Thanksgiving and Christian unity

Published 12:44 pm Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Many of those who boarded the Mayflower in 1620 en route to the East Coast of North America were dissenters from the Church of England. They were called non-conformists, because they refused to obey the dictates of the Anglican Church (enforced by the state) to conform to its doctrines and liturgies.

They understood themselves to be preservers and protectors of a pristine Christianity, which, in their opinion, had been corrupted by the English church. They desired to purify the church of heretical accruements added through the centuries by recreating in America what they believed had been the simple life of the earliest Christian communities. Ironically, once settled in the New World, they became intolerant of other Christian American sects, which disagreed with their version of the faith, as the English church had been intolerant of them.

The American church has been plagued with divisive doctrinal and liturgical differences ever since. From that first congregation of Christian purists in 1620 descended thousands of American sects and denominations to the extent that Jesus’ prayer that his church be one is no longer a realistic option. The American church is split along so many doctrinal and liturgical lines today that it would be unrecognizable to the Puritans who started it all.

As sad as that is, I would be okay with the current situation if the church could at least be “one” in its understanding of its purpose as that which paralleled the work of its founder. The most concise rendering of Jesus’ understanding of his work is recorded in the Sermon on the Mount, later applied to the Parable of the Sheep and Goats. Blessed are the hungry, the naked, the ill and the imprisoned. Those who minister to these “least” minister to me.

If, for example, the hundreds of churches in eastern North Carolina could unite in the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked, the visiting of those held in prison unjustly, and the welcoming of the stranger, I think Jesus might be willing to overlook that we are divided into so many parts. If we could put aside our differences in the ways we worship, in our conceptions of the afterlife, and in what we consider to be essential to the faith, we might have more time and resources to devote to what really matters – the work here and now, on earth, that we have been called to do by our Savior.

When an egg is fertilized, it divides first in half and then in fourths and so on until a whole new being is created. For good or bad, that has been the history of the church. If the church cannot be one in organizational structure and worship then maybe, at least, it can be one in its ministry to the poor, the needy, the marginalized and the discriminated against.

That, indeed, would be something to be thankful for.