As the liturgical churches move past this year’s celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we see how much of a move there is for Christianity unity on a global scale. However, it’s easy to overlook that fact that a lot of efforts at unity start at a more localized level, even in our individual parishes/congregations and families.
There are many ways in which we can start achieving greater understanding among groups that aren’t dependent upon actions by larger ecumenical bodies. After reading the suggestions below, please feel free to add your own:
- Be Less of a Denominational Apologist – Although there are many important doctrines commonly taught in most groups, placing too much focus on doctrine specific to one denomination is more divisive than unifying. Instead, putting more emphasis on what we have in common goes a longer way.
- Think Globally, But Act Locally – There are many opportunities on a local level, such as Lenten programs run by local ministerial groups or community Bible studies, that bring together Christians of various stripes. If such opportunities don’t exist in your area, consider joining forces with others to start them.
- Never Assume Two Groups Treat Doctrines Exactly the Same Way – It’s very easy to think, for example, that all groups that teach some sort of baptismal regeneration believe the unbaptized are automatically damned or that groups that believe in a communion of saints all have the same views about saintly intercession. Instead, it’s more helpful to approach all of these doctrinal positions on their own terms, as each group understands them.
- Don’t Overlook Others’ Spiritual Experiences – It’s unfortunately easy to dismiss the spiritual experiences that others may have because they are different. Always treat the beliefs of others with the same respect you expect of yours.
- Avoid Presumptions About Others’ Beliefs – Some might feel inclined to laugh at an evangelical who attends an Episcopal church and assumes an usher is a deacon or a Catholic relative who assumes that non-Catholic clergy are “preachers” with no sacramental authority. However, bear in mind the fact that many people have little knowledge of denominations other than theirs, and this is a good starting-off point to discuss your similarities and differences.
What small steps do you think Christians can take to increase their understanding of each other?