So here we are.
It would seem a certain element of the Christian community has not been content to simply tackle the terrors that lie behind other religions, not fulfilled in merely pointing up the sins of other lifestyles, not satisfied in demonizing our current (or past) political leaders.
No. Now we’re apparently out to eat our own.
And please let me be clear about something before I continue on: I don’t consider myself a “progressive” Christian. I don’t consider myself “conservative” either. Or “fundamentalist”. Or, for that matter, “Catholic”, “Lutheran”, “Methodist”, “Protestant”, “Anglican”, “Armenian”, “Reformed”, “Orthodox”, or any of the other 41,000 (!!) denominations subletting what started out as a simple message to “go and make disciples…”.
I have no opinion on the 1st amendment.
Or, the 2nd.
Or any of them for that matter. (Except, maybe, the 18th. That one was just dumb.)
But this? Church turning against church? Belief undermining belief?
This should not be.
This is not speaking the truth in love.
In fact, it sounds like just the opposite;
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of division, so that the body of Christ may be torn asunder until we all reach disharmony and fruitlessness in the faith and in the knowledge that we and we alone possess the truth of the Son of God and become self-serving, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of our own self-importance. Then we can forever be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves of our own assurances, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching but only as long as it fits within our preconceived notions of truth and infallibility, and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming who we shall hold in high regard as our truthtellers. Speaking this truth in ignorance, we will grow to become in every respect the stagnant and stiff-necked people who him who is the head, that is, Christ, spoke so vehemently against, calling them hypocrites and a brood of vipers. (Ephesians 4:11-15. Sorry, I may have paraphrased that a bit.)
Whatever happened to, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”* (Matthew 18:15-17, NIV)
Whatever happened to the radical enemy love that was the crux of Jesus’ entire message?
When petty BS like this gets splashed across all manner of social media, the world laughs at us. We’re not making disciples. We’re making late night comedy routines.
And to those who would say, “Well, I’m not all that concerned with what the world thinks…”, I would simply ask where is it that we are supposed to be “going” and “making disciples”? Is it not to that very world? The one who’s shaking its collective head, snickering, and saying, “And you want me to be a part of that? You’re wanting to save my soul…for this??”
On the flip-side, for those who are struggling to provide some form of solace, some modicum of reconciliation, working to get along despite what seems like insurmountable differences in faith, I say this:
I entreat (you) to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help (those) who have labored side by side in the gospel together and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious (or grace-filled) and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:2-7, Colossians 4:5-6, editing and emphasis mine)
And, I apologize that my Ephesians rant above was not even a remote example of “reasonableness”, or a grace-filled conversation. But I feel the need to garner some semblance of attention in what may be the only manner and language currently understood. Besides, a few other writers have put the genesis of this recent episode into a much better perspective than I ever could.
For instance, author Derek Flood, writing in a recent blog post, brings up an interesting point along these lines;
We need to make room for honest moral critique of Scripture to take place as an accepted expression of our faith, and making room for that means allowing people to say scary honest things sometimes. That’s part of the normal and healthy process that moves us towards real and deep trust in God, and a life of compassion and grace. Like anything deep and real in life, this is a messy process, and we will need to give each other a lot of grace along the way. Here I am reminded of the words of Peter, “Above all, love each other deeply. For love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8). That does not mean we cannot disagree. But it sets the context for it to produce good fruit.
And Ian Paul, writing on a recent book from Thom and Joani Schultz called “Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore” had this to say;
“…we are all on a journey, and none of us has all the answers, so we need to be willing to learn from others, even those very different from ourselves. In a church culture which looks quite ghettoised, where it is very easy to lapse into a kind of ‘culture wars’ approach to belief, I can see how refreshing that is.”
The bottom line is this: differences of interpretation, of critique, of allowance for the rainbow spectrum of knowledge along scriptural lines that each of us possess, must be allowed for and even encouraged. This is scary. This is anything but safe. And that’s a good thing. It’s a necessary thing.
Questions are a good thing.
Discussions and even debates are a good thing.
Taking them public, airing them like so much dirty laundry, tainting them with even a smackerel of condescension and/or condemnation…not a good thing.
None of us has all the answers, as Ian Paul writes. We are all on a journey of discovery and revelation. When it comes down to it, we may all be traveling the same direction, even though we may not be on the same road, or in the same lane, as someone else on the journey.
Of course, to you, it doesn’t look like the same direction, and why should it? You may not be familiar with the landscape that the other traveler is surrounded by. You may not know the terrain. Your GPS may not even work where they are.
That doesn’t mean they’re lost.
One of the most comforting thoughts I have regarding this journey, aside from my own trajectory along the path, is that we will all arrive: Those who are earnestly seeking; earnestly traveling in the direction of a greater understanding of our God and Father and of his Son; each in our own time; each with our own beliefs, our similarities, and our differences, fully intact.
To paraphrase what Wm. Paul Young wrote in his excellent book “The Shack”; Do all roads lead to Jesus? No. But Jesus will travel any road to find you.
* Re: Matthew 18:17 — This brings up another interesting point, and fodder for a blog post for another time, of just exactly how Jesus did treat pagans (which was everyone not of the people of Israel), and tax collectors?