I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the division that exists in the church and in our country at this moment. It’s been on my mind for years now, but over the past 6 months, I’d really been wrestling with it. That’s why I’ve been writing articles like: “The Lost Art Of Gracious Disagreement“, “Your Neighbor Is Not A Villain” & “The Root Supports You“.
I don’t have a great answer, but it seems that the more technologically advanced our culture gets, the more selfish and immature we become as individuals and as a whole. We have continuously embraced technology without thinking of the consequences.
This is one reason I respect the Amish. We tend to belittle the Amish for their rejection of industrial and technological advancements, but I’m not so sure we should. For instance, when their leadership decided not to embrace the automobile, it wasn’t because the vehicle itself was inherently sinful. They determined that having their people more mobile would decrease their interdependence as a community and would lead to separation and independence. Unfortunately, it seems that even the Amish are now starting to loosen their stance on some of these issues.
One thing is clear, as our use of TV, computers and smartphones has increased so has our selfishness, division and even hate ant vitriol.
And it’s not just in the political realm, the chasms between different groups of Christians are also increasing. This is nothing new. Years and years ago (there were these people called the Maccabees – sorry, Friends reference) I wrote an article called “Preference Not Prescription” that was dealing with the division in the church between traditional & contemporary worship.
Though many traditional churches are simply dying out, the separation in the church is taking many other forms. One person wants traditional or liturgical worship, others wants contemporary or acoustic worship. One person wants charismatic worship, another wants contemplative. But it’s not just worship style. One person wants topical preaching another wants expository teaching. One person wants to run AWANA another wants to just play games. One person thinks we should be serving the poor, another thinks we shouldn’t be enabling the poor. One person thinks the church should be involved in political issues, the other thinks the church should condemn politics.
And the list goes on and on and on. (And on.)
A part of our church reading yesterday and today has been Romans 13-14. Paul’s teaching in chapter 14 in particular has really been standing out to me. Especially these two verses:
5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.Rom 14:5
So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.Rom 14:22
Yes, there are some things that we must be in absolute agreement on. The creation, the fall of man, Jesus coming in the flesh as the Messiah, His full humanity and full deity, His sacrificial death, His glorious resurrection, His ascension, Sending the Holy Spirit and that He will return. We also need to agree on the authority of Scripture and God’s truth, the Trinity, Justification by Faith and probably righteous living. There may be a one or two others that are absolutely crucial. Albert Mohler shares “These first-order doctrines represent the most fundamental truths of the Christian faith, and a denial of these doctrines represents nothing less than an eventual denial of Christianity itself. (https://albertmohler.com/2005/07/12/a-call-for-theological-triage-and-christian-maturity) Then he describes second and third order issues.
But, I might argue differently. There are many denominations in the Christian church today. Having grown up in one of them, I’m well aware of the tendency within a denomination to think your denomination is right on everything and others are wrong, even to the point of questioning the salvation of those in other denominations. As a pastor, I have actually had this happen to me when people have left our church for another denomination, doing so because they questioned their salvation if they stayed.
If you haven’t read much of my writing, I’m PASSIONATE about the unity of the church. Jesus made it clear that our unity as His followers is supposed to be a major part of our testimony to the unbelieving world. That being the case, we should not be surprised the unity of the church has been under a full-on assault for generations.
And with the rise of technology, the ease of access of information from people who agree with us, the divisions are getting worse. As Ed Stetzer talks about in “Christians in the Age of Outrage”, now more than ever we’re locking ourselves in the echo-chamber of people who agree with us. All this is producing is deeper entrenchment in our previously held notions and further separation between us and those who think differently than we do.
But, what if what Paul was teaching should apply to more than eating food sacrificed to idols and “sacred days.” What if he was teaching a principle of “lay down you life for another” kind of love?
