Lately, with the release of my book, Epic Grace ~ Chronicles of a Recovering Idiot, I’ve had the opportunity to travel quite a bit, speaking at a wide variety of churches. I’ve done several radio talk shows and even a Christian television appearance. It has been fun and interesting to see quite a bit of the Church in recent months.
I’ve also been around the Church and an active part of it for well over fifty years. In my spiritual journey, I’ve been a Southern Baptist, an Evangelical Methodist, a CMAer, and a Pentecostal (though more mildly-costal than wildly-costal).
In fact, I’ve visited hundreds of churches in my life from south Florida to the great northwest, and from the highlands of Scotland to the islands of the South Pacific. So trust me when I say, I love the Bride of Jesus, but I know from firsthand experience the Bride is weird.
By “weird” I don’t mean crazy-uncle-Bob-creepy weird, I simply mean peculiar, unusual, and out-of-the-norm weird. The Church of Jesus consists of every tribe, nation, color, social-economic, and political group on the planet. If that doesn’t make the church weird and unique, then what else does?
Furthermore, within the Church, there is a vast assortment of biblical perspectives, historical traditions, and experiential distinctiveness that each particular faction of the Church guards with zealousness. We tend to hold on to our pet doctrines and beliefs with a vengeance.
- Calvinism versus Arminianism.
- Young earth or old earth.
- Tongues as “the evidence,” an evidence, or of the devil.
- Pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib or pan-trib (my personal preference, believing we’ll see how it all pans out in the end).
And the list goes on . . .
Unfortunately, in the process of defending our beliefs, we tend to hack to pieces our brothers and sisters in Christ. The battle cry goes out, “Somebody has to be right and stand for sound doctrine!” and so we often wound the Bride with our biblical swords in defense of our favorite truth.
Here’s the problem with this: It’s not us and them, it’s just us. We are the Body of Christ. All of us who love Jesus. Right or wrong. Doctrinally perfect or not. If people follow Christ and they are saved by grace through faith, then they are us! Heaven won’t be segregated by the doctrinally pure on the right and everybody else on the left.
Of course, it’s important to study the Word. Of course, we must guard against any compromise of the Scriptures. Of course, we must reject anything cultish or outside of sound Christian orthodoxy.
But is it possible that our intolerance of others in the Church is spiritual arrogance? Isn’t it true that we only “know in part?” (1 Cor. 13:12). Isn’t it quite probable that we may not be as smart as we think we are? Won’t Baptists and Pentecostals all be together forever in heaven? Shocking, but true.
Of the fifty-plus “one another” passages found in the New Testament, not one of them says, “Condemn one another as theological idiots.” Go ahead, look it up. I dare you to find even one passage that gives us the right to flaunt our rightness and abuse our brothers and sisters in Christ.
What’s more, a watching world just shakes their head in disgust over our divisiveness. Certainly, they shouldn’t be throwing any stones; there’s plenty of dissension in our world over mankind’s many differences. But even the world expects us to play nice as Christians.
So perhaps the Church should be weird! Of all places, organizations, and organisms on this blue ball, maybe the Church should demonstrate the value of unity over theological accuracy. Maybe we, above all others, should focus more on being relational than being right.
I know. Relax. It’s never right to be wrong, but too often we are right at the cost of being relational, and that is just not like Jesus. Jesus was (and is) far more concerned with our relational unity than our theological correctness in non-essential matters.
He said, “My prayer is that all of them may be one . . . that they may be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23). For the record, “being one” has very little to do with everybody agreeing about everything. It means we are one in our love for Him and one in our purpose to reach this world with the Gospel.
Jesus wanted His Church, in all her uniqueness and weirdness, to work together to support His primary purpose—to be a light of hope in the midst of a very dark world. In fact, the world ought to look at us and say with amazement, “See how they love one another . . . there must be a God!”
So here’s my view . . .
I think our differences can be an asset in the hands of God.
I think there are all kinds of variety in the Body of Christ, and that’s a good thing because there are all kinds of people on the planet.
I think we can hold dearly to our particular beliefs and pet doctrines without standing in condescending and harsh judgment of others who will be with us forever in eternity.
I think we should worry less about compromise and more about compassion.
I think we can practice unity without the mistaken belief of Unitarianism.
I think a good Catholic brother named Augustine got it right, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love).”
Maybe it’s time to embrace our weirdness and use it to point people to Jesus as the One who brings us all together. Maybe then a watching world will be drawn to Him and to us, His Bride and His Body, rather than repelled by our divisiveness. Maybe when they see our unity, despite our diversity, they will believe that the Father sent the Son because He loves the whole world.
What a radical and wonderful possibility.
12 The human body has many parts,
but the many parts make up one whole body.
So it is with the body of Christ.
13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles,
some are slaves, and some are free.
But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit,
and we all share the same Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NLT)