Tag Archive: differences


God can use anyone. Even an ass!

God can use anyone. Even an ass!

Exploring the possibility of real unity under one roof despite differences of opinion

We Cannot Separate

It’s sometimes really tricky handling people of different persuasions in the Body of Christ. In fact, some are so weird and wacky that I am inclined to want to dismiss them altogether. Creating separation seems the easiest and safest resort, but as previously discussed; this only causes the problem of endless schisms.

So, instead of separating ourselves from other parts of the Body, (which is a ridiculous notion if we consider that the metaphor of a physical body suggests unity), what should we do? Can’t we simply point out what we consider to be error while recognizing and esteeming the truths held in common?

Living With One Another’s Nonsense

It should be everyone’s right to openly discuss and if necessary lovingly confront the teaching of anyone else both within the body of Christ. However, when pointing out error, we must avoid tarring people. They are more than the crazy things that they may have said or done. They are loved by God and have often enriched the body of Christ in many ways, and still continue to do so.

My own challenge is to remember that the errors and outcome of a man’s ways don’t totally disqualify all that he has said and stood for. If that were the case, then I would have to stop reading what Solomon, Luther, Calvin …and, dare I say, what even I have written :).

You see, although the source and outcomes might not always be healthy, those propagating their beliefs may nevertheless be gifted, anointed and used by God to be dispensers of certain truths. And, despite their flaws they are making a significant difference. For example, I grew up as a Catholic and although I would warn against a lot of their teaching and practices, I nevertheless appreciate the truths that they taught me. Luther might have felt the same.

If I am truly following the Shepherd, then I can recognize when He is speaking through the various members in the Body. Especially, if I dismiss any claims to hierarchy and the trappings of the guru culture that so often form around certain gifted personalities.

Lovingly Disagree

Even though it’s difficult at times, let’s choose to foster healthy relationships with all in the body of Christ and realize that a somewhat unhealthy body part can still be beneficial to the parts around them. Remaining in touch may be the route to their recovery.

“With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:2-3).

Let’s allow for environments that champion fellowship based on discovering truth in love. This means getting comfortable with open disagreement over issues rather than needing consensus around our personal beliefs in order to enjoy fellowship.

Expecting consensus around details of our faith is a naïve ideal that when pursued at all costs, ultimately produces division. It then goes on to breed false conformity maintained through ignorance and fear, constant immaturity, and guru followers rather than Jesus followers who are students of God’s word.

In my next post I’ll share more on this hope of growing in unity through recognizing that it already exists!

Rob

Other posts in this series:

Part 1: God’s Home

Part 2: Issues and Opinions

Part 3: Blissfully Ignorant in My Church

Part 4: The Problem of Being Different in Church

Part 5: Dividing over Issues

Part 7: Preeminent Leaders and Super-Gurus

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SeperationExploring the possibility of real unity under one roof despite differences of opinion

Is it really such a problem that we are so divided over differences of opinion? Well, yes and no! Let me explain. When a group shows a lack of consideration or any hint of inflexibility to the idea of members holding differing views then there is a problem. Whether it’s a study on the Amish, or any denomination, church or a sweet little home group, where there is inflexibility, there are problems, all be they hidden.

Defaulting to Control and Conformity

Strangely, we gravitate to control and conformity of thought, finding security in it, rather than recognizing the threat that environments with enforced views have on liberty and healthy grow. And, in this bubble-like environment, we become threatened by those who bring different views. Yet, it’s a God given liberty to individually discover and hold different views as long as it’s in an honest pursuit of Biblical truth in relationship with God. Denying a person that is wrong! True growth and genuine unity is based on love, not enforced ideas.

Developing Unity: Embracing Messy People

While we should affirm that the Bible is the only sure expression on which to base doctrine, we should nevertheless allow for messiness in interpretation to be a part of normal growth. And, rather than shun, or try and control those with various views, we should expect this to be a normal process of the development in peoples’ understanding. Paul seems content to allow for differences in thought as a part of growth when he writes, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (Php. 3:14-16).

The potential disunity created by various views can be overcome if we give room for each to hold onto his or her convictions. For example, the practice of the Christening of infants with confirmation and the practice of believer’s baptism need not be divisive. Must we really go to separate buildings and worship apart from one another because we differ on issues like this? Let each do according to how they best understand God’s word and let God who fellowships with us all be blessed by seeing us lovingly fellowship despite our various opinions.