In the upper room, Jesus gave his one command that his followers were to follow:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”John 13:34-35
Could it be that Paul was giving us a principle to help us love one another in this way? Maybe these specific examples are simply examples that were the primary issues of their day and if he were to write such a letter to us, he might possibly use other examples. He might say:
“One of you wants to speak in tongues but another wants to worship God with their intellect, each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind, whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.”
“One of you wants to _________________ but another wants to ______________, each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind, whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.”
“What’s so wrong with finding people we agree with and enjoying sharing with them?” Well…
It probably can be done in a non-divisive way. Technically, it’s possible to be with a group of people who think like you do without putting down people who don’t. It’s probably possible, but history and our present day setting tells us that it’s not very probable.
Maybe we should feel absolutely no guilt for being fully convinced in our own mind, but at the same time, maybe we should keep such things between ourselves and God.
Unity is what the gospel is all about. Jesus died to bring that which was far away near by His own blood. The nature of the church should be unity. The fruit of the gospel is unity amongst brothers and sisters in Christ.
But since unity is what Jesus said is supposed to be the testimony to the non-believing world around us, unity is also constantly under attack by the enemy. It only takes the tiniest seed of division to grow into a briar patch between two groups that have been brought together by the blood of Christ.
I (and probably you) have a tendency to argue for what I think is right. I (and probably you do this too) think that I have studied an issue enough to have a proper understanding of it. And (probably like you) tend to think that my way is right and others need to adapt to my point of view.
But I (and probably you) can think of times when I caused division by fighting for my point of view over someone else’s. And I (and probably you) can think of times when I held an opinion that caused division at one point in time and have since come to a different understanding of that opinion.
“Wouldn’t it be better if we just found people we agreed with?” To be honest, I don’t really think so. Ravi Zacharias talks about how the difference between unity and uniformity. We don’t have to be clones, we have to be united. I think there is actually a danger in only being around people who agree with you, you stop experiencing love.
According to Jesus, love is a sacrifice. Love isn’t a feeling you get from being with people you like and who like you. Love is laying your life down. When we insulate ourselves from people who disagree with us, we are also insulating ourselves from the opportunity to lay ourselves down. So our ability to love is weakened. I don’t believe that individual churches are supposed to be full of people who all think and act the same way. I think there is supposed to be a diversity of people, personality, ideas, practices and so on. And when we all love one another sacrificially, Jesus gets the glory because, it shouldn’t work. There should be division and separation when we’re not operating out of love. The body of Christ shouldn’t work, but it does when it’s done out of love.
We shouldn’t argue for our point of view within our own congregations or between other congregations. We should love. I have not done this perfectly, and there have been many times in my life when I have not done it well. I want to do it better. I want us all to.
What if we just sought to affirm one another in the core aspects of the gospel narrative? What if, for now, Christians across America made a decision to stop elevating their views and belittling the views of others who think differently? And what if, we just laid down our lives for one another in the same way Christ laid down His life for us? What if we just encouraged the Jesus we see in one another? What if we just celebrated the fact that people are reading Scripture, even if they’re coming to different conclusions? And what if, instead of finding echo-chambers and creating division in the body, we enjoyed those aspects of our relationship with God that differ from others with God alone?
What if, the next time you opened your mouth to disagree with someone you work with who goes to a different church, you found something to affirm about Jesus in them? What if the next time you saw that Christian who is radically different than you on political of economical views, you found something to affirm in them about Jesus in your mind? What if we all just sought to see other believers as God sees them – clothed in Jesus? I mean, how would you treat that person you disagree with if they were clothed in Jesus?
The same for those who don’t believe. What if we saw those who don’t believe through God’s glasses? What if instead of feeling the need to condemn them, judge them and argue with them to prove they are idiots and we are geniuses, what if saw them as someone Jesus died for? And what if we realized that our laying down our lives for them might be what they need to realize Jesus gave His life for their life?
What if we were each fully convinced in our own minds and whatever we believe about these things we keep between ourselves and God?