1. Who are my brothers and sisters? Who can you worship with, Baptists, Mormons, Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, official govt churches?
I was raised Church of Christ, a very fundamentalist religious organization (of independent churches) that teaches strict adherence to their interpretation of scripture. And for thirty years I felt that we were right and most other religious organizations were generally wrong with a small amount of right. As I approached my late forties I ended up attending and becoming a member of a Church of Christ that included more liberal thinking and worshiping members. It was then that I started asking myself why we do what we do and how should we be doing it.
During those years I belonged to a small group of men who would meet weekly and ask ourselves hard questions. What is worship and how should we worship. I found it intensely exciting, and educating and it allowed us to build emotional and intellectual bonds with each other.
One of the things we would do is take the Lord’s Supper using regular bread (on a weekday this is a real no-no to conventional CofC members.
But the group eventually turned itself into a men’s encounter group and concerned itself mostly with personal and inter-personal issues.
Soon after that I quit my job and went overseas to teach English and other things. Finally the group disbanded after a few more years but I believe it was a great exercise and resulted in a lot of healing, education and worshipful activity.
Being a teacher and living in another country either opened my eyes or blinded me according to some folks. Questions that we would debate and divide over in America were non-issues here because here the issue was: no one knew who Jesus Christ was. I spent my time introducing Jesus in the very simplest of terms and pictures. Worship was not a formal 3 songs, a prayer, the Lord’s Supper, a sermon, a closing song and prayer. Worship become something more personal and primitive and exciting and short (usually an hour but with more time spent together in other activities). The old issues of instrumental music and women’s silence in the assembly and busing and church parking lots disappeared.
One of the things that happened was that I was encountering worshipers of other denominations. In Finland I had no choice but to sometimes worship with Lutherans. I met and spoke with a Lutheran minister in Tampere and came to the belief that we were in fact worshiping and following the same Jesus. That was my first real experience of renegade religious activity (other than a short stint at an instrumental CofC).
Eventually I ended up in China where I have spent the last seven and half years.
Here in China I spend my time showing who Jesus is, sometimes not even talking about him – but it always shows. I have had kids (college students) just appear out of nowhere and ask me, “are you a Christian?”, or “why are you different than other foreign teachers?”
We would even share the Lord’s Supper with new seekers who were not follower’s (anathema to a strict CofC soldier).
So now I come to the answer of question number one. If someone regardless of their religious persuasion wants to worship Jesus with me, I do it. Now the Jesus part is what weeds them out. Those who say he isn’t the son of God don’t want to worship with me because they don’t want to, not because I don’t want them to. All other differences melt into the background. It really becomes that basic. Differences of formalities committed during worship dissolve away like salt into the sea. Worship becomes a sharing of who Jesus is. We don’t fall asleep during worship (though cell phones sometimes interrupt), we don’t think about the meal afterwards, we don’t worry about what worship looks like to an outsider. We just try to identify with and pay attention to Jesus and each other. It isn’t always perfect and often it is awkward. But it isn’t superficial.
Ok, not a great earth-shattering answer but if I had read this little blurb when I was a dogmatic Church of Christer I would have never believed these were thoughts I would ever have entertained.