by Christians in the world, then the surface must be the beliefs held by those Christians. If the beliefs are rigid and unyielding, then they cannot transfer the energy to bring our works into alignment and more beautiful to the Creator.
Metronomes marching to their own beat may never find unity on an inflexible surface. Given the diversity of the Christian Church today, broken mostly by differences of belief, and it is clear that unity built on belief will not be likely found.
Loss By Rigidity
We lost our way over time by believing that Christianity needs an increasingly-large set of beliefs for people to be Christian–commonly called “Historic Christian Teaching” or perhaps “orthodoxy.”To some, “Historic Christian Teaching” refers simply to “historic,” referring to what Christians have collectively believed for the longest time. There’s two main sources of historic teaching:
- Decisions by the Ecumenical Councils: While one would assume Christian teaching has been flat over 2000 years, that’s not the case. It took Seven Ecumenical Councils over 700 years after Jesus Christ to come to some consensus on doctrine–and even that consensus is rejected by Eastern churches.
- Doctrines articulated by the Creeds. The three main Creeds were solidified 300-500 years after Jesus Christ, with some tweaks since then.
If that’s all that “historic Christian teaching” means, then that would be fine because none of the Councils or Creeds make any statements about human sexuality or women’s ordination. Even if you throw in the whole of the Patristics and Church Fathers, one only finds a handful of statements related to homosexuality and women’s equality.
Instead, what we’ve seen over the years is a creeping set of social values that are fused with orthodoxy, making the surface area even more rigid than before on areas of human sexuality and gender that previously were not part of the Creeds, Desert Fathers, or the Ecumenical Council.
Unity in Diversity
What the 20th/21st centuries have given theology is a wonderful cornucopia of lived, contextual theologies. We have black theology, feminist theology, womanist theology, asian theology, queer theology, liberation theology (and all its forms), and other theologies that are born from a people group’s experience.
Their beliefs are flexible, and some critique the rest (like feminist critical lenses), but they lead to a unity in diversity that is better grounded and relevant to those people groups than centuries of orthodoxy that white-washes over lived experience.
The great gift of theology in the 20th/21st century is that theology is contextual: it has a people group, it has a face, and it has a lived experience that shapes theology more than 1300 years of faux rigidity.
And yet we are united in our efforts to accomplish what Matthew lines out: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the accused in prison, and–elsewhere–to stand with the migrant, the orphan, and the widow. Those common actions unify us when they are done in concert with flexible belief systems, leading to a synchronicity impossible otherwise.
Our call today is to draw out the historic Christian teachings of hospitality, charity, love for God and neighbor, and the ever-widening circle of God’s love for people of all genders, identities, orientations, ethnicities, and other markers of the human condition. That is the real Christian tradition, sometimes forgotten, sometimes outright violated, but a tradition worthy of Christ nonetheless. We find our unity in the harmony of loving God and Neighbor, in acts of mercy and justice, and allow some variety in beliefs to accomplish this good work.
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