Eccumenicity – and the color Green
I’m sitting in the midst of the woods as I write, and writing is difficult because I can’t take my eyes of the color green. Perhaps colors green would be more accurate: here the green of the vine maple leaves, there the green of the blue-spruce, or hemlock, or fir, or sword fern, or cedar. Here the green lit by the sun, there the green muted by the shade. . Here the moss on the tree, there the groundcover. Count, if you can, how many shades of green are there; or don’t count. Either way, you know there are hundreds of shades, just among the trees alone, never mind the ground cover.
Rich Mullins sings of how God has provided ‘the color green’ to fill these fields with praise. The stunning, lavish diversity of it all reminds of God’s intention for the global church. I’m impressed by malleability of the gospel. Go to Nepal and see the prayer flags strung in the courtyard of the church building, with men and women sitting on ground opposite sides of the sanctuary. Try South America, with the unabashedly open expressions of emotion that are so characteristic of Latin American peoples. Let’s visit a home Bible study in England where you’ll find people sipping merlot as they consider the implications of Isaiah and God’s kingdom claims on their lives. Few Christians drink wine in Nepal. In England or France it’s almost a given. In Germany? Beer. In Seattle? Coffee. In Southern California? - I’m still trying to figure that out.
High Church. Low Church. Rock Music. Chant. Taize. Smoke machines. Incense. Prayer flags. Prayer beads. Hey – if the Spirit is in it, it’s all the colors green – all tree.
Ecology, it seems, has some important lessons to teach us about church life. Fir trees belong in the soggy Northwest, and Palm trees in the California desert because the convergence of climate and soil have created a culture hospitable to certain trees, but not others. Likewise, the soil of culture (social mores and taboos, economic matters, and even physical geography) become nutrients for some forms of church, but are utterly hostile to others. It’s this capacity of the church to take shape in diverse environments that is one of the reasons for its global appeal. You don’t need to learn Hebrew, build a building with certain size windows, and sing songs at certain times of the day. Instead, the church morphs to fit the culture. Yet, when Christ is still in the midst, it remains the church; just a different shade of green.
Of course this malleability has it’s own danger. If we’re not careful to ‘guard the good news’, the culture forms that contain it may so torture and mutate the message that the gospel gets lost entirely. We need to work hard at preserving the essence which is this.
When the church fails to understand this, her mission endeavors impose the same shade of green everywhere. Such activity is better called colonialism than mission, for God’s intention has always been the redeeming of various cultures, rather than their destruction. So let’s stop insisting that our color green is the greenest of them all – the diversity is a testimony to the incredible beauty and freedom that Christ’s body has, and I’d argue that a body that is beautiful, creative, adaptable, and free, is healthy.