About a week ago I took my husband to visit the church buildings that I spent the most time in as a child and teenager. It used to be called “Canley Heights Church of God.” My grandfather was the Pastor there before I was born, until I was 14 years old. My mum and dad were married in the main building and I was baptised by my grandfather there. I spent many Sunday afternoons, weekends and school holidays in the parsonage with my grandparents.
The Pastor of the church that owns it now, showed JD and I around and I was stunned by how different it looked internally. Most of the walls had been knocked down so that the auditorium extended into what used to be office buildings, kitchen and Sunday school rooms. The main double doors we used to use are now hidden behind the stage, and where we once had our stage is now considered a side wall. The cross is still there (on their side wall) and the baptismal that was under our stage is now underneath chairs. The main entry to the church is a doorway that has been added at the back of the church where there used to be a large eating space in front of the kitchen. This is all part of the seating area now. What was once our external “recreation room” has been renovated into their kitchen. The “dormitory” is now the parsonage and the parsonage that my grandparents lived in still looks essentially the same inside but is used as Sunday school rooms. My grandparents’ vegetable garden, trees and fence have been replaced by a campfire and grassy field. The church’s external “video room” is now used as a granny flat for youth to sleep over in bunk beds. The carpark looks the same but felt smaller and what was once a carport where we parked our minibus has been extended for outside events.
It was so nostalgic to be there and to show JD around. It’s been about 15 years since I last saw the place. I felt an overwhelming gratitude for the people I have interacted with over the years because of that church and the many “family camps” I attended with the denomination of the Church of God in Australia.
I learned some of the best hymns in the Church of God: “How Great Thou Art,” “Amazing Grace,” “I Surrender All,” “What a Friend we have in Jesus,” and my favourite, “It is well with my Soul.” I was challenged to think outside the box by one Pastor who suspected that the story of Jonah is/was mythological. I took part in the sacrament of feet washing, and just last year, my husband and I washed each other’s feet on our wedding night. I partook of communion and baptism in that church. I was taught that God is my father and that he loves me by teachers of that denomination.
But what really stands out to me right now is how much things change with time. As Christians we often talk about how God never changes. But I have been reading textbooks this semester on the doctrine of God and the Trinity, and whether or not he changes, the views of theologians change every day. God is much greater and harder to describe than we would like to think he is. There is so much debate around the attributes of God. Is he immortal and invisible or should we consider him mortal and visible because of Jesus? Is he transcendent (God above all) and/or immanent (God within all) and does this lead to conclusions of pantheism (God is all and all is God) or panentheism (all is within God, but God is greater than all). Calvinists and Open Theists argue about whether God is sovereign and in control of every little detail of our lives or whether human beings have some amount of free will. Is God omniscient (all-knowing) or is he “open” to all possible futures and does he watch history play out in real time? Will God save the entire world (universalism)? Do all religions lead to the same God (pluralism)? Is God monotheistic (one God), triune (three in one), polytheistic (many gods) or communal (multiple gods/modes-of-being in one godhead)?
The more I learn about God, the less I know. I am filled with awe and wonder at the diversity of ideas. Personally, I choose to believe that Jesus is God and that God is triune. But I choose this because my foundational belief is that GOD IS LOVE. So it makes sense to me that for God to be love he must be a community: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And if God really is love (as the Bible claims and I believe), then I can rest assured that he will always love me no matter what I believe about him and how much he remains a mystery to me. The point is not that I know God, but that God knows me. I am not afraid of what I do not know, because the God of love has me. As Jesus said: “I am in my father and you are in me and I am in you,” John 14:20.
Church buildings change. Church denominations change. Theologies change. People change. But I believe that the essence of God – GOD’S LOVE – stays the same.
It is Father’s Day in Australia and I want to wish my Heavenly Father a happy Father’s Day.
“Thank you that you love every single one of us.
May we bask in your love today.”