I believe there is plenty which The Bible refers to clearly as right and wrong, godly and sinful, part of the Father’s plan and desire and things He opposes. Such lists in the New Testament alone are easy to find. That said, wait… there’s more.
How do disagreements among professing followers of Jesus happen? How to turn the flames down? How to continue to care for one another in Jesus’ love and stay together when separation is a much easier path?
For clarity- I don’t mean to say all professing Christ followers MUST agree on EVERY issue or even interpretation of The Bible. I surely do not mean how we “do” church must be thought of as only one way –ours-… or “the highway”!
Consider as an illustration- I love urban city streets and life and I also love rural small towns and deep woods. Yep, all three. Many folks lean pretty much to one or the other of these. See, we already disagree…
Ok, let’s consider the woods. Specifically ticks. Deer ticks in the U.S..
I learned all about those blood-sucking disease-carrying deer ticks and also learned about one form of spray for my body and another for clothes and boots only. After plenty of research and experiences with all sorts of ticks, I could have just decided to give up on being in the woods entirely. That’s exactly what some folks do with the church.
A very close friend of mine was bitten suffering some of the most horrible affects of lyme disease for many months until a wise urban doctor finally recognized what other docs did not. My bro began treatment and over a couple years got well -but the road to healing was neither fun nor easy.
I am not referring to people in the church as “ticks”- rather I’m thinking of the long list of what bugs us, the pain, struggles, sin, control issues and all that “bites” us. A fact we’d all rather ignore is we bring a lot of it in the door of any local fellowship the moment we arrive. We each and all share in a sin nature. How easy to only attribute that to someone other that ourselves!
Laced within this post are forms of “spray” that like it or not, I find not only scriptural but practical and gut-core work though you and I may indeed not wish to apply.
I’ve spent most of my life in and out of leadership in a fairly large inner-city Christian community. I grew up in rural and small-town Midwestern U.S. amongst quite conservative people, and eventually among urban liberal folks. Traveling the world I’ve heard views from longtime as well as very young leaders in one ear and a wide assortment of their congregations views in my other ear!
From Scripture, church history, world history, wide and varied positions of believers and unbelievers regarding the broad and multiple streams of the church on earth, here are some thoughts.
By NO means do I think to write some sort of “one size fits all” post on the massive, expansive thing we call “the church” on earth, but I do believe there are some core issues that may help us think through both division and unity, that’s my intent. Further, I’ll use common language the reader doesn’t have to go to a dictionary or Greek lexicon to decipher.
Genuine followers of Jesus are the church, period. This does not mean all who attend or even serve are following Jesus. Obvious, no?
WHAT a “genuine, authentic” Christ-follower believes, “looks like” has ever been debated. Certainly those who seem to consistently though imperfectly manifest His love and the fruit of the Spirit are typically considered true Christians. And yet… and yet…
I immediately hear my house church and fully independent Christian friends brains go to “Of COURSE… it’s all about THE.FLIPPING.INSTITUTIONS.WHICH.ARE.DEMONIC.”
I know some of the most godly, mature, loving, holy followers of Jesus and some of the most messed-up, mean-spirited, sin-addicted bullies and both regularly show up in most local fellowships regardless of “kind”.
If you do not share such experiences, all I can say is you don’t get out much and that’s part of the division-creating stuff we must face up with and admit to.
Our own personal comfort zone/s do NOT equal THE.WHOLE.CHURCH. Now consider multiple world-views of what we call “the church”.
Israel were/are the people of God but continually from Adam to the present, all through the Old Testament and mentioned plenty in the New we find a true Israel and a false one, those Jews following God in love, faith and obedience and those who don’t/didn’t.
Even today many Christians cannot seem to separate what the Bible calls “the Israel of God” from the political State of Israel. They are not automatically one and the same.
Even in this when Christians claim to be, or somehow consider their tribe or nation “Israel” or perhaps “Israel 2.0” we see disagreement, division and possible falseness. I’m also well aware many of my readers may not be able to immediately agree with what I’ve written in this very analogy! I get it. I’m not surprised when folks disagree. Sometimes they’ve good reason, other times not.
At a very foundational level we’ve Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox folks, and within each of them various schools of thought, orders, sub-tribes, splits and on it goes.
To think or believe the same is not equally true of fully independent local fellowships (of ANY “kind”) with regard to Bible interpretation, theological, doctrinal and surely methodological forms is part of our problem. At core, we all have THIS problem – and I’d say ignorance, lack of experience, lack of study and a regularly (and understandable) defensiveness to OUR way of thinking on you-name-the-issue has always been with us.
Partial knowledge, understanding, lack of total PERFECTION is our human plight as long as we live on the planet. ONE day we “shall know as we are known” but that day isn’t today!!
Next are we even open to a discussion that we know will be one of disagreement, debate, hurt feelings, possible severing of relationships? This is so very common in partnerships of all types, marriage, workplaces, rock bands and local as well as denominational (and you-name-it) fully independent churches.
Granted there are people and times when such isn’t going to solve the issue/s or bridge the gap/s, but these in my view should be rare, not the norm. For too many believers it IS the norm. We talk unity and deny even the possibility because our way is THE way. Maybe the best, not so good or horrible way. Therefore many eventually refuse to go into the woods at all.
Even a truly respectful discussion offers no absolute guarantee of all parties’ satisfied outcome. We must also face this.
By now some readers will ask why I’m not quoting the load of Scripture that speaks of loving one another, simple and direct statements, even commands of Jesus to be unified, have respect for one another and make room for one another, in essence God’s will for us to be “of one mind”, “in one accord”?
There is possible loss, change, cost involved. We can quote God’s Word all day long and still disagree on the relevancy of application, the timing, etc..
We have our reasons. Some of those are often fear. anger, protection of loved ones. Concern over causing people to stumble. Walls against enemies.
Again and again I’ve asked this question over many decades:
Who gets to violate who’s conscience? Me over yours or yours over mine?
I do believe a massive antidote may be found via Paul’s comments in Romans chapter 14. Too often we divide over the petty stuff.
I suggest we consider a few hard, honest questions we must each and all ask ourselves:
Don’t you want the freedom to connect or disconnect from a local church? Then why shouldn’t others have that very same freedom you demand for yourself?
Don’t you wish to exercise your right to believe or disbelieve a doctrine, this or that way of gathering as a fellowship? Why should others not have such freedom of choice and expression?
We cry out “Don’t judge!” while we judge the socks off of people for exercising the very freedoms we ourselves demand. In light of all this how could we not be in discord, disunity, division?
Another “reality shot”: “the Church” on earth has never fully been monolithic. It is broad, diverse and will continue to be regardless.
Even with gifts of the Holy Spirit including knowledge, wisdom, discernment and prophecy, who among us is one-hundred percent correct in reading other Christians’ minds? How are we so certain of their motive, goal and whether or not they worship God “in spirit and in truth”?
Our own lack of humility and quick trigger of judgment in these things causes more division than we care to admit, confess and repent of.
Regardless of our knowledge, wisdom and maturity we each carry our own slack agape, indeed carry our own personal “institution” around inside of us.
Until we face these factors the claim that others cause division and disunity -and not we ourselves- is simply going to feed the very “factions, seditions and heresies” we say we so deeply oppose.
As always, thanks for stopping by. -Glenn