Do your kids argue and fight?
I have three kids whom I love dearly. But, there are days when I feel like I will never survive.
“He touched me!”
“She didn’t ask if she could ride my bike!”
“He came in my room without asking!”
The bickering seems to never end. I often become weary because of the whining and complaining, but I have yet to figure out how to put an end to it. Sometimes I just walk away with the admonition to figure out how to get along.
Isn’t that how we as Christians are often perceived by the world? We argue and fight over doctrines. We can’t get along inside the church any better than non-Christians, so how can we expect to be set apart as a light to a lost and dying world?
As a former pastor’s wife, I have certainly seen my share of knock-downs in the church business meetings. It might be over the color of carpet we are going to put in the sanctuary. Maybe it is over what type of music we will have in the service. Maybe it’s over the fact that the pastor doesn’t wear a suit and tie every week.
It’s very much like parenting a group of immature children. Can’t you just see God looking down, shaking his head, and becoming exasperated over the arguing—much like I do with my own children?
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. John 17:20-21
Jesus prayed for us—Christians today—asking that we would be unified so that the world will believe.
Of all the things Christ could have prayed for us, he chose to pray for unity. More than anything, he wants his body to be unified in the purposes for which he came, unified in seeking to bring others into the kingdom, unified in loving others. He does not want division in his body, because a body cannot thrive when divided. He knew that unity was the one thing that would attract unbelievers to us.
But what does unity look like? Does it mean we must all think alike, agree on every doctrine, perfectly follow a set of rules? No. But it does mean that we must stand firmly behind the central tenets of our faith and let lesser doctrinal issues be covered with a healthy dose of love and grace.
What are those essentials, the tenets of our faith that we must not compromise?
Jesus Christ is the perfect Son of God. Our faith hinges on the deity of Christ. If Jesus was not God, he was not who he said he was. If he was not the Son of God, our faith crumbles.
Jesus Christ died and rose again on the third day. The resurrection sets Christianity apart from other religions. Christ showed his deity through the resurrection. Several of our New Testament books were written by eye witnesses to the resurrected Christ.
Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. In John 14:6, Jesus proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” There is no other way to get to God the Father. It is only through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that we are reconciled to him.
Our salvation is by grace through faith alone. Ephesians clearly states that our good works do not save us. “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it,” (2:8-9).
Outside of those fundamental, foundational truths of our faith, we must be cautious. If we are dividing the body over secondary doctrinal issues, we are heaping legalistic rules upon our brothers and sisters. We are destroying the unity of the Body, the very thing Christ himself prayed for us.
I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, a denomination often known for some legalistic tendencies. We didn’t smoke. We didn’t drink alcohol. We didn’t dance. Or, at least those were the rules we were supposed to follow. But, weren’t rules made to be broken? At our Southern Baptist college where dancing was against the rules, we simply went off campus to conduct our “functions.” Somehow, we realized that it is grace by faith and not our good works (i.e., living by a certain set of rules) that gave us salvation.
Maybe it isn’t alcohol or dancing that you argue over. What about tattoos? Or body piercings? Aren’t they explicitly outlawed in the book of Leviticus? Of course, if we are going to follow those rules, we also have to follow the rules about what we eat, about ceremonial cleansings, and sacrifices.
When it comes to the non-essential, negotiables of our faith, we must be cautious that we are not heaping a list of do’s and don’ts on people. We must remember that salvation is by grace through faith alone. We must remember that we are no longer under the law, but under grace. And we must seek unity with other believers by over-looking theological differences.
What type of non-essentials require an extra dose of love and grace?
Speaking in tongues. Some will say that tongues have ceased. Others argue that tongues are an essential, the out-working of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that the gifts such as tongues are great, but we must seek faith, hope, and love above any gift. But, if we find ourselves differing with other believers about something such as tongues, we must serve up grace and love.
Divorce and Remarriage. Divorce is an ugly part of life. We can all agree that the enemy is at work seeking to tear apart the family. But, we cannot agree on the how and when and if divorce is acceptable. There are scriptures that clearly state divorce is acceptable in certain situations. There are interpretations that indicate remarriage is acceptable, at least in certain situations. However, there are those that argue that divorce is never acceptable, and if it happens remarriage will cause one to live in adultery and prevent salvation. Again, if you are fiercely arguing any of these positions, perhaps it is time to stop dividing the church over non-essentials.
Women in ministry. Again, my tradition stated that women could not be pastors, that the title was reserved for men. And yet, there are many women who are anointed preachers, proclaiming the word boldly and without reservation. Which is the proper interpretation? Or does it matter? Should we just accept that there will be differences and strive for unity in the body.
And so many more… Baptism vs. sprinkling. Healing. Homosexuality. Abortion. Capital punishment. I don’t know what it is for you, but we really have to stop and ask ourselves some serious questions when it comes to doctrines that divide the Body of Christ. Yes, we must all seek to live holy lives, characterized by a true desire to walk in his way. But maybe, just maybe, your convictions are not the same as mine. Maybe, just maybe, we should focus on the essentials. Perhaps if we focus on overcoming pride with humility, anger with forgiveness, hatred with love, we will begin to attract the attention of the world and show them the unity that Christ prayed for. There are so many other things that we as Christians should be focused on, such as supporting our brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing persecution and beheadings simply because they stand firmly on the essentials of our faith.
Do you remember when Peter was told to by the Spirit to go to the Gentiles (Acts 11)? He argued about food. He couldn’t possibly eat what the Gentiles eat because it was his tradition. And yet the Spirit told him not to let food cause division in the body. Or what about circumcision? When the Gentiles were being drawn to the faith, some believers wanted to force them to be circumcised. And yet, God directed the early believers not to force circumcision on the Gentiles.
Ultimately, those were non-essentials, areas where believers were encouraged to extend a large dose of grace and love.
I will never pretend to know everything about God. I will never think that I have it all figured out, that my doctrinal beliefs are infallible. But I will cling to my Savior, trust him to lead me every step of the way. Where my human traditions clash with other believers, I pray that I always cover those differences with grace and love. I pray that I never let my pride and arrogance become a source of division in the body of Christ. I pray that I am always an answer to Christ’s prayer for unity in the church.
Accept other believers … and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them….So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God… Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other. … So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up. Romans 14:1-19 (selected verses)