It seems these days Christians are anything but unified. And no, this is not a post in which I rail against denominations. Most denominations differ not on the ‘what’ of Christianity, but on the ‘how.’ How are we saved? How does the sovereignty of God relate to human responsibility? How do we understand God’s presence in the Eucharist? And so on. ( Of course, this is not to say that the ‘what’ is not also contentions (especially along the conservative-liberal divide).
But in my view, a far bigger threat to Christian unity than denominations is the general inability of Christians, especially evangelicals, to tolerate, much less actually love as we’re commanded, those who differ from us.
I mean, what do we think Jesus meant when He said, “blessed are the peacemakers?”
Many evangelicals tend to interpret passages like this to refer merely to an internal peace that comes from being reconciled with God (Rom. 5:10). But if that was Jesus’ sole intention, perhaps He should have said “blessed are the peace-takers.” After all, that kind of peace is not something we achieve; it’s something we receive as a gift.
Now, I should point out that peace in the Bible is primarily a covenantal term. It has to do with the peace that comes from God by virtue of being a child of God. God is, after all, the God of peace (Judges 6:24; Rom. 15:33). But this aspect of God’s nature is meant to be reflected in the character of God’s people. “The mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). This is why Paul begins every one of his letters by reminding the churches that they are recipients and bearers of God’s grace and peace. And it is why Paul says, “so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18).
But this quality of the church is rarely seen today. Not only are we not at peace, we often the cause and source of conflict. Christians are deeply divided on everything from politics to entertainment. The problem though is not so much the disagreements as it is the inability to discuss those differences in a kind and civil manner. We have lost the art of civil discourse.
Because of this, there is a tremendous need for the church to rediscover the force of God’s instructions regarding peace, and to learn how to disagree in respectful ways. And I think there are a couple of things we do to accomplish that:
- Get to know people personally before you challenge their views. Too often these days we’ve become accustomed to hurling our opinions like rockets into the stratosphere, via the launch pads of Facebook and Twitter, and letting them strike what or who they may.
I have a good friend that I meet with on a regular basis, and theologically, we’re pretty far apart. He’s a Calvinist and I’m an Arminian; He’s a cessationist and I’m charismatic. When we get together we discuss lots of things, from theology to our children, to the challenges of being a missionary, and so on. But we’ve never had a fight or argument, even though we disagree about lots of things. But we can discuss these things without it dissolving into conflict because we care too much about the friendship to let that happen.
- Be humble and open to learning new things. You can never have meaningful dialogue with someone who has a different view than you do, if you remain convinced that you have all the correct answers and the other person only needs to listen to you and learn. Learning is a two-way street. We are all broken and flawed people, and we all “see through a glass dimly.” Together, when we’re willing to learn from each other, we all come to see a little more clearly.
The real challenge with this is that we’re often afraid that if we admit to even a small crack in our worldview, then the whole thing will come crashing down, and we can’t allow that because we’ve built too much of our life around that worldview. But all of us are victims of worldviews that have a myriad of influences, some that we are aware of and some that we are not, some that are holy and some that are downright demonic. And because we are so embedded in these worldviews, because we have carried them around for decades, we can’t escape them unless someone from the outside helps us see the cracks and leaks. This is the essence of community; we come together as mutually broken people and we depart having been made better by the clarity that comes through diversity.
What if, before we argued with someone over politics or theology, we took them out to lunch and got to know them? What might our conversations with each other, and thereby our testimony before the world, look like if we cared more about each other than we cared about being right? We who have received the undeserved peace of God, who have been reconciled to a holy God even when we were rife with sin and rebellion, should understand this better than anyone.
And as we sit down with those with whom we have deep disagreements, wee might just find that we have more in common than we think.