Growing up in a fundamentalist/conservative church and home, the words compromise, ecumenical, and tolerance (in reference to other denominations) were pejorative words. To compromise was to give up truth (or some of it); to be ecumenical meant that you agreed with people’s beliefs that you didn’t hold (or something like that); and tolerance was just a taboo, especially when it came to ministry.
There was a lot of talk among evangelicals about “tearing down walls” between denominations and religious groups (Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox mostly). It was either very popular to pursue this ecumenical unity, or it was very damning. Personally, while growing up, I was part of the “unpopular” who touted my fundamentalist faith as superior, but there was always something I found in the tearing down of walls between denominations. “What’s so bad about joining together?” I would ask. “Jesus wanted us to be united.”
After college, for a while, it seemed to me as though tearing down the walls–at least in my heart and practice of ministry and life–was long overdue. God had been tearing down my own walls of intolerance and arrogance toward others, and I was seeing the yards of my neighbors because there were no walls to block the view.
One of the things I have enjoyed during this time is an unfettered association with other denominations, allowing myself to bask in the beauty of the worldviews of the others–because nobody gets it all right, so everyone must get at least a couple of things right. It has been an awesome experience.
What I am finding is that the beauty of each “flavor of faith” can be savored and tasted, not by tearing down walls with no semblance of separation and leaving no boundaries. But the beauty of each can be enjoyed by allowing fences to be guarding each property. Fences allow others to know that friendship and fellowship are still wanted, are still possible, and are in fact necessary to keep the Community an attractive place to join. When we make contacts with those who are not living in our Community, we can invite them to our homes, allowing our neighbors the courtesy and respect they deserve and have earned, because they have given us the same thing. There are boundaries, yet there is respect. There are distinctions, yet there is fellowship.
Hopefully, with walls down and fences up, visitors won’t come around and wonder, “Why do they have all these really high walls up between them? Don’t they have the same Leader? Good grief, why would I want to move here!?”