This summer I am attending a Baptist International Conference on Theology Education in Prague, Czech Republic. It is a gathering of over 140 theologians and historians who come together every five years to discuss major theological issues pertaining to Baptists around the world. This is a small gathering in comparison to other gatherings that are more comprehensive.
Some denominations have a convention on a yearly basis, some on a biannual basis and some every ten years. Even in the Roman Catholic Church, theoretically any Catholic in good standing can call for a council; however it was the Pope who called for Vatican II.
For some denominations, the annual meetings seem as natural during the summertime as barbeques and trips to the beach. The United Methodist Church and the American Baptist Churches USA are not meeting this year because they have biennial meetings. However, this year there have been many important denominational conferences. The Lambeth Conference, which is the highest meeting of the Anglican Church, is currently in session having started on July 16 and continuing until August 3. Because the Anglicans are meeting every tenth year, their agenda has much more to cover than those of denominations who meet annually. The Southern Baptist Convention met in Indianapolis, IN, on June 10th and 11th, while the Presbyterian Churches met in San Jose, CA from June 21st-28th.
While at these conferences and conventions there are many discussions on issues of evangelism, global outreach, planting new churches, working with immigrants, justice for the oppressed, and freedom for economical and sexual slaves; the international newspapers report solely on the issues that seems to be dividing the major denominations. The meeting of the Presbyterians received a lot of press as they struggled with ordaining or not ordaining women and men who are not in heterosexual married relationships. The Lambeth Conference is threatened by some Bishops who want to leave the international Anglican Communion over the fact that some Episcopalian bishops in the United States consecrated Gene Robinson to be the Bishop of New Hampshire. Gene Robinson is in a union with another homosexual. The coalition of the protesting bishops had a meeting in Jerusalem before the Lambeth Conference and some have not gone to the Lambeth Conference so that their absence will demonstrate their disagreement with this decision and the unwillingness of the Conference to force Robinson to resign.
Probably the clearest way to categorize these debates is the battle between unity and purity. There are members of these faith communities and their pastors and bishops who will never separate or leave a church. They feel that the church will always be wheat and tares combined until the Day of Judgment when God will separate them. There are others who feel that impurity in the church community is like the sickness in the body. Unless it gets treated, the whole body will become sick. In the days preceding the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, many Christians spoke about the church as being sick in head and body.
As a pastor and church historian, I sing with the author of the song, "I love Thy Church, O Lord," but while I sing this sweet song, I am aware of the fact that God speaks of being holy because He is holy and that the person who does not practice holiness will not see God.