Friday, June 13, 2014
Eager for Peaceful Unity?
For what are you eager?
Do you eagerly await some desired event, like the birth of a child, or a job promotion, or the opportunity to purchase a new car? Do you earnestly and enthusiastically strive to do your work well? Do you look for ways to do things better, do things for others, or not do things that you know you shouldn't, but you find fun anyway?
For believers in Christ, the Apostle Paul says we are to be eager when it comes to maintaining unity amongst ourselves. According to Ephesians 4:3, he urges you and me to be "eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." And sure, it's easy to bounce through an altruistic verse like that, acknowledge how nice it is when "brothers live together in unity," and agree that "pursuing all that makes for peace" is a noble task.
Yet how often do you and I then continue on our individualized, independent pathways, letting our culture frame our worldview, and our personalities customize our interpretation of what Paul is saying?
Perhaps unity is particularly elusive in a democratic republic, where, politically, voters are encouraged to speak their mind and make choices based on their opinions and knowledge. Choices are valued, alternatives are explored, and opposition is seen as a civic benefit, within reason. Somewhere along the way, a country as diverse as the United States is supposed to still be able to find common ground in a basic framework of identity, ideals, and values. Even if our brand of unity is held in the balance more by tension than a shared foundation.
In Christ's communion of saints, however, there is to be both unity and peace. Whereas we Americans have little peace in our society, as we advocate for different things, there is still a semblance of unity, at least in theory. However, that is not the model Christ presents in His Gospel for His people. In fact, Christ not only expects both unity and peace from us, He wants us to be eager as we maintain them!
My editor at Crosswalk.com, Debbie Holloway, recently posted an article entitled "When Did Christians Get So Mean?" exploring the phenomenon of personal attacks by self-professing Christ-followers in our modern culture, particularly online and in social media. It seems like everybody wants to mimic Rush Limbaugh or Piers Morgan these days, bashing their opposition instead of simply offering different viewpoints. It's cool to be derisive and demeaning, and sometimes funny, too. We're sure to score a lot more Facebook "likes" with vitriol than we are with eager patience, aren't we?
Eager patience? Well, consider it the opposite of righteous disunity. After all, we each think we're right, and when it comes to being eager, we each strive to prove it.
Yet righteous disunity isn't as easy to resolve as a plethora of nasty texts, tweets, and posts online. What about serious differences of theological opinion that may be discussed with quiet, academic propriety and professionalism, but still represent diametrically opposed beliefs? Consider, for example, the recent concern over the Insider Movement, or the Federal Vision movement of Peter Leithart? Just because the wider evangelical community may not be aware of these heady disagreements, they nonetheless represent serious affronts to the peace and unity Christ expects of us.
So, what happens when some Christ-follower gets really excited about something they think the church needs to know, or believe? Or how do we respond when we see something happening that we don't support? How do we distinguish between good things that risk destroying an unhealthy unity among God's people, and bad things that are destroying good unity? After all, sometimes we can be unified around something that turns out to be incorrect. Kinda like when most everybody assumed the world was flat. Unity itself isn't worthwhile, unless we're unified around the right things.
First, of course, we need to determine what the Bible teaches about the divisive topic. However, if scholars believe they can interpret what the Bible says in different ways, or that the Bible is "silent" on the particular topic, then in the interest of unity and peace, what's wrong with taking a practical approach? Why not simply evaluate the party who benefits the most in the matter at hand? If Christ is the Person who receives immediate benefit (and glory), then that is something around which we should be unified. If any mere mortal, or denomination, or political party, or opinion receives immediate benefit, then we probably need to be careful about whether it's something over which unity should be risked.
Being stubborn about absolute truth is one thing. Being stubborn about what we want to believe is another.
How interesting to note that while a form of unity can exist without peace, Christ wants both to exist among His people. Which sounds impossible, doesn't it? Fortunately, He's given each of us His Holy Spirit, Whose Fruit should be sufficient for guiding us through our individual desires, idiosyncrasies, convictions, and preferences.
But even if we have unity and peace, we're still supposed to be eager to maintain it! Good grief - is God expecting us to be saints? How perfect does He want us to be? It's hard enough being eager to get to church every Sunday. It's even harder to be eager to share our faith with hardened unbelievers. And He expects us to be motivated towards unity and peace within our fellowship of faith?
In Ephesians 4, Paul says it can be done through humility, gentleness, and patience, "bearing with one another in love."
Obviously Christ had this in mind when He taught that the world will know whether or not we're a disciple of His by our love for one another.
So, what are we waiting for? With eagerness?