- Faith & Family
Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Baptists of South Florida came together to pray for unity from Jan.18 – Jan.25, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
The Christians of different denominations exchanged dialogue and guidance as they opened their places of worship during the week, celebrating their similarities and acknowledging their differences.
Although the week of unity has been celebrated for more than 100 years, just as it has this year, the celebration probably always leaves people wondering: Will Christian denominations ever come together and create one church?
In response to this lingering question, denominational leaders of the Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal, Baptist and the Church of the First Born discuss Christian unity and it being unnecessary for Christians to form one church.
“I’m more interested in our becoming the body of Christ than one denomination,” Rev. Henry Green, a presiding elder of the A.M.E. church, said. “We’re all a part of the family of God. We celebrate our common ground; our interpretations and our theology may be different, but our belief system is central to Christ.”
Bishop Leopold Frade of the Diocese of Southeast Florida agreed that Christian denominations “have a call to a common mission.”
“I believe that we should seek to have multiple expressions of practice and work together as our Lord wanted: ‘That we all may be one,’” he said. “One family may be one and still have many members in it that are not uniform and not necessarily all the same.”
Following in Jesus’ footsteps
Both Frade and Green mentioned Jesus’ disciples when discussing the differences of churches.
“When you look at the early followers, they had different interpretations of the same event in the life of Jesus,” Green said. “So as long as [we] are people, there are going to be differences in vision and mission statements as it relates to the ministry of Jesus Christ.”
Frade said Jesus called his apostles to continue his ministry by calling others, teaching the faith, and baptizing people around the world from Britain, North Africa, Rome, Constantinople, India and other parts of Asia.
“The missionary expansion was not done by one unified organization but by multiple groups from different nations,” he said. “Maybe they were not called denominations but it was the base for different practices for that faith.”
Many interpretations, one truth?
Gary Hoffenden, pastor of Grace Church of the First Born, also believes that “there really is a single Christian faith,” although there are many churches and denominations, he said. He believes that there would be issues of power and authority, and having many different denominations all of
these years would make it even more difficult to have one church.
Hoffenden said that having different churches has helped Christians because it offers people a large variety of access “to church fellowship and to God,” but it may also confuse some because they may wonder “which church is the right church?”
“It is not that the differences are important, it is what we believe, practice and teach,” Rev. Johnny L. Barber II, the moderator of the Florida East Coast Baptist said. “However, there are growing hybrid non-denominational congregations that people who were not exposed to formalized or denominational worship, flock to.”
“Forcing one single patriarch that is not the ‘final infallible decider’ is not what we read in the Holy Scriptures,” Frade said. “We can be one in the midst of our many expressions of faith and there are many ways that we express that faith in our daily practice.”
Green agreed, saying “I believe that as long as the church of the denomination that we are a part of is Bible-based and Christ-focused, I don’t believe the differences are that important.”
By Malika A. Wright