I’m sad. There is a multitude of other emotions I could mention, but the predominant emotion is deep sadness. I don’t know how it happened, but I got drawn into a less-than-charitable discourse on social media—something I try to avoid. Especially now that I am serving as a district leader, I am careful of what I say in public spaces—but this time I couldn’t help it. The manipulation of Scripture and misconstruing of the gospel were bad enough, but when cruel comments were being made—comments that sullied the name of a precious servant of God, in the name of Jesus—I couldn’t stay silent.
My interactions were peaceable, but inside I lamented for the original poster, someone who was simply showing compassion for the marginalized. I lamented for the bride of Christ because the reputation of the church was being tarnished by the apparent lack of integrity and kindness found in contentious dialogues Christians were posting online. I lamented deeply for the ways we have cast aside the missio Dei and replaced it with a fear-based, self-preserving, empire-promoting, anti-‘other’ agenda of our own.
We are called to be a people embodying the radical, unbounding, and even scandalous love of Jesus Christ, a people demonstrating an unprecedented commitment to unity.
It’s not that I believe we must all agree on everything. The church is still undergoing communal sanctification, never mind personal sanctification, and the growing pains will inevitably cause theological, cultural, spiritual, and yes, political discourse. But as we proceed on finding the Way of Jesus together, as we navigate the complexities of contemporary issues, as we pursue holiness, and as we pray for God’s kingdom to come, here on earth, as it is in heaven, let us not forget who we are called to be. We are called to be a people embodying the radical, unbounding, and even scandalous love of Jesus Christ, a people demonstrating an unprecedented commitment to unity. We are a people called to the Great Commandment, Great Commission, and Great Collaboration.
THE GREAT COMMANDMENT
Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love others as you love yourself—nay, as Jesus loves you (see Matthew 22:37–39; John 13:34). When you have loved with all that you have, double it and love exceedingly more with the love of Jesus. This is the greatest commandment from the lips of Jesus himself, yet this is not the type of rhetoric seen on social media today. Even more distressing, the rhetoric between some pastors—those who are supposed to be devoted to ministering the Word of God to the world—can be just as vitriolic and cruel.
Can we commit, in our disagreeing, to consider our words and align them to the likeness of Christ? Can we commit, as we come to conclusions about the things of this world and how we are interact with them, to persist in discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit? Can we agree that loving God literally goes hand in hand with the way we love the least of these—the marginalized, the poor, the stranger, the child? And yes, I am quite aware that this love needs to extend to those who are exploiting the least of these as well, Lord have mercy.
Love, and love fiercely.
THE GREAT COMMISSION
Go and make disciples of all nations (see Matthew 28:18–20). Throwing a book of rules and regulations at hurting people is the least effective way to make disciples. Punishing your brothers and sisters for having opposing values is no less damaging. As we strive toward the unleashing of the gospel, may we instruct, disciple, and impact others for the sake of the kingdom. Whenever we raise our voices out of indignation or self-preservation, we are speaking out of an empire mindset that protects our own values and status and has nothing to do with the gospel. Jesus promises to be with us to the very end of the age. Why do we feel the need to protect ourselves when we are standing on a promise like that?
The world is watching the manner in which Christians deal with friction in the church. Our words of patience, love, integrity, humility, open-mindedness—or divisiveness, hate, callousness, manipulation—will either draw the nations toward Christ or far, far away from Christ. Words have power.
THE GREAT COLLABORATION
I first heard the term “great collaboration” used at a conference on church multiplication. It is not explicitly included in our common church language, but the idea it represents is absolutely emphasized in our reading of Scripture, in our sacramental practices, and in our preaching of the Word.
In the garden of Gethsemane, hours before his death on the cross, Jesus lifted up an impassioned prayer to the Father. It is arguably the most important prayer in all of history. He prayed for unity: “I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23).
Paul echoed these sentiments. He appealed to the Ephesians to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (4:3).
The mission of God can only and will only come to fruition in the unity of the body of Christ. In light of this truth, what are the ways we can uphold unity in the midst of such schismatic times?
1. Protect relationships over regulations. We need to put down our weapons as we seek harmony in our differences. We need to surrender our need to be right at the altar of fellowship. There are undeniably occasions when we need to stand our ground, but let these occasions be a reminder to us that we are called to love people, not rules. We can only persuade our friends of the truth, not our enemies. Why make enemies?
Action: Think about any relationships that have been damaged because of your insistence on being right. Ask the Lord what steps you can take in order to repair the relationship. In what ways do you need to die to self for the sake of your brother or sister? What are the things you need to take responsibility for and ask for forgiveness for?
2. Be bridge builders, not wall builders. The Pharisees were constantly drawing a line in the sand, promoting an us-versus-them mentality. To protect their elevated status, they created impossible standards that kept others at a moral distance. Jesus destroyed walls of separation and abolished any standards that separated people from God. Jesus himself became the bridge so that whosoever placed their trust in him would have access to their heavenly Father. Who are we to break down the very bridges Jesus built and build the very walls Jesus tore down? Whenever we find ourselves dismissing a brother or sister from the family of God, we need to consider whether it is pride, fear, or self-righteousness that’s driving our need to alienate them. It certainly isn’t love.
Action: Consider any individuals or people group you have alienated because they think or look or act differently than you. Has pride, fear, or self-righteousness cause you to alienate or condemn them? Pray that the Lord transforms your heart so you can be a bridge as Jesus was for you. Take the time to hear their stories until you are filled with compassion and understanding.
3. Share resources rather than protect them. As Christian leaders, we seem to live out of a scarcity mindset. With churches bleeding finances and attendance faster than they can regain them, we are scrambling to survive by tightly holding on to our resources, desperately trying to advance our own empires. In a post-Christian culture, it is critical for us to collaborate with one another, trusting that we are serving a God of abundance. As we support and promote the ministries of others, the whole body of Christ is edified and our own community strengthened. What are the innovative ways we can pool our resources for the sake of the kingdom?
Action: Have you been a good steward of the resources God has blessed you with? Or have you been tight-fisted when it comes to helping your sister or brother in need? Find ways you can support the mission of another ministry by pooling your time, finances, and people.
4. Seek no other agenda but God’s alone. Many tragic events have happened in the name of Jesus because someone confused God’s agenda with their own. It takes strong theology, sensitivity to the Spirit, and a constant shedding of our own desires and values to correctly discern God’s will on the complex issues we face today. If you walk into a situation thinking that you’re already indifferent to everything but God’s will, you’re probably wrong. It takes a lot of soul-searching and dying to self to get there. Lest we find ourselves on the wrong side, we need to be open to the possibility that we could be wrong. Or, on the other hand, we could be right but going about it the wrong way. The ends do not justify the means.
Action: Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you by creating space and margin in your life to hear God’s voice. Before you post anything on social media, before you confront someone, before you speak up, stand up, walk out, push back on an issue: ask the Lord for clarity. Pray for wisdom and for an indifference to self. Reflect on whether your methods are honoring to God and loving to others.
The Great Collaboration—the standard of unity God desires for God’s people—can only be achieved when we pursue holiness out of our love for Jesus and devote ourselves to loving all people into the kingdom of heaven. May our commitment to the unity of the body of Christ stir a hunger in others to see and know Jesus.