I am taking a break from the daily blog until after Thanksgiving. But come back daily for an excerpt from my book “Bring’em Back Alive”. This section is from a chapter called Feud for Thought.
I am not naive enough to think that we can solve everything with a New Year’s resolution. We are flawed and we are sinners, and we bring to the party everything that implies. But I do believe in the power of the Holy Spirit and the always-present possibility of revival in the body of Christ. So I will remain a prayerful optimist until the Lord takes me home.
Here is my modest step-by-step plan to begin to shift the momentum in the battle for unity.
1. Remember that Christ died for everyone.
The reality of that truth can make a person uncomfortable. That guy who hits his wife: Christ died for him. The homeless guy in the refrigerator box under the bridge, the rebellious kid with the pierced nose and eyebrow: He died for them. The obnoxious boss and the gossiping co-worker: Yep, Jesus died for them. The killer and the rapist and the drug-dealer: He died for them. It upsets our spiritual applecart to think about unlovable others in that context. But I can find no spiritual loopholes that exclude certain people from His magnificent act of grace.
The apostle Paul explained the supernatural magnitude of God’s actions on our behalf:
We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him. (Romans 5:7-8)
Jesus granting of salvation to the thief on the cross (Luke 23:40-43) bothers most of us. We desire justice—most of the time. When we are desperate for grace because we are facing justice, however, we might have a change in attitude.
God promises that justice is certain. God promises that. Not congress or the local city council. God promises. My problem is that His time frame and mine tend to vary dramatically. I want justice now, but He metes out judgment when the time is right.
God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change. (2 Peter 3:9)
I must learn to accept that God may grant room for repentance to those whom I wish would receive immediate judgment instead. And why not? He did exactly the same thing for me.
2. Make sure it matters.
Churches have split over the most stupid things imaginable. Stupid is a harsh and ugly word. But it fits. I would suggest that unless you are dividing over the core doctrinal truths of Christianity, then you are dividing in sin. To paraphrase comedian Jeff Foxwothy, if it ain’t heresy you just might be a Pharisee.
A recent case might give a concrete example of something worth fighting over. At considerable risk of offending some, I would suggest that the Episcopal Church’s dispute over the ordination of V. Gene Robinson was a conflict of doctrinal integrity. Frankly, the intensity of the debate surprised me. Forgive me for being blunt, but Robinson did not meet the biblical mandate spelled out in 1 Timothy 3 to qualify for the position of elder, let alone bishop. We must defend the core doctrinal tenets or the church will be tossed on every cultural wave that comes along. Robinson made a very troubling statement: “Just to say that it goes against tradition and the teaching of the church and Scripture does not necessarily make it wrong.” Oh really? If the teaching of Scripture is irrelevant, then what is to be our basis for distinguishing between right and wrong? What a dangerous argument to accept into the church.
Even if I were to concede to Robinson’s argument, I would have to say his actions did not demonstrate the sacrificial example of Jesus. Robinson chose to sow division to advance his own personal agenda. That sounds harsh, but it underscores a key issue in how the unchurched view us. If this relationship we claim to have with Jesus cannot generate peace inside the church, then what hope does it hold for those observing from afar? And what is our answer? I am a little tired of trotting out the lame bromide, “I’m not perfect, I’m just forgiven.” As I have said many times, we have a responsibility to represent Christ, not self, when we take the title of Christian.
To be continued…