The Gospel Story

Still Wearing Uniforms

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The voice of the Oriole’s public address announcer sounded revived as the 2002 Orioles took the field at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. I nestled into my seat and watched the position players surface from the dugout and run onto the field. This game was in April so the evening air was a tad chilly and warm ballpark hotdogs were going to hit the spot. The stadium was nearly full. This was nice to see for a weeknight game. However, the World Champion New York Yankees were in town and this game was the first of a spring series. When the Orioles took the field the stadium roared as the announcer belted out their name. Excitement was building and for many fans this was their first game in the downtown park this year.  Then, sounding somewhat reserved, the Yankee’s lineup was announced. To my surprise, the stadium seemed to come alive with even greater enthusiasm and many sections throughout the stadium started their chants, “Let’s Go Yankees!” I was thrilled, being a Yankee fan, to see so many other Yankee fans in my section and even right around my seat. I would estimate that 70% of those in attendance were rooting for New York that night.

New York City is only three hours north of Baltimore and it’s not shocking that so many attended that night. Yet, I never expected such a lopsided crowd. And, the chants lasted the entire game. When something favorable happened for the Yankees I had plenty of people around me to high five or pump a fist with. This was great! There’s nothing like a fellow Yankee fan and their enthusiasm. On the other hand, it wasn’t exactly all smiles and best wishes from Orioles’ fans. I even remember another game later that summer where I was outnumbered by Oriole fans and they did their best to intimidate me as I wore my allegiance on my chest. I had the only navy t-shirt with the words World Series Champions New York Yankees on it in the midst of several outfield rows where everyone else was clearly aggressively rooting for Baltimore. Rudeness and distasteful remarks are my only memories of that game. 

Is this what we do with just about everything in life, including our faith? Instead of wearing uniforms, do we wear attitudes and mindsets so that others will know exactly where our allegiance is? While allegiance to Christ and the Gospel is of utmost importance, are we adding a particular “uniform” that tells others who we’re rooting for? In both of the games I mentioned it’s clear that everyone attending those games were baseball fans. I’m sure that if I had met some of those Oriole fans in different circumstances, say, at someone’s birthday party, or perhaps at a theme park, and didn’t know they were Oriole fans (and they didn’t know I was a Yankee fan), then I might find myself laughing at the same joke or sharing a particular perspective on Baltimore’s latest developments. I might even find them to be a potential friend. However, the setting that we were in, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, provided a pretense for baseball fans to become opponents or even threats to one another. In that setting, we put on opposing “uniforms” and competed, similar to the players on the field. 

Churches in our culture seem to foster similar competition, even if it’s done unwittingly. Churches are teams and they have their members put on uniforms. This creates a pretense in our communities. In front of one church building a sign might read First United Methodist, another Moundford Lutheran, or another, Springfield Baptist. A clear message is sent to the community. We’re wearing uniforms. And anyone who isn’t on our team must be an opponent or even a threat. For the Baltimore fans who tried to unsettle me as a Yankee fan, the only thing they deduced about me was that I wasn’t an Oriole fan and therefore, I must be an opponent that needed to be treated as a trespasser. This is natural for us as a culture. We don’t view each other as humans first. We are taught and encouraged to see others as opponents and many times to see other as threats. Sports provides us with a good example of that mentality and I’m curious to know if we recognize that mentality in our churches. 

For those of us that live in neighborhoods where neighbors live right next to each other, I’m assuming that most of us treat our neighbors with respect. Some of us have children that play with other neighbors’ children. Sometimes we have neighbors over for dinner or they invite us over to their houses for a party or an evening with a firepit. Because we already have the pretense of being neighbors we tend to feel that everyone in the neighborhood has got a neighborhood uniform on. We’re all taking it for granted that each of us seeks the basic welfare of our team, the neighborhood. We don’t have problems talking to neighbors about community affairs, new developments, quality of education in the area, etc. We do what neighbors naturally do and even our knowledge of other neighbors’ beliefs tend to be peripheral concerns. 

However, imagine all the houses in a neighborhood each having signs in the front yards which declares that house’s faith. Imagine one house posting a sign that reads First United Methodist, another Moundford Lutheran, and another Springfield Baptist, etc. You get the point. That would be odd and unnecessary. If our neighbors behaved like our churches (our teams) and we kept our uniforms front and center (our church affiliation) in our yards, I’m wondering who would treat their neighbors as fellow humans instead of treating them as opponents and threats. Would the Baptist family ever invite the Methodist family over for dinner? Would the Lutheran family ever let their children play with the children from the Catholic family?

These uniforms behave as barriers and many times barriers are what people prefer. We feel secure rooting for the team our parents’ did, or we feel empowered rooting for the “strongest” team in the neighborhood. However, neighborhoods naturally aren’t set up to make neighbors compete. Do the churches in our communities seem to be set up this way? Why can’t churches talk about Jesus without stereotyping another church? Why don’t churches ever get together for a festival? If Lutheran families in a neighborhood can have their Methodist neighbors over for dinner why can’t churches be mature enough to take off their uniforms and invite neighboring churches to something common?

I say something because I don’t want us to think that inviting our Methodist neighbors to our building is a genuine act. Our building is an opposing stadium. Stadium is the Latin form of the Greek word stadion, which represented the length of 600 human feet. The Stadium is where the race takes place, or in modern times, where the sporting event takes place, the competition. While it may be fun to watch a race or a sporting event, someone competing is always going to lose.

Our churches seem to have become our home stadiums where we feel secure having a “home-field advantage.” But what if others didn’t see us in a uniform? For example, what if a church wanted to have a picnic and movie night in the park, and wanted to invite other churches that they hadn’t really become acquainted with yet? The setting makes a difference. The agenda makes a difference. If churches invite other churches to their home field for a church event, naturally, other churches view this as competition and want nothing to do with it. They feel threatened. They feel that someone is going to try to convince them to become a ‘Yankee fan.’

It’s funny that a community can enjoy a parade where a mix of so many different people from different churches are present but the same community splits up when it comes to “exercising its faith.” Of course, there are disagreements when it comes to teaching who Jesus is and why he came. But this has to indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of faith in Jesus. If a community must split in order to worship God then its worship is flawed. Its understanding of the Gospel is flawed. Can’t we see we’re all supposed to be on the same team, Jesus’ team? I think there are many who agree that a community should be unified in Jesus if it claims to worship God in truth. But, we’re still wearing uniforms and seem to be more concerned about our team winning. If that’s true then many churches will end up losing in the long run because they simply can’t see that their teaching, which creates competition, isn’t God’s teaching. Competition in sports is natural. Competition in faith is ungodly and Satanic.

“I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you’ve been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:1-6

Why are believers who are supposed to be enlightened and who are supposed to possess God’s heavenly wisdom still wearing uniforms?

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