Written by David Field
Since becoming a Christian as a teenager, my experience with church has involved conflicting beliefs and power struggles. I lacked knowledge of the spiritual fellowship that comes from focusing on loving Christ and others instead of theological factions. These experiences gave me the impression that Canadian churches didn’t have spiritual unity—leaving me discouraged and wondering, “What purpose does Christianity serve in Canada?”
Then, I became a founding member of a Christian club at my secular university. For the past four years, the prayer, worship, and recreational activities we’ve shared have shown me that Christians from different backgrounds can experience community. Every season, we went on spiritual retreats to a rented cabin in the wilderness.
Each time our trip was about to begin, I became silently worried. Would our time in close quarters bring out church divisions and lead us to arguments? Nothing happened though, confounding my fears. Instead, we spent the weekends doing the things a healthy family would do: playing board games, singing, and cooking. Our shared faith in Jesus, common prayer, and worship allowed us to get along all weekend without cabin fever.
Unlike my church, where people professed the same beliefs yet continually judged outsiders and each other, our group focused on acts of community and worship. It turns out, this is a more universal language than quoting Scripture interpretations. If groups of students from different backgrounds can spend a weekend together and grow family-like bonds, then churches can do the same.
We should invest in opportunities for cross-denominational experiences that build a sense of common identity. One idea is collaborative living, such as sharing houses or living in close proximity where Christians can experience a new sense of communion with the body of Christ. Another option is to designate public meet-up spaces, such as juice bars or coffee shops, as places where Christians can socialize. This idea would combat the isolation caused by only associating with one’s own church group.
If we want to create a stronger sense of Christian unity in Canada, churches need to host more multi-denominational events and prayer gatherings. This will remind us that our Christian identity is a part of our town and city life, not simply experienced in divided churches. Prayer gatherings held in parks and town squares at set times each week are a great way to bridge denominational barriers. Not only that, but seeing public demonstrations of faith can embolden believers to see Canada as a land that can be claimed for Jesus.
More importantly, denominational differences are not as important as caring for the lonely and vulnerable. Theological differences fall away when Christians unite to serve the poor and isolated. I saw this first-hand when my university group visited a homeless centre in one of our city’s seedier areas.
We focused on practical acts of kindness instead of competing to evangelize the people we interacted with. Before visiting the centre, we spent a month collecting donations of clothes and toiletries from our school. Many of the men appeared genuinely shocked to be receiving gifts of any kind, and gladly clutched the bags full of mittens and toothbrushes.
Christ Himself addressed this danger of having the wrong spiritual focus when He criticized the religious leaders of his time in Matthew 23:23:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
While theology has its place in our spiritual walk, mercy and compassion need to always be the higher priority when living a life of faith, or else we’ll fail to give unbelievers any heart-touching reasons to desire companionship with Christ and his Body.
Jesus Himself said to His apostles in John 13:35-36: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The only way people will see Christ in us is through the unity and love we demonstrate each day, both to those in our churches and to non-believers.
Seeing what it looks like when Christians have fellowship with each other was the only thing that saved me from leaving Christianity in discouragement. These practical opportunities to live out my faith with others of different backgrounds showed me that when we stay busy for Jesus, we don’t have time to think about our many potential differences.