In September 2015, The United Church of Canada and the United Church of Christ celebrated together in a service recognizing their intentions to work toward a shared future through what is called “shared communion.” The service culminated a long engagement of respect and dialogue both denominations had shared and brought them together in a worshipping community for the first time.
The service was held in Niagara Falls, a community that has religion engraved upon its history. Between 1883 and 1899, the Believers Meeting for Bible Study, made met there influencing the popularization of the name “Niagara Bible Conference.”
Although the Niagara Bible Conference disbanded in 1899, its influence has lingered in Protestant Christianity, and indeed, across all religious traditions since for it was out of these gatherings that the five fundamental beliefs of Christianity were articulated. Believing that 19th century theologians had grossly misinterpreted Christianity’s basic tenets, dispensationalists from the Conference, along with others, stated five principles that were non-negotiable.
- The inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture
- The deity of Jesus Christ
- The virgin birth of Christ
- The substitutionary, atoning work of Christ on the cross
- The physical resurrection and the personal bodily return of Christ to the earth.
Since that time, the use of the word “fundamentalist” or “fundamentalism” has referred to a refusal of contemporary influences on the interpretation of beliefs not only in Christianity but in other religions as well. Indeed, it is often used to refer to the most basic beliefs within a variety of disciplines.
At the gathering, the community shared a statement in unison that was crafted from statements from both The United Church of Canada and the United Church of Christ. “That All May Be One” welded together the high ideals of each body. In doing so, parts of one were poetically paired with parts from the other, creating a liturgical piece which celebrated their common beliefs. It would have been anathema to those who had gathered there some hundred and twenty years before, strengthened in the fundamentalist beliefs they embraced a their conferences.
But the statement created by the two denominations remained decidedly embedded in doctrinal beliefs both denominations recognized. Another way of celebrating our companionship on the journey might have been the values by which the two denominations choose to live, values that are almost exactly aligned and that refuse to discriminate based on doctrinal belief.
While at Chautauqua Institution this summer, acting as Chaplain for the United Church of Christ denominational house, I considered using “That All May Be One” and so downloaded it from the internet. But as I read it again, I realized that its doctrinal statements would not be embraced by a growing number of people in the generations already so ignored by the institutional church. So I worked on it for a time and produced a piece that I believe is ultimately more inclusive as it speaks to the values that are held by people of goodwill, regardless of what their doctrinal beliefs, or lack thereof, might be.
I share it with you today in the hopes that it, too, might edify the deepening relationship between our two denominations. As we journey forward toward a shared future, I know that, for many, the values we share may resonate more deeply than our beliefs. Those values, however, are not reflected in traditional articulations of Christianity so I have refocused the statement for the purpose of finding a shared future that is inclusive of all.
Ah, we are here.
We come into this place together
to challenge one another
to bear the cost and know the joys of love:
to celebrate its presence;
to live with respect in creation;
to become love
in the service of others,
in the pursuit of justice,
and the resistance of evil;
to recognize our humanity
and celebrate it at our table;
to see love and loss in one another’s eyes,
and by them,
to be both convicted and freed.
May love bind us to one another
so we might better serve the world.
As one, we proclaim:
We are not alone,
for we journey together
in the spirit of love.