If churches really followed the teachings of Scripture, wouldn't they be more alike in their doctrines, with fewer disagreements between, and within, them?

The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them,
that they may be one even as we are one…
I desire that they also whom thou hast given me
may be with me where I am.

John 17:21-22

Two ways of being in Christ, one earthly and one heavenly. On earth we will be known by our unity. In heavenwell, that is not something that can be described in an email. But whatever it is, it is life with Christ in a way utterly unlike any life we have had with Him before.

But what does it mean to "be one"? We employ the concept of oneness all the time, in settings secular and sacred. The motto of the United States of America is "Out of Many, One." In the marriage service we speak of two people becoming one flesh.

Initially, we think it must mean we're alike. We're one because we do the same things and think the same things. Sometimes couples are alarmed when differences surface after a time: different opinions, different personal styles, different ways of doing things. Does the fact that we don't resemble each other as much as we thought we did mean that we don't love each other?

No, of course not. Couples don't have to be alike, or people in families, any more than Rhode Island should be more like Texas.

But the Church? Shouldn't the Church be of one mind about its doctrines?

Well, maybe in heaven it is, although I suspect heaven may not be a very doctrinal place. But the Church has really never been of one mind doctrinally we have been tinkering with the faith ever since we received it, exploring its implications for life in the world, often coming to different conclusions about what they are. Each individual tinkers, too, struggling to figure out how he or she will live.

But we should at least do what the Bible says, someone mutters, annoyed. Well, we can trybut yesterday's readings for the Daily Office included one about how to manage your purchasing of slaves: It's okay to buy people from other countries, it says, but don't buy anyone from your own country. Leviticus 25:44. Okay.

The truth: good people will disagree about very important things. The more important they are, the more passionate their disagreement will be. A second truth: history instructs us, along with scripture. God continues to reveal his truth and lovewe don't think it's okay to buy and sell slaves now, no matter what it says in Leviticus. The rules of engagement for human oneness must include the possibility of such disagreement and such instruction.

Our oneness can't be about uniformity of opinion or practice. It must be about membership in a fellowship of people all related to God in the same way: beloved of God, known by God, redeemed by Christ. One, then, in loving response to love, able to reach across the gulf of our differences and desirous of doing so.

Copyright © 2004 Barbara Crafton

First presented as The Rules of Engagement, one of the Almost-Daily eMos from the Geranium Farm, e-mail messages sent by Episcopal priest and writer Barbara Crafton. Visit her Web site.