So this week I went to the dentist. I'll be honest - I had a couple of fillings put in. The anaesthetic left me without crucial abilities such as swallowing for a couple of hours and, I'm sure, made more than a couple of bystanders concerned for my general well-being. Since Monday I've been getting used to my new mouth. It feels bizarre. The new additions to my teeth feel like alien intruders. I keep mistaking them for bits of food and trying to dislodge them. Every time I run my tongue along the teeth in question they feel unnatural and unfamiliar, certainly not like the teeth that I'm used to. After a couple of days, though, I've learned to live with them.
The church is like my mouth. (Bear with me here). Some bits of it seem weird. Some bits of it seem alien. Some bits of it feel so different from ourselves that we wonder if they really belong there in the first place. The church is obviously varied - across countries, cultures, beliefs, styles of worship, traditions - and it can be tempting just to huddle around an exclusive group of people who are so like you that you feel completely comfortable. And to avoid the others.
That's obviously a limited approach. You only need to scratch the surface of Biblical Christianity to realise that the connection between believers is so much more than a common tick-box response on a survey. It's about family. God has made us His children (John 1:12, Romans 8:16, 1 John 3:1 etc.). There's an 'upwards' aspect to that whereby God is now our Father. But there's also a 'horizontal' aspect - fellow-Christians are our brothers and sisters. The word for brother (adelphos, sometimes literal but mostly metaphorical) occurs 343 times in the New Testament alone. God has joined us together to be His people, and no ammount of strangeness can contravene this basic fact.
Some parts of the church are newer than others, just like my bits of tooth. The older parts need to avoid being like my tongue which tried to dislodge the newer members because they were unfamiliar. They need to be open to fresh ideas and the power of cultural or religious change to make the whole stronger. The newer parts need to respect the power in the tradition and that, as James Bond said in Skyfall, "youth is no guarantee of innovation". Both old and new parts are needed for the mouth to be the full working whole it was intended to be. Neither is dispensable (1 Corinthians 12:18-20).
Bond and Q in Skyfall
Paul had a similar image of the church in Romans 11:16-24 as a Jewish tree with a non-Jewish tree grafted into it. He emphasised that the only reason any of the tree could be there at all is because of the root (v18). I don't know what the root is in my teeth analogy but the One holding it all together is obviously God. Without Him there would be no church. It's vital that we stay close to Him, and that means valuing our brothers and sisters.
We need to deal with our differences and conquer them with love. One of the marvels of the church is that it transcends social and cultural boundaries. I've met and called friends people that I never would have known otherwise, all because we're united by something more significant. Why don't you challenge yourself about your attitude to other Christians, and maybe go and chat to that unfamiliar person at church over coffee?
Christ himself is our peace. He made both Jewish people and those who are not Jews one people. They were separated as if there were a wall between them, but Christ broke down that wall of hate by giving his own body...His purpose was to make the two groups of people become one new people in him and in this way to make peace. It was also Christ's purpose to end the hatred between the two groups, to make them into one body, and to bring them back to God. Christ did all this with his death on the cross.