Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Unity because of differences

Unity in the church is often framed in terms of “Unity in spite of our differences”. We need to be unified even though it is hard sometimes because we believe different things. We just have to buck up and deal with other Christians (who are wrong by the way) for the sake of unity, kind of like the way we steel ourselves to go to the dentist no matter how much we hate it because we know it is necessary and allegedly “good for us”. I think we need a new mindset. Unity with one another is not something we have to choke down like brussel sprouts (full disclosure, I have never eaten a one, never will and I have never been to Belgium). It should be something that actually enriches our relationship in the church!

As we look into the Bible, God seems quite concerned that we be united because of our differences. The “dividing wall of hostility” has been removed and God uses all sorts of images and examples (Jesus among the formerly untouchable, Peter going to the home of a Gentile and the image of “unclean” animals on the sheet, “there is neither Jew nor Greek”). One of the key features of the Old Covenant was dividing the people of God from everyone else. Under the New, we are still separate from the world but we are united together by our common salvation. Yet we for some reason still seek every opportunity to find ways to argue endlessly with one another, divide from those who disagree with us and develop a bunker mentality that keeps most Christians at arms length from one another.

When we embrace our differences, we gain important perspective on all sorts of stuff. One very important thing I have learned over the last decade is that only seeing things in one perspective, even if it is the “right” perspective, leads to insular and sometimes cultish thought patterns. I say that carefully having some experience in the world of cults myself but I am also afraid that it is quite true. If the only people we deal with are “Reformed” and all of the books we read and conferences we attend are “Reformed”, if we view everything with the question “But is it Reformed?” and we stalk the world and the internet seeking those who are “not Reformed” in order to engage, convert or defeat them, pretty soon we lose perspective on the reality that much of the church is not “Reformed”, is unconvinced by our arguments in favor of becoming “Reformed” and golly gee that is actually not just OK, it is healthy! It challenges us, it refines our viewpoints and framework, it helps us to really determine what is true and what is not. If your cherished traditions or doctrines or practices cannot stand up to disagreement and scrutiny, what good are they? I found myself on firmest ground in Reformed theology when I spent a few years as the only person who held to that position in a group of believers. What is good and what is true does not shy away from disagreement and debate, it embraces it and grows stronger!

You see, God not only made us different in terms of height and skin color and gender, He also gave us different perspectives and backgrounds. Someone who grew up his whole life in a Southern Baptist church in Mississippi is probably going to have a different perspective on the church from what I have or a woman who is part of a Mennonite church that grew up with hippie parents in California might have. We see things differently and approach subjects from different directions. That variety, provided of course it is anchored in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and presented by regenerate people, enriches church life. There is nothing especially godly in conformity and uniformity although there certainly is something quite godly in proper unity.

I love Reformed theology. I love football. I love cheesecake. LOVE. IT! Even as delightful as cheesecake is (and with a fruit drizzle it is actually a complete meal according to the USDA food pyramid. Look it up.), if all I ever eat is cheesecake I am going to get sick of it really soon. The church is the same way. If all you ever experience are people who believe the same way you do, the church is necessarily going to be less vibrant, less rich. You can spend your whole life in a particular kind of “church” doing things the way that church does things your entire life and never realize what you are missing.

So find some other Christians who disagree with you (not to fight with them or convert them!). Get to know them. Let them get to know you. See what happens. I can virtually guarantee you that your life in the Body of Christ will be richer for it!


Aussie John said...



Misplaced Honor said...

wow! Great post