Monday, June 20, 2011

Chain Blog: Dealing with divisive issues starts with love

Unity in the church. Great in concept!

It is dandy to speak of unity in the church as long as we can talk about it in concept. When we get down to brass tacks, it becomes a lot more problematic. While it is easier to stick to conceptual conversations, unity in the church requires us to tackle head on the very real issues that we run into when real people meet. Those potential stumbling blocks are the impetus behind Alan Knox starting a new “chain blog”, Chain Blog: Dealing with Divisive Issues Introduction. The idea is to start a series of posts across a number of blogs to discuss practical ways to confront and overcome differences in the church that impede unity. Here are some of the potential topics Alan suggested:

Why should we care about divisiveness among the church?

Are their valid reasons to divide from other believers and what makes those reasons valid?

What are some historical reasons for division?

Does unity (lack of division) require agreement on all issues?

Are there different level of divisiveness? Why or why not?

What practical steps can be taken to overcome divisiveness?

What if a brother or sister in Christ is content with their divisiveness? (Or doesn’t see themselves as divisive?)
That is a good list and I would encourage anyone who loves the church and is concerned for His people to jump into the conversation. You can write the post on your own blog and really the sky is the limit (with the caveat that the topic is how to overcome differences, not a chance to defend your positions on these issues!)

So I was thinking that we need to set the stage regarding how we approach these issues. When dealing with divisive issues in the church, our natural inclination is to run to the battlements to defend “our” position against “their” position (which of course is wrong and must be defeated). The internet is fertile ground for this sort of digging in with opposing camps of Christians starting each other down over a theological “No Mans Land” from our trenches, barbed wire set up, sighting down our machine gun and taking turns charging into withering fire from one another. This is only natural. If I think I am “right” that must mean that if you disagree you are “wrong”.

That is where we go astray. We start from the wrong end of it. I think it is important to work through issues in the church, whether issues of ecclesiology or debates over baptism or the end times or the millennia old questions of free will vs. sovereign grace. However, before we can have any of those conversations, we need to be united with one another and start any and all conversations with love.

Love must be at the heart of any discussion about divisiveness in the church. Not the kind of “love” that acknowledges in some sort of academic fashion loving one another. I am talking about the kind of love that matches word and deed. When Peter wrote specifically to the elders in his first epistle, he made sure to urge them (along with all of us) to “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'" (1 Peter 5:5). It is important to note that love doesn’t mean that we can be unified once you agree with me. Love is by definition placing others above ourselves. Christ Himself is our exemplar here. Jesus didn’t wait for us to get our doctrines and our practices in order before giving Himself for us. He gave Himself for us in spite of our failings, “…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). If Jesus, in His perfection, deigned to come to earth and give Himself as a ransom for many, out of love, how can we erect barriers between ourselves and others that Jesus loved enough to suffer and die to redeem?

Any conversation about overcoming our differences has to start from the second great commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31) Every commandment we have been given is summed up in those words (Romans 13:9) so arguing about this doctrine or that is foolishness if we do not first have love for one another. In fact based on Romans 13:9 if we don’t love one another we are “wrong” even if we are “right”. We can have the right doctrines and still be wrong if we skip over loving one another at the start. Being unified with one another in love trumps any and all differences that we may have with one another.

I am not sure how practical this post is but I think it is crucial to establish first and foremost. Our unity is based in love and our approach to differences in the church must likewise be grounded in love for one another. This is not easy for me and I am sure it is not easy for others. My desire to “be right” is constantly at war with my need to love others. I also am recognizing, slowly and painfully, that often my view of other Christians and where I think they are wrong is based more in my desire to be seen as correct than a sense of loving them too much to not gently correct them. There is a place for correcting another believer (Acts 18:26 ; 2 Tim 3:16) but if it is not done in love, it is meaningless.

Hopefully this chain blog will lead to good conversations about some very important and practical issues. Unity in the church is a form of witness to the world. All too often the unbelieving world hears us talk about loving one another but treating one another like the enemy in practice. Why are we surprised and offended when the world calls us hypocrites?