The Sin of Preeminence

Fervent opposition to the culture of guru following and any form of hierarchy and control is essential to avoid being led by some whacko (brother) or narcissistic leadership. And, I propose that it is easier to have unity with diversity under one roof if a decentralized, non-hierarchical, organic model is followed, where the Bible is the foundation for truth, and where room is given for individuals to have and share varied opinions and persuasions in the light of God’s word.

If we fellowship based on commonality of thinking then we will always be divided and will continue to divide. Unity based on control does not foster the loving fellowship that is founded solely on our brotherhood in Christ. Only in the cases of serious discipline, because of ongoing unrepented sin, should someone be kept from fellowship.

This sin can be when elders try to rule and over the church. This seems to be the sin that gets unnoticed because of our default to hierarchical control. See my posts Hierarchical Leadership – The Main Hindrance in the Body of Christ Part 6 and No Rank, only Roles in the Body of Christ for more on this sin.

In my next post I’ll share more on this hope.

Rob

Other posts in this series:

Part 1: God’s Home

Part 2: Issues and Opinions

Part 3: Blissfully Ignorant in My Church

Part 4: The Problem of Being Different in Church

Part 6: Loving the Wacky, Not Their Wackiness

Part 7: Preeminent Leaders and Super-Gurus

Free to be different

Free to be different

Exploring the possibility of real unity under one roof despite differences of opinion

There are all kinds of opinions on a wide range of important issues in the Body of Christ. To name just a few, consider matters like women in ministry, children ministry, our response to homosexuals, the gifts of the Spirit, and styles of church governance and leadership. These are some of the bigger challenges that we are sometimes faced with, which, if handled badly, can cause unnecessary division.

(In this post, I’ll be focusing on the effects that our differences of opinion have on unity. However, that said, it’s quite often the little foxes that ruin the vineyard. Things like gossip, unforgiveness, resentment and bitterness probably turn out to be more destructive and divisive than our differences over the larger issues.)

Now, regular church folk have a range of opinions on different topics. Some views may be quite developed while others are less established. Some are based on the Bible, others on what they’ve heard, and still others on what they feel, and to top it off there are those views that are endorsed with a “God told me…” label. And, oddly, some feel that the later can even trump the first (see my post, The Words of the Bible are Alive for more on this issue). Generally though, most views are often probably a combination of these sources.

Then, alongside (although sadly typically above these folk) are those who are discipling the flock, like your typical pastors and teachers. They tend to hold better honed, but, nevertheless, diverse opinions on different issues too. Based on the Bible of course! At least those that good evangelical Christians would even begin to consider listening to.

This is the conundrum, that those who claim that the Bible, undoubtedly the purest source, is their source of inspiration still get varied results. So, clearly claiming the correct source for your ideas does not mean that you have its content. Now, the problem is not the Bible, but the one reading and studying.

(For help on reading and studying your Bible I have a site that you might find useful at Bible Coaching: How to Read & Study the Bible.)

Chasing Nirvana

If the ideal was always true, where the life and thoughts that are shared and taught emanate only from Jesus and a pure understanding of the Bible, then all would be well. However, we know that such an ideal is an unrealistic constant and that at best exists only in part. Nevertheless, people, especially new believers, find comfort zones that appear to them to be the ideal, only later to discover the flaws. And, when this happens, and the issues are big, fellowship can be ruined.

Those happy with the status quo feel threatened when differing views crop up amongst members on important issues. Their insecurity and the need to have all persons think alike, demands that all should return to the default. Sadly, this protective response has the opposite effect and threatens to jettison the unity and fellowship rather than save it, or at best maintain only a false unity based on ignorance, fear, insecurity and intimidation. Would you like to join :)?

But, should our differences, even over big issues, divide us? And, can we maintain unity, able to lovingly fellowship week in and week out under the same roof despite the differences of opinion that may arise in our fellowships? History has shown that we have struggled to do this, but surely it’s possible?!

In my next post I’ll share more on this issue.

Rob

Part 1: God’s Home

Part 3: Blissfully Ignorant in My Church

Part 4: The Problem of Being Different in Church

Part 5: Dividing over Issues

Part 6: Loving the Wacky, Not Their Wackiness

Part 7: Preeminent Leaders and Super-Gurus

BrotherhoodExploring the possibility of real unity under one roof despite differences of opinion

Imagine if this was posted in a local newspaper:

I’m a Christian in a new Exploring city and I’m hoping to find healthy fellowship with other brothers and sisters. I would love to be with a group of people who share God’s love with each other and who cherish one another’s place in the body of Christ. An environment where everyone gets to participate and be blessed through one another’s life and gifting. A group where I would feel accepted and really listened to even if I should start thinking differently from everyone else. Not that I want to change others to think like me, but where I can really be free to be me. You know, like in a pub after a few beers 🙂? Oh, and I would like the leaders to be real about their lives, and not above me, but next to me, like brothers and sisters. Is there any group in the city like this?

