On boundaries and walls

Any illusions that cricket is a genteel sport always free from controversy took a tumble during a one-day international game between Ireland and Afghanistan during this past summer. Without going into the technicalities of it all, it had to do with a dispute over whether the ball (or more specifically the fielder attempting to stop the ball) had crossed the boundary.

Meanwhile, in other news from across the Pond, Donald Trump had been proposing a wall along his country’s border with Mexico – in order to keep certain people out.

Boundaries and walls.

Both – in different ways – mark what and who are in and what and who are out. However, even though they may have a similar function, boundaries are not walls (nor are country borders). Boundaries mark what or who is in or out, but one of the functions of a wall is to keep some people in (lest they stray) and to keep others out.


It seems to me that the Church has a responsibility to define its boundaries, but that it needs to be much more cautious about the walls it raises. To define its boundaries the Church will look to God’s revelation in Scripture: what boundaries has he set for the Church? In addition, and depending on its view of historical tradition, the Church may also want to pay attention to the various creeds that have helped to clarify boundaries at different times in various centuries.

For example, the statement that ‘Jesus is Lord’ is a boundary marker. Some people affirm it, others don’t. It distinguishes who is in and who is out. But while it is a boundary marker, it is not a wall. Those who affirm it can reach out to those who do not. Those who don’t affirm it can sit in congregations as they explore the implications of the claim.

At the risk of an over-generalisation, may I suggest that the relationship between boundaries and walls throws up a challenge for the Church and for every (local) church.


So here is my question – actually a double question: there are other questions that could be asked around this, but this is enough for now.

  • Are there some of us who are so intent on making sure our boundaries are well marked and secure that we turn them into walls?
  • And are there some of us who are so keen not to build walls that we even want to do away with boundaries?

Answers on a postcard…

PS – My thanks to Steven Peay for planting these ideas in my mind.

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