The End of Friendly Fire
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1)
There are a lot of things for which the Church of Jesus Christ is known. Sometimes we have been known for things that brought reproach, rather than glory, to the cause of Christ. Still, I love the Church. More importantly, God loves the Church, and you won’t get far with God by tearing it down (see 1 Corinthians 3:16). The Church is God’s “plan A” for reaching the world. In fact, He doesn’t have a plan B! It was to the Church, and no one else, that Christ gave the commission to make disciples of all nations. So, it is incumbent upon us that we do the very best we can to represent Christ well. One thing is certain, we can’t do that if we are divided.
The older I get, the greater an appreciation I have for the Church. Not just my little corner of the Church, but the Church as a whole. There are many segments of the Church with which I would have serious doctrinal differences, and there are other parts of the Church that would worship in a form or style with which I would find it difficult to connect. But be that as it may, I have come to realize over the years, that despite our differences, we the Church of Jesus Christ are most powerful when we are united. In fact, we are so much better together than we are apart. If one looks at the analogies used in the scriptures for the Church: a body, a temple, an army, it should be obvious that we are better together than we are in our separate, individual parts. In fact, the symbols used to describe the Church we just referred to make no sense outside a corporate context.
Over the years I have been a part of several different groups within the Church. I started off in a different movement or denomination than I belong now. In fact, in recent times, I have found a great deal to learn from another group entirely different from the one to which I now belong! I enjoy listening to ministers from different camps with the Church, and have found my life to be greatly enriched through their ministries. Too often, I think, we are working so hard to defend our camp that we don’t pause long enough to appreciate the varying strengths that different groups within the body possess. Certainly, we need to fellowship with those whom we believe are orthodox in their beliefs, and every believer needs a church family and every minister a group that supplies support and accountability, but that should NEVER keep us from appreciating what the other parts of the body have to offer.
In fact, I think it’s very easy for us to become myopic and fail to see the value that others bring to the mission of the Church. We are all gifted differently, and there are those in the Church who have a capability to reach certain people with whom I could never connect. In recent years, I have had a great and growing respect for those engaged in Christian apologetics, defending the faith in very difficult academic environments. Their teachings have enriched my life and given me the language to speak to certain people groups to whom I would have formerly been unable to communicate. Beyond that, I appreciate their dedication to put themselves in very hostile environments in order to share the gospel with young people and professors in our institutions of higher learning which are saturated with, and in many cases committed to, secular ideologies. Much fruit has come from their efforts, and while they represent a different denominational persuasion from my own in most cases, I am honored to have a part in their work by supporting what they do financially.
There are others in the Church who are engaged in bringing awareness to the Church regarding social and political issues that have bearing on the free exercise of our faith and our rights and liberties to share the gospel in the public square. Their tireless efforts have helped to stem the tide of those who have forgotten (or choose to forget) our Christian heritage as a nation and who seem to feel that it is their life’s purpose to silence the voice of the Church in America once and for all. These ministries are like watchmen on the wall, giving warning to those of us who are perhaps less informed regarding the issues about which we need to pray and take action.
There are also those who are engaged in what we might call “mercy ministries,” feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and touching the needy. While we all may take part in such ministries, either through our churches or as volunteers, there are those who give their lives to this kind of ministry, living among the less fortunate in our society, or around the world, and demonstrating the love of Christ in the most practical of ways. Still others are engaged in educating Christians and Christian leaders to be more effective in strengthening the Church for life and service. How desperately we need those who have given themselves to the study of the Word to teach and equip the rest of us that we might effectively assume positions of leadership and influence in our culture. On and on it goes, each believer doing what God has entrusted him or her to do according to the gifts He has given them.
What we need to see in this late hour is that we have no time to get distracted by divisive arguments and criticisms of others who do not agree with us on all points. Certainly, there are core tenets of the faith that we should ALL be willing to go to the mat for, but among those of us who hold to the core beliefs of the faith, we need to give one another some grace. As Augustine said, “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials, liberty, and in all things, charity.” There is a real enemy that is doing all he can to undermine the work of the Church, and what we don’t need is to be worrying about shots being fired at us from behind while we are trying to engage the enemy in front. Jesus gave us one commandment, to love one another as He loved us, and He told us that it would be our adherence to this that would establish the genuineness of our testimony before the world (see John 13:34-35). So, while we may not prefer each other’s particular style of worship, or agree on every point of doctrine, we can still love one another and appreciate the unique contribution each is making for Christ and His gospel.