As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2: 42-47).
The church picnic, in one form or another, has been around since the church began. Though the setting and the “bread” has evolved over the past 2,000 years, the beauty of coming together to eat with happy hearts, enjoying each others’ contributions and company, remains unchanged.
Having grown up in a small, midwestern farming community I have fond memories of the church picnic. As I recall, we’d all meet at a shelter near one of the member’s ponds. It was a true “potluck” in that no one was assigned anything but just asked to bring a “dish to pass.” I recall comfort foods—casseroles were always a hit—with every combination of meat with potatoes, noodles, or rice imaginable. There were fresh fruits and veggies, showing off the best gardeners’ harvests. And of course, there were “Jell-O salads.” Many would call Jell-O salad an oxymoron, but my foremothers would argue that shredded carrots in orange Jell-O (or 7-Up and canned fruit mixed with any other color of Jell-O) belong on the “salad” table.
I now attend a church in a suburban, midwestern community. It is slightly more diverse and made up of members who come from different backgrounds and geographical locations. Because of the breadth of their experiences, the fare at the church picnic differs greatly from what I grew up with. The main dishes are not casseroles, but we serve burgers (beef and veggie) from the grill instead. The burgers are good, but the sides are the main attraction. Green salads and pasta salads with unique additions and tasty dressings, fresh fruit salads with unusual combinations like watermelon and cucumber, and homemade breads and muffins line the tables. There are dishes with a Mediterranean flare, Italian flavors, and spicy Mexican dips and salsas.
It strikes me that church picnics and potlucks are much like the church itself. The CRC is one denomination, but within it there are many flavors of congregations. And within each church, many members with varied dispositions. The food at our potlucks varies based on the community, the geographic location, and the individuals attending. I’m sure west coast, east coast, southern, and Canadian churches offer several other menu options not typically seen here in the Midwest.
In the same way, our congregations and interpretations of scripture may vary. Some are more traditional, with comfortable beliefs and predictable patterns. Their practices may have remained fairly stable over the years as their exposure to new ideas is more limited.
Other congregations have experienced a more diverse mix of people with different church backgrounds (or no church background), cultural norms, and lifestyles. Like trying a new dish or spice, these congregations may have been pushed out of their comfort zones in order to assimilate differing viewpoints.
Of course, churches can’t accept all new ideas and beliefs that come through the door. Just as spoiled mayonnaise or e-coli-contaminated lettuce can be toxic at a picnic, the church must discern what it allows in. These toxins may not be visible initially, but they can grow and eventually cause the death of a church. Any beliefs that strike at the root of Christianity—i.e. that our salvation comes through Christ and we are to love God above all and our neighbor as ourselves—if new ideas go against these basic tenets, we should push them away like a poison.
Still, there is much joy in experiencing the full bounty and beauty of our differences. Like a picky child, if we are not willing to try a new dish before deciding we don’t like it, if we pull up our nose at the cucumber-watermelon dish before taking a bite, or push away the lemon quinoa chickpea salad in disgust, we might miss out on the deliciousness that God has set before us!
In the same way, a diversity of individuals cross our paths every day. They walk through our church doors looking for love and acceptance. God calls us to reach out to those from other cultures or races, different from our own. He calls us to welcome those with handicaps or social limitations into our conversations. To not judge those with different lifestyles before getting to know them. To reach across the aisle and shake hands with those who represent political views that oppose our own.
In other words, God asks us to sit with the stranger at the church picnic. Even when that “stranger” might be someone we know. He asks us to love them, even when loving them makes us uncomfortable.
The church will thrive when we follow God’s calling. Do we want the Lord to “add to our numbers daily, those who are being saved”? Then we need to model ourselves after the early church. “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.”
Will every person agree on what tastes good at a potluck? Of course not. God has made us all different. Will all congregations agree on what is right within the bounds of their beliefs? Again, no. Theologians, pastors, and laypeople have argued over religion for centuries.
But like the picnic, whose main purpose is to provide nourishment and fellowship, if church leaders keep those basics in mind, perhaps we can preserve the health and life of a denomination that is often at odds with itself. If we agree that our life and salvation are through Jesus Christ alone, we will nourish our faith. And if we agree to disagree on the less crucial aspects of our faith, then our fellowship and unity will remain strong.
Through prayer, honest conversation, and open hearts filled with love, we can join hands around the table. We can enjoy the feast God has given us, with all its many flavors, and give thanks for the abundance he provides.