While has been quite a bit of talk about the post-millennial generation and the decline of mainline churches, the issue may go much further back than the industrial revolution. The fracture of the Roman Catholic Church and the rise of Protestantism occurred parallel to the rise of European nationalism. As international pandemics, wars, economic recessions, and terrorism have so amply pointed out, the luxury of nationalism is being usurped by the necessity of globalism. The rise of the internet and the ability to quickly and freely exchange ideas globally has inversely mirrored the decline of traditional denominations. Just as globalism is challenging the isolationism of a purely nationalistic approach, ecumenicism expressed in a sense of universal spirituality is causing denominations to reassess their role in the Body of Christ.
This should not be a question of one or the other. Just as there is a balance between state and national identity within the United States, there can be a balance of nationalism and globalism as well as ecumenicism and denominational identity. In the Christian faith, however, the separation can be easier to define if denominations are willing to release their claim on sole salvation. As Christians we are called to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Ecumenically, we can all agree that there is one God and one Savior in our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by the grace given through Jesus Christ alone the salvation is attained. There is no doubt or significant disagreement on this statement of faith. Since it is our faith in Jesus Christ that offers salvation and unites us as the Body of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, no one denomination can claim to be “the” church by which salvation is found.
So what is the role of denominations in this ecumenical scenario? While we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, the way we live out our salvation in the world is the path of discipleship. How we understand the saving work of Jesus Christ, the nature of God, and the call to holiness vary greatly. Just as there were twelve apostles with very different callings and four gospels that view the life of Jesus from different perspectives, there are as many paths of discipleship as there are denominations. Denominations should stop viewing themselves as the sole keepers of salvation since this is reserved for God alone who is the judge of us all. Instead, denominations should begin to view themselves as different forms of spirituality on the path of discipleship. These forms of spirituality stress various characteristics of discipleship to aid the disciples as they grow in their relationship with God. Instead of trying to be like each other, denominations should celebrate their unique spiritual approaches while acknowledging their come Lord and Savior. There is one faith and one Savior but there are as many spiritual expressions of how to live out that faith in discipleship as there are parenting styles. We all want our children to grow into their fullest created selves but our parenting approaches differ dramatically. There is room and a place for both.