I’ve been coming back to this theme again and again in both my reading and my writing lately. Minor differences which separate us into Tribes of Us vs. Them, In and Out and even to some degree, Right and Wrong are quite simply evil and are among the favourite tools of the Devil to keep Christians divided and prevent us from carrying out the Great Commission, [Matthew 28:18-20].
This week author and blogger Rachel Held Evens is hosting what she calls a Sycroblog Event called The Rally To Restore Unity in which she is inviting bloggers all over the world to post about Christian Unity. At the end of the week she is planning on posting all of the links to her blog at http://rachelheldevans.com/ and thereby promote the idea that we have so much more in common than we realize. To quote Ms Evens;
The goal is to lightheartedly combat some of the vitriol coming out of the online Christian community by celebrating what we have in common and demonstrating that we can have a sense of humor when it comes to non-essential theological disagreements.
Honestly; I’m not sure how light hearted I can be, this is a very serious issue!
What exactly is a non-essential theological disagreement? Many would say that the very nature of a theological disagreement makes everything about it completely essential. For if the definition of theology is the study of God then any misunderstanding or misinterpretation of God’s Word, however slight or seemingly minor could mean the difference between an eternity in His glorious presence or complete and permanent separation from Him in Hell. Therefore; I can certainly understand why division within many religious traditions, not just within the Christian churches but also within other major religions can be so full of venom and violence. One need only look to violence between Sunni and Sufi sects of Islam to see that this is not just a Christian issue.
If the stakes are so high, how then can we promote unity among our churches without sliding into moral relativity?
Whenever we enter into a discussion with fellow Christ-followers about the things that divide us it’s important to note that we are all family. Arguments among family members are often heated but there is nothing more tragic and dysfunctional than a family divided. It is these arguments and divisions that provide fuel for the fire of atheists and others who want nothing to do with the Christian church. As I have developed this blog over the past couple of years the most common argument I have heard from those outside the church for not wanting to get involved centers around our internal divisions. If we can’t agree ourselves, the argument goes, then how can we be trusted with something as important as someone’s eternal soul?
I’m not saying we have to agree on everything. There will always be differing interpretations on various points both within scripture itself and in how we engage with our broader culture. And as with all arguments someone will eventually be proven wrong. These are important discussions that we need to have but the point is that as family we need to keep these discussions in their proper context; within the family and whenever possible, behind closed doors. There is nothing that keeps spiritual seekers at arm’s length or in active retreat more than open warfare between churches.
At the end of the day it comes down to the words and actions of Jesus. All Christians profess that Jesus is Lord. So if we truly believe that we should all be looking to him first and foremost at the “author and perfecter of our faith”, not The Pope, John Calvin, Josephus Arminius, Rob Bell, Glenn Beck or anyone else.
It was Jesus who said; “WHOSOEVER, believeth in me should no perish but have eternal life.” Jesus who said; “Come unto me, ALL you who are weary and burdened and I shall give you rest.” And Jesus who said; “Go and make disciples of ALL nations.” Jesus was incredibly inclusive in his language and approach. The Jews of his day claimed an intimate and exclusive connection with God based on a family lineage dating back to Abraham. Jesus attacked that line of thinking by inviting all kinds of marginalized outsiders into his family including Women, Lepers, Tax Collectors, Samaritans and even the odd Roman soldier.
The Apostle Paul but it best in his letter on church unity to the Colossians.
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. [Colossians 3:11-17]
My modest prayer for the Christian church and this week’s Rally to Restore Unity is not that we should all suddenly see the light and agree on everything, that would be too easy and we all know that God doesn’t work that way. No; my prayer is that we could at least learn to act out Colossians 3:16 and let the message dwell among us as we teach and admonish one another with wisdom and gratitude.