In many different congregations and denominations there are divisions, and sometimes even outright fights, in church. For some it is over the style of worship or the color of the carpet. For others it is over abortion and homosexuality. The United Methodist Church, my former communion, is tearing itself apart right now over the issue of homosexuality (actually the issue is one of theology, and the surface issue right now is homosexuality).
I heard a story about a congregation in the Free Methodist Church that is equally disturbing. A young woman who grew up in a Free Methodist congregation and family, and whose uncle is a FM pastor, converted to Islam because all she ever saw in her congregation was people being hypocritical and petty, fighting over little things.
Our divisions hurt not just the ones we fight with, but those who are on the sidelines watching the fallout. Of course, I do not think we should all pretend that the differences don’t exist and gather around the fire with a guitar and sing Kum Bah Ya. But for all I have been reading and from some people I respect very much, there is one thing that is absent from all of the talk of how to move forward.
Neither side will admit it needs to repent. Neither side thinks it has done anything wrong. There is a lot of call for unity and prayer, within congregations and denominations. But true prayer begins with repentance and true unity can only be found in Christ when we admit how much we need him. If we spent more time loving one another in the name of Christ, and praying for one another, repenting of anger, judgmentalism, and self-righteous attitudes over the obvious justness of our cause and opinions, perhaps we could hear God’s voice leading us through the mess we have made.
I do not want to sound like I am trying to gloss over issues. There are serious elements to the discussion of what is appropriate in the worship of the Living God (remember Nadab and Abihu were killed ministering before the Lord in Numbers 10) and there are serious elements to the discussion of how to love and be the church for people who are homosexual. Yet we need to remember that it is not our church; it is Christ’s church. Rather than arguing and positioning ourselves, and vilifying those with whom we disagree (because our actual Adversary is only one, and not any other human being), we should repent of our own bad behavior and ask Christ what he wants for his church.
Obviously there have been divisions within the church from the beginning. In Acts there was the division between Hellenistic Jew and Hebraic Jew, and then Jewish Christian and Gentile Christian. In 1 Corinthians we have a very vivid description of division within that congregation. Church history is replete with divisions that even led to the armed conflict between those who called themselves true and faithful Christians in the name of Christ. We are not breaking new ground here.
But we must remember that it is not my church, nor is it your church. It is Jesus Christ’s church, and we are called by him to prove ourselves his followers by our love for one another. Why don’t we pray that God would help us love even those with whom we seriously disagree? Why don’t we not assume we naturally are showing more love than our opponents because our positions are obviously right? Why don’t we strive to outdo one another in love, even to those who we are very sure are wrong?
If we were to humble ourselves in this manner, and have the mind of Christ that Paul details in Philippians 2, we just might see a revival of the faith, rather than its continual diminished presence from the public sphere.
Just a thought; and a prayer.