What Divides Us is not as Powerful as What Unites Us

The body of Christ is going through a “division crisis.” I call it thepraying_on_bible_red “Sneetches on the Beaches Affect” after the Dr. Suess story about creatures called Sneetches who divide themselves into groups based on who has stars on their bellies and who does not. As a friend likes to remind me, if we continue to divide ourselves into smaller and smaller groups over things that make us different from our neighbors, eventually we will find ourselves alone. There’s a lot of wisdom in that statement because we will likely never completely agree all the time on every issue.

Why do I bring this issue up?

In our culture, it is easy to define ourselves by all sorts of things. We like our niches — customizable digital radio stations, anyone? We like being comfortable around others who talk like us, look like us and sound like us. This seems especially true within the body of Christ. Did you know there are approximately 30,000 Christian denominations? That number is staggering, especially since Jesus and Paul were extremely concerned about unity within the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:12-13; 3:4).

Why are we so divided?

It seems we divide ourselves over just about anything within the body of Christ (Church): traditional vs. contemporary, style of music, formality of clothing, instruments used, preaching style, church adornment, rituals and sacraments and all sorts of other things (In case you’re interested, I’ve also written about this topic from a different perspective in a previous article: “Unity“). However, one topic seems to divide more sharply and cut more deeply than most issues within the Church — social issues and politics.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I think social and political issues are important; but no matter how important these problems/differences are, they distract from the message of Christ. Before we separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters, shouldn’t we consider the impact of such a divide on our non-beliving family, friends and neighbors? Perhaps, our judgmental, unforgiving reputation is well deserved when we allow ourselves to become a disorganized bunch of hypocrites who backbite each other and point out each other’s flaws in a merciless manner. I recognize not everyone fits into this generalization, and there are lot of truly wonderful Christian people around the world. However, based on some fairly common sterotypes I see in the media and society in general about Christianity, I’m standing firm on my view about how we are perceived by many non-Christians. Let’s change that view.

And before it is suggested, I’m not insinuating we should ignore sin. I’m simply suggesting we change our primary focus to be more Christ-centered above all else. If we, the body of Christ, modeled ourselves after Jesus, would society see us differently? Would they see us as less judgmental and feel like they wanted to be part of the Church if we were more unified, less divisive and more welcoming to non-Christians than we are currently?

Christ is Our Model

Jesus’s primary mission on earth was to demonstrate the depth of the love of the Father and to provide the ultimate sacrifice to cover our sins by dying on the cross. He also healed the sick, set free the oppressed and cast out demons. Everything He said and did was rooted in love. He showed mercy instead of judgment. He released grace upon people who didn’t deserve it. Shouldn’t we strive to do the same even if we disagree with our neighbors?

Our Challenge

The challenge to those of us who claim to follow Christ is simple: love without conditions. Welcome others with open arms. Stop being shocked by the actions of people who don’t know Christ — of course they won’t align with all of your values — love them anyway. Throw aside pride and disagreements within the Church. Be the difference. Be a person of substance and character. Watch the world change around you one person at a time as they see the truth of Christ in your life.

Unity

Many times, as believers, we have the tendency to divide ourselves even though Jesus emphasized the importance of unity in the body of Christ (John 17:20-26).  We disagree about denominations, interpretations of Scripture, worship music, the way we dress, whether to raise hands or clap, and all sorts of other things.  Yes, we are different, but we should celebrate our differences.

I have been in church most of my life. When I graduated from my elementary public school, my parents enrolled me in a private Christian school, which began my journey with God and changed my life forever.  The school was associated with an on-premises traditional Baptist church.  I spent many years in that church, and it became my comfortable, small view of God and expectations about how the people of God should act. I knew there were other churches and denominations out there, but I was a little suspicious of them.  They seemed weird to me — especially those “Holy Ghost” churches where people speak in tongues, believe in healings, and believe God works actively in the lives of people today.  I’m not trying to suggest that Baptists believe other denominations are strange or wrong.  This was just my personal understanding at the time because it was the only true exposure to God I had.  At the time, I was satisfied with simply believing in a Savior who loved me enough to save me from my sins, my failures, and from the depths of hell.  I still don’t believe there’s anything wrong with this view.  I was in a different place of my life then, and it has taught me how to understand that other people around me may be at different levels of understanding, and that’s perfectly okay. None of us will completely understand God until after we leave this earth anyway!

As the years passed, I visited a Lutheran church with my grandfather, went to a few Christmas services with my family at an Episcopal church, went to Bible school during the summer at a Presbyterian church, and eventually regularly attended a Catholic church during the summer with my boyfriend in my early college years.  When I began dating the man I now call my husband, we attended his family’s Presbyterian church and eventually moved to a Southern Baptist church.  Now, we attend a small, non-denominational church.  I love experiencing all the different flavors of Christianity, and I’m extremely thankful for the revelations of God I received with each visit.  I have begun realizing my God is likely much bigger than I could ever understand.  I also have begun to realize people experience God in different ways; and, as long as what they do is Scripturally-based, I can agree with them no matter how different they are from me.  But I didn’t feel this way right away. It has been a slow progression of enlightenment and understanding that each member of the body serves a unique purpose.  God celebrates the different functions of a unified body; and, therefore, I feel we are called to do the same (1 Corinthians 12:12)

One of the many differences we should celebrate, for example, is the fact some churches are passionate about international missions and ministries in particular countries, other churches support varying international communities, while others feel a call to support missions and ministries in their home country, state, or local community. We are all called to fulfill the Great Commission, and I think it’s beautiful that we all hear that call in different ways. What better way to immerse the earth in His love (Matthew 28:16-20)

Another difference that seems to heavily divide the body is the denominational lines, especially among structured and unstructured churches.  Does it really matter whether we’re part of a church that believes in speaking in tongues or a church that believes in the holiness of God to such a degree that they don’t clap in services?  I don’t think so, and I don’t think one version of worship is better than the other.  Some people, I suppose, would disagree with me, but who am I to judge what “flavor” is better?  I believe there are plenty of on-fire Christians who deeply love Christ and the people around them, but they may worship in a manner I would call quiet or reserved.  I will respect the fact they commune with God, even if it’s different from me.

One of the greatest barriers to talking to non-believers about Christ is our lack of unity.  I pray that God will use you to show grace and love to your neighbor and unity with the Body.  God has given us the ability to change how others perceive Christianity.  In Christ’s name, you hold the keys to change the minds and hearts about how people encounter Christ which is a wonderful honor – not a burden.  Let’s rejoice and celebrate and embrace each other as brothers and sisters because at the end of this life, love is the only thing that truly matters.