---
“Links” in this chain blog:

1. “Chain Blog: Dealing with Divisive Issues Introduction” by Alan

2. “Chain Blog: Dealing with divisive issues starts with love” by Arthur

3. Who will write the third post in the chain?
---
Addendum:

Chain Blog Rules!

Chain blog rules:

1) If you would like to write the next blog post (link) in this chain, leave a comment stating that you would like to do so. If someone else has already requested to write the next link, then please wait for that blog post and leave a comment there requesting to write the following link.

2) Feel free to leave comments here and discuss items in this blog post without taking part in the actual “chain”. Your comments and discussion are very important in this chain blog.

3) When you write a link in this chain, please reply in the comments of the previous post to let everyone know that your link is ready. Also, please try to keep an updated list of links in the chain at the bottom of your post, and please include these rules at the bottom of your post.

9 comments:

Alan Knox said...

Arthur,

This is a great way to start this chain blog on dealing with divisive issues. I hope that someone else picks up on your subtopic. There are so many practical questions that always pop up when you talk about love.

For example, what if the other person (who is a believer) refuses to respond in love but always demands his/her way? What if that person is a recognized leader among the church (pastor, elder, whatever you want to call that person)? Is there a limit to showing love, or do we keep on loving and giving in to the other person? Or, is there a way to love without giving in?

I have a few requests that will help continue the chain blog. Will you add the "chain blog rules" to the bottom of your post? (You can find them at the bottom of my post.) Also, can you add the link to my post and your post to the bottom of this post? (If you want to add other posts later, that would be even more helpful.) Finally, will you post a link to this post in the comments on my intro post?

Thanks! And, thanks for taking part in the chain blog!

-Alan

Jeremy Myers said...

Ha! You stole what I was going to write! Love and giving up the desire to be right goes a long way in bringing unity. So true.

Well, the good thing is that there is a lot more to be said on this topic, so I will take the third link and publish the post early tomorrow morning.

Jeremy Myers said...

The name of my post will be:

I am Divisive.

Link: http://www.tillhecomes.org/i-am-divisive/

It will get posted within the hour.

Jonathan said...

"Does unity (lack of division) require agreement on all issues?"

I think this is a key question. If unity is about agreement on all issues, I am screwed. The more I learn, the more I realize it is unlikely I'll ever find someone else who agrees with me on everything. Let alone find a whole community of believers that agrees with me on everything.

But if love and unity are some of the starting blocks to a community. I believe a level of agreement on other issues will grow as we mature together and as God teaches us in His timing.

I've got #4 post at: http://jonjourney.blogspot.com/2011/06/chain-blog-please-agree-with-me.html

Andy Witt said...

Arthur,
I think this is the first chance I've had to interact with you. I'll be one of the chains further down the list. Great first post! A couple of good highlights for me that might spur on more consideration (besides the ones mentioned by Alan above) are the "we will be unified once you agree with me" kind of love that so often marks our conversations (well, mine anyway!), and the really great way you put "without love we are wrong, even if we are right". Those were two things that stuck for me.

Thanks for posting!

A. Amos Love said...

Arthur,

Great start - L.O.V.E.
The
L. anguage
O. f
V. ictorious
E. ternity

Is LOVE...

A. Amos Love said...

Arthur,

Great start - starting with - L.O.V.E.

The
L. anguage
O. f
V. ictorious
E. ternity

Is LOVE...

Now if I can just remember that...
when I'm being divisive. ;-)

And those people who think they are always right...

Really aggravate those of us who are always right...

Alan Knox said...

I've published the 9th link post in the chain blog here: "No, we can't just get along."

-Alan

Jonathan said...

If Alan gets to add two posts to this chain blog on the topic of unity, I will too. If I'm not allowed I will become very divisive and start my own chain blog all by myself. :)

#10
http://jonjourney.blogspot.com/2011/06/who-says-we-are-divided.html

Thanks!