Monday, March 10, 2014

Disunity in the Church: A Real Problem With a Real Solution

There is a lot of talk these days about disunity in the churchand with good reason. Christians are splintered not only into a wide variety of denominations and associations, but also within our churches where the differences between individual believers can often be stark and can even cause irreconcilable rifts. And all this while the world is watching. But what is the true answer to this problem? I think the solution is actually well within our reach...

Before delving into the solution, we need to be sure that we're setting out with godly expectations. In response to the depressing state of discord within the Body of Christ, many of us feel weary and sometimes default to a can't-we-just-all-get-along sentiment. Understandable as this is, it doesn't work as a blanket solution. This is because, sometimes, disunity is unfortunately unavoidable. While we are told to live in peace with everyone as far as it depends on us (Rom 12:18), we are also told be guardians of the faith (1 Cor 16:13; 2 Cor 10:5). We are called, therefore, to speak the truth in love when the truth of gospel is being undermined or when besetting sin or false teaching has entered into the church. Doing so may indeed cause conflict and disunity. But it's important to recognize off the bat that we mustn't value unity at the expense of the gospel. To do so puts human relationships before God, which is an unbiblical approach to loving our neighbor. We might succeed in being united if we do this, but we've actually lost sight of our original purpose: to glorify God. Instead, it's important to unite with others in a way that honors God first and foremost. 

Loving God above all else will lead us to choose a bible-based church that is Christ-centered, and will inspire us to live out our faith in a God-honoring way. It will lead us to reject liberal churches that fail to make Christ their Lord and His Word central. But here's the challenge: We absolutely must not have our identity wrapped up in our choices—whether they are biblically sound or not. It is this that leads to unnecessary disunity.

Let me explain. When our identity is rooted in being a 5-point-Calvinist, an Arminian, a home-schooler, a baptist, a methodist, a presbyterian, a helper of the poor, an upholder of justice, a guardian of biblical doctrine, ANYTHING other than in Christ alone, we are missing the mark. These may be good things. Some of them may indeed be crucial, biblically correct things. But they cannot replace Christ. And if they become our identity, we have a problem. We have an identity crisis.

An identity crisis is not to be taken lightly. It can have devastating results. For example, an identity crisis is arguably what led to Satan's downfall from Heaven. The bible tells us that before his fall, Satan was the “anointed cherub” (Eze 28:14) and “the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.” (Eze 28:12b) It is likely that Satan was one of the highest of all angels because he had enough influence to convince one third of them to join him in his rebellion (Rev 12:4). There is speculation that Satan was the leader of worship in Heaven. But what we know for sure is that Satan found his identity in the wrong places. He didn't find his identity in being an angel of God. Instead, his identity was wrapped up in being the special oneone who was exalted above others. His identity was rooted in pride. And the effects of this were catastrophic. The fact is, Satan rebelled against God despite being anointed by, and in close relationship with, Him. This sends a chilling warning to us as Christians, doesn't it?

Satan's story shows us how important it is that our identity be firmly anchored in Christ. And if it isn't, it is always rooted in some form of pride. Just like Satan demonstrated, devastating disunity and dissention can result from an identity based on pride; think of the astounding number of Heaven's angels who followed Satan and rejected their Creator! The identity of these fallen angels was not rooted in the One True God, but was caught up in the charisma of a powerful leader and a misplaced sense of loyalty, which tragically led to their eternal damnation.

The truth is, we are all vulnerable to having an identity crisis. As a stay-at-home mom, there was a time when I lost sight of my true identity. I wrote about my early-motherhood struggle with this in a former post: "My Search for Significance in a World of Stray Cheerios." When mothers have their identity wrapped up in their choiceslike whether to stay at home with children or to work outside of the home, for examplethey are on a dangerous path. For example, I've noticed that there can sometimes be an unspoken division between Christian women who stay home full-time and those who don't. Likewise, there can be a silent stand-off between those who choose to home-school their kids and those who send their children to public school. The problem is, many of us let the choices of other parents become a tacit commentary on our own parenting decisions. It's as if we take the choices of others personally; If other moms make the same choice as us, we feel like we're on the same team. If they don't, we can be critical of them, or feel criticized by them, even if no words are actually spoken. But as members of the Body of Christ, we shouldn't be focusing on our differences in this way. Our identity shouldn't be wrapped up in the choices we make as parents. This leads to self-righteousness, judgmentalism, and unnecessary disunity. It can cause deep wedges in the Body of Christ. 

Remember that Satan wants nothing more than to cause disunity in our churches, our relationships, and our marriages. He wants to divide and conquer. With this in mind, it's important to recognize that there are differences between believers that are peripheral (such as differing opinions on how to educate our kids) and there are those that are fundamental (such as opposing views on the doctrine of the Trinity, the rejection of which is a deal-breaker, for example). We need to exercise prayerful discernment when confronting our differences and compromising unity in the Body of Christ. If we are critical of a fellow believer, church, or ministry, we should check our motive: is it to prove we are right about something, or to point that person, church, or ministry back to the gospel from which they may have strayed? Are we seeking revenge or to build another believer up? Is speaking the truth in this situation necessary to guard against false teaching that undermines the gospel? Or is it more about venting our grievances, and airing our opinions? Is it to glorify God or glorify ourselves?

Ultimately, the solution to disunity in the church is to be found quite simply in Christ alone. In actuality, what unifies us as believers is not brushing fundamental truths under the carpet to keep the peace, it is upholding the Gospel of Christ in our churches and uniting together in the name of Jesus. Paul explains that if Christ is truly our Lord, believers will be united together in His Body, so that we can "grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." (Eph 4:15-16).

The more our identity is anchored in Christ, the more united we, as members of His Body, will be.

1 comment:

Abp Sterling Lands II said...

I found this message to be very insightful. There are no grey areas.