Our church has a library of books. Few people know where the books come from and nobody really seems to be in charge of discerning the content of the library. The power over this library is with the people, it's totally decentralized. This is a really good thing, however, because of this, because of the lack of clarity and the lack of any discerning authority, because there is no shared vision for the purpose or the theological content of this library there are a myriad of different books with very different, even opposing perspectives on God. For example, on the top of one of the shelves are some of the books from the famous (or infamous) Left Behind series--the typology of dispensationalist eschatology (you know, the "rapture" stuff). On the very same shelf, just a few books down is a book called The Rapture Exposed (indeed, a favorite of mine... I admit I added it) which, in many ways, is a opposing response to Left Behind and its theology. There's Purpose Driven Church and there's Unlearning Church. There's books by Rob Bell and books by David Jeremiah.
While our library might not serve well as a summary or a monolithic example of "what we believe" for new members, it does represent something else that's pretty important. It represents the current nature of the global Church. The power of the Church is decentralized. It cannot truly be contained. As soon as we begin to try and rein it in and define its proclamation in simplistic terms, it gets away from us. It eludes our efforts to confine it and it refuses to stay where we want it to stay. It's wildly and wondrously out of control.
What we find in the church is not a shared perspective but a community of searchers. A messy bunch of folks who are all striving to understand that which cannot be understood while constantly claiming that they have it down, when it's obvious that they don't. It's like a junior high boy; a big body with very little coordination.
So What do we do?
How can we expect to be the Body of Christ if we can't even agree with one another. Well, our church library might help us understand that as well. While we obviously carry with us a plurality of different perspectives, we seem to be carrying them in the same direction (at least we're trying to). The temptation might be to centralize the power, to proclaim "this is what we believe!" in very rigid terms (not that we can't do that openly and inclusively) and to try to take control. But that would not end well. The product of such an endeavor would likely be something other than the Body of Christ, it would at least be a broken body. The difficult thing to do, the narrow path, would be to embrace the diversity and messiness of the community and to simply keep adding books. It might be good for us to have some clarity as to the purpose of our library, to have someone in charge of sorting the books, keeping it up to date and taking old useless books out of the library, and to have a section of books we can all appreciate together. It might be helpful for us to remember that there's more to us than our library, there's more to being the church than merely believing things. We can look to Christ, walk in His direction together (even though we might not even agree on that), look to Him for our identity, even our shared identity, and continue to keep the library circulating. We are free to pick up the books of those with whom we disagree and we're free to add some of our own favorites the the stack. We can take the library with us as long as we just keep moving... slow as we may.
Every once in a while I like to add a book I like, even a controversial one, just to see it on the shelf.