By Tsai Sheun-Ching
I grew up in Shanghai, a very big city. After I arrived in the United States I studied in Los Angeles, another very big city. When I graduated, I longed for a simple country life in a small town. I prayed for a while, and the Lord led me to a small city in Washington State with a wonderful environment. A few years later, I bought a country style farmhouse in a wooded garden area.
The house was built twenty years ago. Although the architecture and style is a bit old fashioned, I fell in love with its acre size garden and the nearly four acres of forest. The original owner is a skillful gardener, and he personally designed and planted the garden. Twenty years later, this has become a beautiful presentation. The many plants and flowers have grown to maturity, each occupying its position and present its colors. There are tens of different flower varieties, including azaleas, camellias, cloves, hydrangeas, cherries, roses, peonies… and many other nameless exotic plants. There are large and small azaleas; their colors include pink, red, purple, and white. There are purple cloves and white cloves. When springtime arrives, the garden blooms fully with flowers; their flagrance attracts many birds to come and sing. Every year starting in May, the flowering plants take turn to blossom until the middle of September. When I was fortunate enough to be the new owner, I paid a great deal of attention to take care of this garden. That was when I discovered that no two plants are exactly identical, and no two flowers are exactly the same. With the help of sunshine and rainfall, every plant grows in accordance with the particular genes it received from the creator. The gardener also helped the plants grow to its full potential using reasonable means. Furthermore, even though he touched every single plant, his objective is to provide harmony, co-ordination and unity to the garden.
Looking at my garden, my thoughts turn to contemplate the issue of denominations in Christianity (cults not included). Without question, the issue of denominations has been one of the most sensitive and difficult issues in Protestant Christianity since the Reformation. It is also an issue many church serving Christians worked hard to resolve, but has yet found no solution. After I became a believer, this was an issue that greatly troubled me for a very long time. Sometimes I think the number of brothers and sisters and gospel friends, who were stumbled by this issue, may not be any less than those who accepted callings in evangelical and revival meetings.
The truth is that no one who loved the Lord and served Him discounts the importance of unity. The teaching of Jesus Christ our Lord is very clear; the only command He had given us is to love one another. Different from all religions that are of human origin, Christian faith is based on revelation. God revealed, and man responded. Therefore Christianity is not a religion controllable by man; rather it reflected revelation from above. Every one serving the Lord must have a special understanding; otherwise vision and calling do not have a place in his life. Responsive and be loyal to this understanding is the most fundamental demand God puts upon every one who serves Him.
However, God is great and abundant, and yet man is small and limited. Therefore no one, no single denomination or a theological doctrine, can claim to represent the entire revelation of God's truth. That is why denominations can never be abolished. Thus we should not attempt to abolish denominations in order to attain unity. On the contrary, we should take an attitude of acceptance and appreciation to seek 'unity'.
The Standard of the Cloves
I really like a mature cloves tree in my garden; it spreads a peculiar flagrance when its white flowers are at full bloom. That it may blossom with white flowers and give out the flagrance is because God has given it an 'understanding' (gene), and it has developed this 'understanding' to its full potential. However, it cannot criticize other plants because they do not have such 'understanding' and look down upon them. Every single plant in this garden has something that the owner appreciates. If this garden has only this variety of white cloves in the beginning, I might not have made the decision to buy this garden.
In addition, each variety has its characteristics as well as its own season. By the end of May this cloves is particularly attractive; but by early June, the budding large and small azaleas are ready to blossom and the cloves has withered. Upon winter time, all the flowering plants have withered, but the evergreen Christmas trees and pines continue to maintain the scenery of this garden.
Unity, yes! However, the heart of the clove may be different from that of the owner. The unity a clove wants is that all other plants are like the cloves, a singular and monotonic unity. But the unity the owner wants is the unity in abundance and multi-color; is the unity that comes from each plant fully developing its 'understanding' so that their colors and flagrances are well coordinated, and their shapes and seasonal changes well harmonized.
This brought me to think about the church. Just like gardening, unity is certainly our goal. But do we want to be like the clove, to make people unify under our understanding; or do we want to think like the owner, to unify under God's will?
Some weekends I would walk through the garden. I see the vegetable gardens and orchards behind the flowering garden; and a few steps further I encounter the forest and the lake. When I am tired, I lift up my eyes and see the sun, the moon, the clouds and the stars. All creations are so different in their 'understanding', yet they are in such harmony, implicit understanding, and unity…
May be churches should be like this. The beauty of unity is in our different creations and understandings. True unity depends on whether we have 'the mind of Jesus Christ'.
The author came from Shanghai and is a medical science researcher. She lives in Washington State.