I want you to imagine Christianity depicted as a large house. A house with multiple floors, sections, and rooms.
There’s a Catholic section. An Orthodox section. There are rooms for Anabaptists and Anglicans. Rooms for Mainline Protestants, Pentecostals & Charismatics. And there’s an entire floor for the vast array of Evangelicals. Lots and lots of rooms.
All under the same roof.
I was raised in a church that belonged to the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world—the Assemblies of God (a.k.a. the A/G). After eventually graduating from an A/G university with a degree in Pastoral Ministries, I spent the first seventeen years of my vocational ministry life working at an A/G church.
I have nothing but gratitude and respect for the Assemblies of God. I wouldn’t trade my experience for that of anyone else. And I will always be Pentecostal—that is, I am resolutely convicted that one can have real experiences with God. God is not simply a subject to be studied in a seminary textbook. God is a real Being we can encounter. This is and always will be part of my identity.
Nevertheless, here is my confession.
For the vast majority of my years, I spent my life in a locked room. My exposure to the rest of the Christian house was embarrassingly minimal. The door was kept locked for a variety of reasons. Early on, I suppose it was out of simple ignorance. As a child I probably had no idea there were other rooms.
But over time, it was my growing fears and insecurities that kept the door locked. No doubt these fears were stoked by external voices. But the effect was deep and long-lasting. By the time I was a twenty-something minister, virtually all of the sermons I listened to, books I read, and leaders I gleaned from were from within my own tiny section of the house.
Then at some point in my early 30s, I began to get a little claustrophobic. My dissatisfaction combined with wonder & curiosity emboldened me for the first time to unlock the door. I walked through that door and began to wander a bit outside of my own little room.
And as I allowed myself to explore the rest of the house, a surprising thing happened. I kept discovering riches in every room. I began to learn from Christians of every kind and from every section of the house. I stumbled upon the realization that while every stream and tradition of the Christian faith has its faults and excesses, it also has something essential and beautiful to bring to the table. Quarantining myself within my own locked room only kept me impoverished from the diverse wealth of Christ’s church.
Maintaining a sectarian mindset confines us to a limited perspective. As long as we incarcerate ourselves within the boundaries of our own streams and traditions, we’ll never gain the capacity to see things from a different point-of-view. We simply don’t know what we don’t know. It’s a subtle form of self-deception. We are seeking to console our own fears and anxieties within the locked room of a theological system, rather than following the One who transcends boundaries and systems.
That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.”John 20:19
Therefore, I want to give you permission to take a tour around the house. You don’t have to spend your entire life locked inside a bedroom closet. Unlock the door. (The door is always locked from the inside.) Step out into the hallway and begin to look around. It doesn’t mean you have to permanently move out of your own room, of course. It’s always nice to have a place we can return to every night.
But it’s also okay to enjoy and appreciate the rest of the house. Sure, you’ll spend more time in some rooms than others. You’ll probably even gain a deeper appreciation for what you like about your own room.
But once you start discovering the multifaceted beauty and diverse goodness of this magnificent edifice we call the global and historic church of Jesus Christ, you’ll never want to lock the door again.
(The artwork is “House of Belonging” by Scott Erickson.)
2 thoughts on “The [Un]Locked Door”
Are you aware that Jon and Elizabeth Smith have moved to California and pastor a church in Elk Grove?
Yes – they’re probably 6-7 hours away