The inimitable Patrick Mead recently posted this story on Facebook —
Breakfast at hotel before boarding ship. A man comes in greeting everyone. Asks me my name. Immediately says, “I’m a preacher for the Lord’s church in —-. Brother Mead, for shame. I saw your website with that woman on there.” He shakes his head to shame me. So how is your first day of vacation going so far?
“Your website with that woman on there” is a reference to a YouTube video of a female preaching intern who shared the pulpit at Patrick’s church one Sunday to fulfill a requirement for a course she was taking at Lipscomb. That is, the preacher was unhappy that Patrick’s elders allowed a woman to speak to their church about Jesus from the pulpit.
I’m wondering whether my reaction to the preacher’s remark is anything like anyone else’s? So before you read the rest of this post, pause a second and ask yourself: What was my first reaction to Patrick’s post?
Ready? Okay, here’s mine —
You see, the preacher who was so unhappy with Patrick’s position on the role of women in the ministry called Patrick “Brother.” And to me, that’s a big deal.
We’re never going to agree on every element of doctrine. The church of my great-great-great-great grandchildren will likely still disagree over Calvinism, pacifism, “available light,” and countless other issues that bedevil the church of my generation — and that bedeviled the church of my great-great-great-great grandparents.
The human mind is fallen just as is our moral nature. Therefore, even very smart people of great goodwill are going to disagree about all sorts of things. Our intellects will not be perfected until Jesus returns. Until then, we have to learn how to call each other “brother” or “sister” even when we disagree — even when our disagreements make us really, really angry.
In Jesus’s precious last hours before his crucifixion, he met with his disciples and taught what he surely considered the most important of all his teachings. And he didn’t talk about how to conduct the assembly or how to organize the church or any of the other questions we so obsess over. Rather, he taught them —
(Joh 13:34-35 ESV) 34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
— and —
(Joh 17:20-23 ESV) “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. “
What are the marks of the Lord’s church? According to Jesus, love for each other that is like his love for the church and unity as deep as God’s unity with Jesus. The standard is Jesus. The church of Christ will be marked by looking like the Christ.
These things won’t come purely by human effort. They are gifts of God through his Spirit. And when we see them present among our brothers and sisters — even in minuscule doses — we know that God is actively transforming his church to become more and more the church that looks like Jesus.
God is alive and active and moving his children to more and more recognize that, despite our brokenness and disagreements, we consider each other brothers and sisters. Even when we disagree about women in the pulpit.
This requires grace. To see Christ in someone we disagree with requires us to see others as Jesus sees them. And in time, if we can do that one thing, the rest will follow.
So, yeah, there a little bit of Pollyanna in me. But that’s because I believe God is at his best when he’s working with those who only have faith as a mustard seed. Calling someone “brother” in anger is hardly all God wants from us, but it’s enough … that is, enough to be open to God’s leading toward a radical transformation.
How do I know? Because it wasn’t that long ago that I would have been in that preacher’s shoes. And if God can change me, he can change us all.