It is no question that we are living in a fragmented world. Even though we’re more technologically advanced, globalized, and seemingly more tolerant and open-minded than ever before, it seems as though there are more things that are dividing us and more disagreements in our world than ever before, too. The Church is not exempt from this, and sadly, it can be even worse in a lot of ways. So how do we handle so many disagreements within the Church and tensions between the Church world and the broader culture we live in? I think there are three things to consider that can help guide us to these sorts of questions.
1. This isn’t anything new.
It is not as if we are the only generation of the Church in it’s 2,000+ years of existence that has experienced disagreements and division. In fact, church history is pretty ripe with it, even down to the very beginning of the Church itself. In Acts 15 we read about the first “council” that the Church ever held in Jerusalem. What were they meeting about? A bunch of the leaders of the early Church came together to discuss the inclusion of Gentiles within the various communities. As many are familiar, the earliest “Christians” were Jewish, and Jewish culture was a lot different from a lot of the surrounding cultures of the day in the first century. Gentiles, or non-Jews, led a very different lifestyle and issues such as diet restrictions, circumcision, and other issues surfaced that the early Christians had to discuss. They came to a conclusion that was mutually beneficial and inclusive. So, these issues we’re having today aren’t that new after all; however, that doesn’t mean we respond with such an inclusive acceptance all the time. What happens in these instances?
2. Do everything with love.
Paul was certainly someone who had both caused disagreement in the early Church, with his own conversion story, as well as navigated various churches he lead through disagreements in their own communities. One of these churches was the church in Corinth, who definitely had their issues. In the first letter we have recorded from Paul to this Corinthian church, he ends with this admonition: “Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love” (1 Corinthians 16:14). Did you catch the nuance there? Throughout the letter Paul discusses a lot of cultural hot topics with them, many of which were discussed at the Jerusalem council in Acts, so he encourages them to remain cautious of these issues, but also to do everything in love. That’s pretty vague, but it’s great advice for us even today. As we navigate all the disagreements and all the differences between the Church and culture, and even within the Church itself, we have to make sure we are loving our neighbors and loving one another. Which brings me to my third point…
3. Be unified.
Now, unity doesn’t necessarily have to mean agreement. In fact, if that were the case there wouldn’t be any need for unity in the first place! So, how can we maintain unity even in the midst of disagreement? We have to take a posture of humility and respect for those who also call themselves followers of Jesus. This was one of Jesus’ main prayers in the Gospel of John:
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me” (John 17:20-21).
How can we expect to be a “light to the world” if we cannot even get along amongst ourselves as Christians? I think this is also what Paul was getting at in Galatians 6:10: “Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone – especially to those in the family of faith.” We need to relate to one another by what we have in common, and we need only to converse about the things we do not. We cannot be so quick to dismiss, disregard, or disown one another based on things that are outside of the center circle of faith in Jesus.
If we can start with these three assumptions, I think we may have a good jump on the future, whatever new issues or hot topics it may bring.