Near the conclusion of an essay entitled “Life in a Muddy World: Historical and Theological Reflections on Denomenationalism,” Bruce Guenther writes that
postmodernism has generated an interest in particularities as a reaction to the imposition of totalizing metanarratives. We cannot express or embody our faith apart from cultural forms. This interest in cultural particularities creates a new opportunity for denominations, especially those that have a clear sense of their theological identity and vision, that can articulate it in a narrative form, and that can present it in a relational way, inviting people to be a part of a community that is participating in an ongoing story (or narrative).
This quote most explicitly states some of the profoundly troubling assumptions and tendencies Guenther exhibits throughout his essay, which seem to be generally pervasive in articulations of believers’ church ecclesiology. Before getting to the substance of my concern I wish to make two general observations.
First, if Guenther reads “postmodernity” to say that because we will always “embody our faith” in a manner clothed by our particular cultural identity we ought to renounce the effort for world-wide communion (while still “inviting” others to adopt our particular identity), he misses one of its crucial tenets, especially in its Derridian manifestations. Derrida’s reflections on im/possibility are not a nihilistic resignation to “the way things are.” Rather, as Peter Blum has argued (in an explicit believers’ church context), it is precisely im/possibility that enables an intentionality that in turn makes the impossible possible.
Second, Guenther simply assumes the legitimacy of “postmodernism”; that is, that postmodernity is here to stay, that its assessment of our time is correct, and that it is therefore proper for the church to conform to its assessment. This observation is of greater importance to the issue of believers’ church ecclesiology. For, even if Guenther is correct in his assumption that postmodernity offers a valid assessment of our world (in which case, he’s merely lazy), this ought not to lead to a necessary endorsement on our part. The world is also full of structural violence and injustice; this does not mean we should endorse the church’s complicity and involvement in such structures. I think for example of Will Campbell, who spent a lifetime prophetically decrying the separation of southern “black” and “white” churches, a separation drawn along cultural (racist!) lines that enabled (and still enables) the church “to adjust to a pluralistic cultural reality” (Guenther, 72). I have reservations with many aspects of Alain Badiou’s philosophical project (at least, insofar as I understand it), but he is surely correct when he writes that in the face of postmodern identitarian logic “St Paul’s statement rings out….A genuinely stupefying statement when one knows the rules of the ancient world: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female’ (Gal. 3.28)!”
However, these observations only gesture at what I find most problematic in Guenther’s paper: Guenther seems to equate (certain forms of) the disunity amongst denominations with biblical diversity and denominational unity with uniformity; for some reason, he cannot conceive of deep diversity that exists in communion. (It is worth noting that earlier in the same volume Sheila Klassen-Wiebe strays into the same fallacy when she argues that the denomenational reality of the church is not cause for lament, but a gift of diversity from God (eg. Klassen-Wiebe, 8, 28)).
Guenther argues that “differences [by which he means denominational differences] can be useful….Diversity can contribute to a more fully orbed theology” (Guenther, 67-68). He notes that the church must adopt different structures and strategies in order to be faithful in various cultural contexts. The two biblical images he looks at, the body of Christ and the various nations gathered at the throne of God in Revelation 7, are particularly illustrative of his erroneous framework. The body of Christ, he claims, does not suggest uniformity, but rather, denominational difference. Likewise, he suggests that the various nations in Revelation 7 may imply “denominational diversity” (Guenther, 72n55).
The almost tragic fact of the matter is that Guenther is correct in these observations. Difference, even irreconcilable difference, can be fruitful, the church does not have one eternal shape or form, and there are a plethora of biblical images that suggest a diverse church. However, this difference is always presented within a concrete unity. The various nations gather together in common worship; the body parts belong to one body; the Gentile churches collect money for “the poor” in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8); Paul commands harmonious commensality amongst the hopelessly warring Jewish and Greek factions in the Roman church (Romans 14-15:22) and egalitarian table fellowship amongst the socially divided Corinthian church (1 Cor. 11:17-34); before receiving their different commissions in John 21, Peter and the beloved disciple enjoy table fellowship with the resurrected Christ. The list could go on, but this should make sufficiently clear that while difference in the church is to be celebrated, it is sin when practiced outside of communion.
Guenther would seem to think that at this point I am arguing for some form of uniformity, perhaps masked as difference. Yet, it is hardly striking to point out that many of today’s denominations exist in communion despite deep divides; sometimes these differences are harmful, but at times they are fruitful. Along this line of reasoning, Stanley Hauerwas notes that “If you think Rome is the office of uniformity, then you have never been in the same room with Jesuits and Dominicans.” Perhaps the most profound aspect of Christian communion is the diversity it ought to and can encompass; when we relegate this diversity to those with whom we are not in communion – to those who can beside, but not alongside, us practice their gospel in their own way – we limit the power of difference and cheapen the gospel.
 New Perspectives in Believers Church Ecclesiology, eds. Abe Dueck, Helmut Harder, and Karl Koop, (Winnipeg: CMU Press: 2010), 71-72. Hereafter cited in text.
 Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, trans. Ray Brassier (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 9.
 Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary: Conversations Between a Radical Democrat and a Christian (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2008), 325.