A few weeks ago I spent time at the yearly gathering of our national denomination. The discussions were good, the business (for the most part) was healthy and the mission of the Church was reaffirmed. I walked away very encouraged. However, one thing that really bothered me was the intensity that one group brought to the table. Their rhetoric, attitude and agenda were not helpful; they were hateful.
Our denomination isn’t the only one facing hateful rhetoric. We see schisms and splits in many mainline denominations and we’ve witnessed this reality for generations, almost since their founding. I look around our town and notice that we are a mirror of most every other town like us: lots of Christians worshipping in different buildings, all reading the same Bible and most affirming similar truths. This weighs on me. I’m sure I’m not the only one carrying this burden.
As I think through these divisions, I’m not so sure my grief is necessary. Humans have found division in their nature from the very beginning. Even among groups that worshipped God, divisions occurred. None of us walk with God all of the time and even if we did, we all have different personalities, different cultural and ethnic makeups and different social histories. These aren’t bad things. In fact, we celebrate these lenses through which we view the world. Just this last weekend we celebrated our independence as a nation. No other nation on earth partied with us and they didn’t need to. That is a date that is part of our story. We don’t need to expect anyone else to join us in our celebration. My point is, instead of lamenting our separateness, let’s spend our time looking at our sameness. Despite all of the divisions that pull us apart, we still have MORE that keeps us talking. Many times we are better together than we are apart.
Now, let me qualify that statement. Some groups don’t want to be together. Their identity is founded on their differences. To unite with any other group, no matter their similarities with that group, cuts across their grain. As a result, they will fight to keep deep boundaries between them and everyone else. We don’t have any reason to cry about this. Let the radicals go. Let them have their own party. Just like Jesus’ words to His disciples when they questioned the actions of a man casting out demons—“If they aren’t against us, they’re for us”—we can both work in a faithful manner, just separately. But for the rest of us who want to see more Gospel unity and less Church separation, let’s get on with the Kingdom business at hand!
We are not in a competition. We’re all working under the same Master and King. We are not in the business of stealing sheep. There are plenty of hungry people to go around. We are most definitely not at odds with each other. If you believe Jesus is the only Son of God, that He came to bring the Kingdom of God to bear on our broken world and to die so that we can know God, that God raised Him from the dead and defeated death for all who put their lives in His hands…if you believe the Word of God is the ultimate authority on truth and who God is…if you believe the Church is THE MEANS by which this broken world hears the powerful truth of the Gospel and that WE, the members of this Living Church have the responsibility to live and speak that truth until we go to Heaven…if you believe these things about who we are and why we are here then there is no reason under Heaven that we should isolate ourselves from each other. We need each other so badly!
The work of the Gospel has never been primarily an individual task. This is the job of the collective Body of Christ. In the book of Acts we see individual Churches rise up as the Gospel spreads. But we do not see multiple Churches within a community. They certainly may have been there, but what we see is “The Church at _______ (whatever community is being addressed).” I would like to speak to the Church at Southwest AR for just a moment.
We have a singular task: to make disciples of all nations. Jesus Himself gave us this work to accomplish. He tells us when the work is completed the end will come. Our separation sends a message of a divided truth, a split heart of God for the world and a powerless message. We are leaving the fields empty handed because we are not united. But the biggest concern I have is that our division is leaving the door open for the Enemy of our souls to blind people to God’s truth and rescue. People are going to Hell because we can’t get along. Too much is on the line for us to not blur the boundaries between us.
Can we work together? We had better learn how.