Even if not at first, this kind of hope often becomes just an illusion for many. And, they find themselves having to settle for one of the various forms of dysfunction where the group or its leaders sadly push their agendas at the expense of true fellowship and unity.

In my next post I’ll share more on this hope that I believe we all have for real fellowship.

Rob

Other posts in this series:

Part 2: Issues and Opinions

Part 3: Blissfully Ignorant in My Church

Part 4: The Problem of Being Different in Church

Part 5: Dividing over Issues

Part 6: Loving the Wacky, Not Their Wackiness

Part 7: Preeminent Leaders and Super-Gurus

One Winner

With my teenage son being somewhat pleased with President Obama’s reelection as President, I wanted to remind him that Mr. Obama also has flaws. I thought to point out how the President had flagrantly misquoted scripture. It was something that had really irked me when once when listening to him.

I went to Google to see what it was that he had said that had bothered me. In the process, I came across a post by a Christian leader who also spoke of the President misquoting scripture. Regrettably, I was troubled and saddened to see that this respected man of God handled Mr. Obama in such an unloving and dishonoring way.  And, many of the comments that followed by supposed Christians, were far worse.

What was disturbing then soon became cathartic as I reflected on my own attitude and response toward Mr. Obama’s indiscretion. I’ve realized that it has been, in many ways, unhelpful to me, to anyone else that heard me venting, to Mr. Obama and to the kingdom of God that I was supposed to be representing.

Airing frustrations and disagreements in an unloving or dishonoring manner is never helpful. And, as Christians we are called to love everyone and honor our leaders. We would do well to point out our differences that we have with people in a loving way and not pull them apart with our attitudes and words. It’s no different with the man, Barack Obama. Also, let’s remember to honor him despite any differences.

Rob Morley

Photo by BlueHorizon

I have a dream

Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech, let me share my dream.

I have a dream that one day we will again gather as the ecclesia regardless of our differences, united by God’s love seen expressly in Jesus, and letting nothing get in the way of that. Until then, the current church paradigm where we divide based on doctrine is at odds with this.

When considering the issue of division in the body of Christ and trying to remedy it, we need to make the scriptures our starting point rather than our experiences, and the Scriptures certainly don’t advocate what we see! Ignoring them and looking only at historical and current circumstances, we might feel inclined to justify what we have. However, it’s dubious at best to think something is God’s intention when He never advocated it.

We need to accept that unity in Christ already exists despite our disagreements over doctrine. We already have true unity in a very real sense through having been joined together in Christ. You see, in Jesus, God has reconciled man to God and believers to one another. We have all been baptized into one body. It’s in recognizing this that we have our platform to enjoying this unity with one another.  In other words, we can have unity, because we do have unity.

The unity that we already have in Christ needs only to be made manifest, but this requires our co-operation. One way is by not making other reasons a prerequisite for unity. It’s by creating other reasons as the basis for unity that we have negated the greatest reason, and so doing have undone God’s intentions. Through making certain “truths” a basis for unity, we have only created schisms. For example, ones mode of baptism, end time theology or understanding of the baptism in the Spirit may be the biblically correct one, but as a basis for unity it doesn’t trump our unity in Christ that already exists. By all means have your ideas, share your ideas, but don’t create churches based around them. Chances are, amongst all your “truths” you have something wrong anyway.

In this day and age, most believers recognize members of various churches and denominations to be their brothers and sisters despite differences in doctrine and practice. However, by making doctrinal beliefs and practices a primary reason for unity, churches have denied everyone the joy of celebrating in unity. I believe we need to have gatherings that accommodate all believers, where views are not quashed, and where we love one another by allowing our various views to be aired and corrected by God in His time. In Phil. 3:15 we have an example of where Paul accommodated believers holding different views where he says, “…if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”

A national sports team has their millions of fans in unity despite varied views on play options, player choices, etc. This unity is often expressed when supporters gather together in front of the TV in homes, pubs, etc. In these gatherings you can often hear disagreements among supporters of the same team, but this does not detract from their celebratory unity.

The Bible, like the rules of play for a game and not our interpretation of them, is sufficient security for keeping the general course of conversation healthy. We tend to think that our particular interpretation of scripture that we inscribe in statements of faith, church constitutions, etc. gives security to truth for future generations. However, this has often proven to be divisive and often little security at all. The Bible is enough. So, if on the interpretation of the Bible we disagree, let’s let the Bible and The Author correct each other and not let our differences keep us from gathering together and celebrating our unity in Jesus.

