Devon Dick | Church scandal over unity
A former Baptist tutor at United Theological College of the West Indies is now licensed to preach in the Church of England and his wife is now a church warden, a significant position. This discovery was made on a recent visit I made to England to speak about reparation.
Baptist pastors have a history of uniting when not in Jamaica. A former colleague/classmate of mine is now a Methodist minister in the USA. In addition, a former general secretary of the Jamaica Baptist Union has completed 25 years as a Presbyterian pastor. These Baptist stalwarts joined three different denominations. If these three could execute God's ministry in these denominations, what is preventing more unity in Jamaica? Unless these Baptists are apostates, or the denominations that accepted them are apostates, then it is an indictment on the Church in Jamaica not to have widened and deepened the unity.
Furthermore, the supplication of Jesus is, 'my prayer is not for them alone, I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one ...' (John 17:20, 21). Jesus prayed for the oneness of the people of God on the example of the oneness he shared with his Father and the Holy Spirit. This prayer of Jesus should be taken seriously with urgent intention for it to be fulfilled. How dare any denomination ignore this request and desire of the Lord that we may be one? We can be one without everyone agreeing on every non-essential. In fact, even within a denomination all Christians do not see eye to eye but they are one in that denomination. Church division is a scandal and impoverishes our witness.
Legacy of slave era
Many of the differences are legacies of the slavery era. The missionaries came with these divisions and we have accepted them and defended these distinctions oftentimes, blindly, and as if they are cast in stone. Acquiescent to the present state of affairs, in terms of the differences and divisions as the new norm, and being contented with it, is outrageous. Furthermore, we have increased these divisions with a 1999 estimate of some 600 denominations (See Devon Dick, Rebellion to Riot pp 119-136). This is not necessarily progress or growth, but division, difference and disunity.
The only basis not to consider the power of unity is if the other denomination is not Christian. However, if they are Christians and we refuse to consider working together and uniting, then it is a disgrace to the one body of Christ.
The traditional denominations need to discern that many Christians are going to churches which are identified as non-denominational as well as to ministries, partly because they are not excited by labels which are often seen as reasons for 'turf wars'. Perhaps the decline in membership in the traditional churches is partly due to the church ignoring Jesus' prayer.
Church unity ought to be based on the prayer of Jesus, which could be expressed in more cooperation, improved understandings, mergers and organic unity. Diversity as expressed in denominationalism will be acceptable only in the instance where it provides special scope, based on specific giftedness by the Spirit to contribute to the common calling and mandate.
Thankfully, there is grass-roots form of church oneness to be found in rural communities, such as in parts of Clarendon where there are regular joint conventions, gatherings and similar worship rituals.
Since the 21st century, there has been no major demonstration of oneness among denominations in Jamaica. There needs to be a commitment to the prayer of Jesus which calls for oneness. The time is now to work towards church unity.
- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.