Choose one of each: Alabama or Auburn. Anti-Vax or Pro-Vax. King James or NIV. Republican or Democrat. Liberal or Conservative.
Personally one of the most difficult times in my life was when, in college, I was hired by a known “liberal congregation” as a campus ministry intern. My history as an ultra-conservative-right-winged-speak-where-the-bible-speaks-and-stay-silent-where-the-bible-is-silent-church-of-christ-christian had been well known among my peers. My friends had begun to sense that my allegiances to that side were changing, but the hiring made it official and those once very loyal friends began to tease me about going to hell, have late night heated debate sessions in my dorm room, or write me off altogether as a former friend.
This wasn’t anything new. One could give different options in the first century. Choose one of each: Jew or Gentile. Circumcision Group or Un-circumcision Group (Gal. 2:11-14). Worship on this mountain or Jerusalem (Jn. 4:20).
What is it that continuously seeks to divide people from each other? It certainly isn’t the way of Jesus. At least not to the extent in which our own tribe (Churches of Christ) has continued to behave towards one another. One might respond, “Well then, what about Jesus’ own words?” Luke plainly states in Jesus’ own words, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49-51 NIV). One might also reference another passage in Luke where Simeon prophesies about Jesus, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against…” (Luke 2:34). At first glance this doesn’t seem to be the peaceful Jesus that scripture portrays. I remember at one point in my life believing that these verses reaffirmed my legalistic viewpoints. That was until I learned about prophetic tradition. This tradition used by the prophets of old inserted itself in environments that called for an end to injustices, wrongdoings and cautioned against going in the wrong direction. Therefore, these words of Jesus and the prophet Simeon speak more to the mission of Jesus than they do to a spirit of division.
Under the headship of King Jesus the church, regardless of doctrinal disagreements, ought to be able to unite for kingdom work. I have always been deeply saddened by division within our own tribe even more-so than I am about division across denominational lines. While I understand that these divisions will never fully be resolved until the return of Christ, I would strongly suggest we take Paul’s words to the Philippian church to heart. “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Php. 2:12-13). The “good purpose” speaks to the prophetic nature we discussed earlier – living out the type of kingdom life that seeks to stamp out injustices against the poor, the weak, the widows and the orphans, but that is not all. Surrounding the entire passage is perhaps the greatest teaching on the type of spirit that Christ not only showcased, but one that Paul is mandating. The spirit of humility. Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Php. 2:1-4).
As I’ve ministered through the years I’ve been heartened by the fact that many of my friends have been set free from the bonds of legalism. I’ve often asked them, what happened? Their answers have been about the same. We found ourselves robbed of the joys of belonging to Christ, or they could no longer live under the yoke of perfectionism mandated by their local body of believers. Since then, they had been ostracized by their home church and in many cases their own family members. This is not the spirit of Christ. This is not the division he said he was coming to bring. Regardless of who we are and where we’ve been let’s all make an effort to return to the very scriptures we know so well and study them again and again through the eyes of someone who doesn’t seek to be reminded they are right, but to be transformed into the very image of Jesus. (2 Cor. 3:18).