As a denominational executive, and as a member of the steering committee of CANAAC—the Caribbean and North American Area Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC)—I’ve been reflecting lately on the state of our world, our nations—especially in North America—and the multiple divisions that we see in our society. As events develop, it seems that all of our institutions—governmental, societal, and even our religious institutions and churches—seem to be reacting to the world’s events as they occur. And with all of this reacting, it makes me wonder, who is leading?
As Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, I believe that our Lord has something to say about this condition in which we find ourselves. Amidst all of the splintering, arguing, disagreement, and discord, what if there were institutions that modeled a different path? What if there were institutions that epitomized a different way—a way of respect for each other, a way that demonstrates care and concern for each other, and yes, a way that demonstrates the possibility that we can care for each other and love each other even as we love ourselves?
As it turns out, such institutions do (or should) exist, though I must admit, amidst the cacophony of voices and situations competing for our attention, these institutions seem to have lost their way. Such institutions—the physical manifestation of the Church, in its many forms—was built to represent a new way of being—a new way of living—a new way of loving. As members of Christ‘s Church, we are called to be a people of this different way. We are called to be people of the vine, as Christ himself described to us in the writings of John 15:
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
Jesus is calling us to holiness—to maintain a spiritual connection with him—and through this connection, a living connection signified by a living vine, he is calling us to a spiritual connection with each other. I would note that in any vine, no two branches are identical, the degree of development may be different, the sizes and positioning may be different, and the health and growth may be different, but as long as the branches are connected through the stem to the root, it remains one vine nourished at the source.
Jesus goes on to say,
6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
This is an exciting promise—if we remain connected to the source of life—Jesus Christ, he will provide for all of our spiritual needs, which I believe includes the need for belonging, the need for unity, the need for family. I would further note here that unity does not mean uniformity. As every branch of the vine is different, so can we all continue to be different—different congregations, different denominations, different contextualized expressions of the vine in different nations—but through it all, connected at the root to the power source that is Christ.
I don’t want to minimize the reality of the difficulties we face in our nations or the reality of significant sinfulness that continues to reign in our world. Jesus also recognizes this in John 15 when he says,
6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned.
This is the judgment of Christ for those who intentionally walk away from the vine. May it not be so for us. May we, as Christians, in spite of our different perspectives, different experiences, different hurts, different histories, may we continue to look to Christ as our source of life, and through him, may we see each other as fellow branches of the same vine, nourished by the same source. And may we leave the pruning up to the master gardener who is our head.
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.”
We have much work to do, and before we do that work, may we simply – be – resting in the knowledge that we are one with the creator of the universe. May we rest in the knowledge that the heavy lifting is up to Christ, and as we lean into his vision, his being, his vine, may we be found faithful as co-laborers doing the work that leads to a new vision of unity for Christ’s church—a unity that will be seen by those not of the vine as an example of what could be—an example for our nations to follow.
—Colin P Watson Sr.
Christian Reformed Church in North America
CANAAC Steering Committee Deputy Convenor