My soul has been aching for the church lately. I see the words written on social media. I hear the sideline conversations. People share blogs that offend other believers. Some of it is political. Some of it is ideological. I hear from pastors about the fractures in their local bodies of believers. It’s heartbreaking.
I want to pretend it isn’t happening. Or it isn’t a big deal. Or just shut my ears and say, “LALALA.” After all, we have always had differences of opinions within in the body of Christ. The New Testament and church history reveal that the church has struggled with unity from day one. During some seasons of history, the division in the church ran deep. The apostle Paul was a church planter, and he urged local churches in his letters to work toward unity.
This is what he wrote to the church at Corinth, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10) He made a similar plea to the churches at Ephesus, Rome, and Colossae. In John 17, Jesus prayed that those who put their faith in Him in the future would be as unified as He is with the Father. How are we doing church?
Today’s divisive issues seem so threatening partially because they are so public. With the internet, we have a forum to spar about our different perspectives about what following Jesus looks like in our modern culture with a watching world seeing our words on display. I wish I could say the dialogue is mostly constructive and helpful.
Unfortunately, much of what I read isn’t reflective of the apostle Peter’s call to “be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” (1 Peter 3:8) Instead I often find a tone of contempt, judgement and shame toward those who see things differently. Other church members see it. Friends and family read it. Those far from God cite it to confirm their presuppositions about Christians. Here is the thing – we have common ground. For those who claim to follow Christ, most would agree that they:
- Love God
- Love People
- Want to see those in poverty helped
- Believe that all people should be treated equally and fairly as they were created by a loving God
- Jesus died for all people and offers new life to all who put their faith in Him
This is important gospel ground. Most Christ-followers I know on all sides of the current debates within Christendom would agree that they love God and people and want to see impoverished people helped and all people treated equally and fairly. Where the differences come in has to do with the methods that should be implemented to see changes in our world. I won’t get into the political particulars, but some Christ-followers get vehement about the action they believe all other Christ-followers should take. They think anyone not sharing a certain post can’t really care about the poor. Or if someone disagrees with their views on how the government or one of its leaders is acting, they judge and criticize.
I’ve seen posts saying that you can’t call yourself a Christian if you don’t agree about a specific political action. I’ve seen others use foul language and war with words demanding others to read a certain article or listen to a certain podcast or watch a certain movie. What has happened to us? We force information down each other’s throats like I never saw Christ do even with the gospel message.
He offered it. He proposed it. He never force-fed it in an imposing, straight-jacket kind of way. He asked questions and taught with authority. He turned some tables over, but never attacked others with self-righteous shaming or haughtiness. His was the way of humility and love. I know He was God. We are not. But we are called to follow Him.
God calls all of us to play a part, but in His creativity that part is not the same for everyone. He likened His church to a body. Not all are eyes or ears or feet. When it comes to helping others and standing up for the rights of others, we don’t all play the same role either. Yet what I’ve noticed is that when an individual gets very passionate about their God-given calling, they can look around at others with a different set of instructions and shame them for not doing what they are doing.
For example, say you felt called to move into the inner city and feed the homeless. You might be tempted to look at other believers still living in the suburbs (like you did last year) with contempt. This is just an example. It might be that God called you to work in a shelter, go to a foreign country, or take some political action.
Since God called you to do it, you can start to think everyone should engage in the same crusade with the same methods. I’ve seen it over and over. We can get so narrowly focused and forget God is calling others to important aspects of His kingdom we don’t understand. Could God be calling someone to build a business to stimulate the economy? Could God be calling another to campus ministry? Could God be calling others to spend more time fasting and praying and you don’t know about it because they don’t post about it on social media?
I mean – the Lord called Jeremiah to hide underwear and Abraham to offer up his son on an altar and Isaiah to go without clothes. To say His methods aren’t always logical is a gross understatement. His ways are higher than ours. We can barely figure out His calling on our lives, much less judge what is wrong with how others are living out their obedience to Him.
Here is my point, we don’t know what God is doing in everyone’s life that we dialogue with on the internet. Instead of making rash judgments and harsh statements, could we be asking more questions? Could we spend more time talking about the common ground we have regarding the needs, and less time sparring online? Could we encourage and inspire those called to serve our communities differently instead of shaming them for not doing it the same way we are?
I just wonder, what if each one of us spent time praying, fasting, asking God to show us what He has for us to do… instead of arguing, shaming, and expecting everyone to agree with our personal views on how we are to be representatives of Christ in a very broken world.
I don’t have good answers for my soul-ache for the church – the bride of Christ, but I wonder if we could start with asking better questions.
Here are some of the questions I’m asking:
- Where is God’s heart in this? (protest, rally, injustice, natural disaster, crime, blog post, news story, church situation, etc.)
- What if anything is He calling me to do with my time, talent, prayers and treasures in response?
- How do my words, attitudes, and actions impact others?
- Could I be wrong about this?
- Is there another perspective I haven’t considered?
- Am I only feeding myself with information from one side of this issue?
- What will ultimately help others over the course of time?
- How can I apply truth from Scripture to this situation?
- Where might I have some blind spots or misconceptions?
- How am I balancing truth and grace in this situation?
The internet has impacted our lives, and it echoes into how we live out our faith. As followers of Jesus, we must consider our words carefully so that we build up rather than tear down the church He is preparing to return to one day. Jesus prayed we would be unified. Will we even try to find common ground?