By all means meet where you do, but not out of a need to be separate from others in the body of Christ. Elders, as those who lead by example, be inclusive and unthreatened. God can handle His Household and will give you the grace to help ensure that the truth of our unity is guarded amidst differences, even amongst yourselves.

Rob

 Silence of the Lambs

Churches and denominations have created an impasse for true unity, by holding on to different beliefs and practices that members are expected to adhere to. Any discussions outside the boundaries that are allowed in churches are generally muted by the immediate leaders who are often in no position to effect any real changes anyway. Should members believe otherwise, they are generally expected to keep it to themselves or leave quietly.

Around these issues, church leaders have simply become enforcers of the views that they have been brain washed into believing. (Sorry to be so harsh.) Why is it that, say for example, Methodist ministers think as they do as opposed to Pentecostal ministers? There’s no guessing as to what the flock ends up believing! Those who claim to be teaching God’s word, but are not accountable to it, or worse still, are given authority by their church’s established sets of beliefs, not only implement the divisions, but are protected in doing this too.

Now, each of these churches claims to be Christ’s church when they meet, but their differences only serve to prove that they often teach, outside of Christ’s authority, simply passing down what their founders had interpreted and passed on to them. Which church can claim to be right in every area? None! If so, we need to agree that unity based on doctrine has been a chasing after the wind, a futile exercise. In fact, it is a large contributor for ongoing schisms.

The Bible is God’s authority over all spheres of society and issues in life. Absurd as it may seem, but those in the church sphere need reminding of this too. Church history shows many small and large failures by the church to represent God properly. They are all as a result of not living in the light of God’s word. Drastic discrepancies between the Word of God and how the church conducts itself can develop and become engrained over time.

Appearing first as seeds of truth, incorrect interpretations or assumptions easily take root where the ground of our lives is barren of the Lord’s presence and the Word of God. Then, astonishingly, the lie can grow undetected for years among our plants of truth, even for decades or centuries. The unrecognized lie becomes so a part of life that thinking contrary to it seems wrong.

However, should someone venture upon the truth in God’s word that exposes the lie, he may feel compelled to take steps to uproot it, just as at the Reformation, and at other times, when the church needed to correct its ways. Sadly, in this process, we have often made our corrections at the expense of our unity. As a result, one of the worst weeds of all came about – the approval of division among ourselves to accommodate our differences.

This lie has become so entwined in our belief system that we can hardly imagine that it’s a weed at all. It seems so necessary and useful. But, when looking at God’s word, we see that a lot was tolerated in the early churches and things were very messy, yet dividing wasn’t an option. In contrast, today we have sterile environments where, like me, many members have kept silent on their views to keep the bond of peace. But this too is wrong if it’s only to maintain a false unity and keep a false peace around questionable doctrine and not around Jesus. There is a difference. In my next post I’ll share more on the mindset needed to once again embrace the unity that we have lost and begin to uproot the lie of division.

Rob

No Reason to Ever Separate

We are all a part of Jesus and the ecclesia and that is our reason for gathering. We have made the idea of dividing around doctrine the norm of Christianity when it shouldn’t even be in our thoughts. If Jesus hangs out with you, then who am I not to do the same?

Rather than to unrealistically expect to raise people in our squeaky clean versions of doctrine and ways of doing things, we should learn to accept and live with anyone that Jesus does. We all know that He is in the midst of each of our gatherings, yet sadly we cannot find a way to be in each other’s presence despite our differences.

For the most part, what separates us is no reason to do so. In fact, I’m not sure that there is a reason to ever gather separately. Our separating smacks of the old apartheid (I speak as a white South African). When one’s in the middle of it, you might not really see it for what it is, but certainly in hindsight it is something to be ashamed of.

I like to think of church like family. There needs to be some very serious differences to keep a family from sharing a Thanksgiving meal together. Surely our differences that we separate over are meant to be overcome by longsuffering and not through separation. Our variant views are seldom flagrant sin and even the necessary separation of those who are unrepentant and practicing obvious moral sin is only so that they may be restored.

Not only is our separation shameful, but it hinders our own blessing, for where we live in unity God commands His blessing. Hanging out with each other despite our differences is not easy and it will require a lot of His grace and the love that Jesus said we would be recognized by, but surely it’s worth it.

We cannot find our security in our doctrines and denominations, but we have our security in Jesus and the word of God. We were not left to have to choose the best group. These groups are of our own making through putting our knowledge above the type of love and unity where there is a freedom to disagree.

Let us remember 1Cor 13:12 “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

Rob

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