The other week, I stayed a night at my grandparents’ home in Germany. I had a rare chat with my grandfather – or at least tried to, as my German is still far from fluent. Anyway, I say rare because I don’t see him often, and until recently our communication was very limited due to the language barrier. Yet there I was, talking with him at his kitchen table over pizza and a bottle of wine (one thing we do have in common). I got to ask him a bit about his life; something a younger me couldn’t have imagined doing! Among other things he told me a little about his experience of a divided Berlin, having lived closeby during his youth. To hear about the past directly from him was interesting to say the least. Even more interesting when I compare his Berlin (the Berlin I have studied, read about, watched films about), to the Berlin I’ve lived in. Most of you probably know at least a little about the Berlin wall so I won’t bore you with a history lesson, but suffice to say the city is very different now. It’s diverse but not divided. It thrives.
Maintaining both unity and diversity is necessary in so many aspects of life. And I think that many of us would claim to be tolerant and accepting of difference. Yet, applying this to my life as a Christian can be a challenge. I consider myself very tolerant, until I am confronted with something I don’t agree with. And then I realise how quick I truly am to judge, dismiss, or criticise. I admit, I can sometimes be far too hasty about making a judgement. This normally results in my looking foolish when I turn out to be wrong. But, you know, that’s not even the point. Even when I’m right, there’s a wrong way to handle it.
The bible says a lot about unity. I guess because God knew that, in our flawed humanity, we would struggle to get along sometimes. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:10:
“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”
This is a tall order. In theory, we know that unity within the Christian community is necessary, but putting it into practice is less straightforward. I don’t know about you, but I feel like the older I get, the more I realise I don’t know or understand. Unity within the Church is a complicated issue, and there are so many questions that have been surfacing through observations I’ve made over time. Is there always a right and a wrong answer? Does it always matter who is ‘right’? What do you do when you are confronted with an opinion so very different to your own? When is it OK to leave a church over difference of opinion?
These are questions that are difficult to answer. And I am not a theological expert. But one thing is clear – it is nigh impossible for Christians to agree about everything. I mean, we can’t even agree on ‘sloppy wet’ or ‘unforeseen’ kiss. (haha, sorry…some of you will know what I’m referring to. It was a joke…)
But here’s the point: It’s not that I’m not allowed to have a different opinion. It’s what I do with it that counts.
I think something that God has been showing me in various circumstances is that Jesus is always the answer. I am not trying to evade these issues, nor simplify them to make myself feel better about the fact that they exist. But Jesus is our foundation, the Cornerstone on which we are all built. I tend to believe that to find an answer to any problem, you have to go to the root. In this case, to return to the bare bones of the gospel. To come humble and childlike to Christ; to look at the cross, to seek Him alone. To listen to His voice in the midst of clamour. Only then, I think, can we ever hope to come close to exemplifying unity, may that be in our local church or as a wider body.
Several times I have come up against issues of division and of disagreement, and I have asked, ‘Jesus, what do I do with this information? How do I respond to this situation?’. Often, I hear only this in reply: ‘Look to me. Keep your eyes fixed on me.’
I’ve seen first-hand what divisions can do to churches. I also know that being unable to address differences healthily can be quite harmful (I guess this would beg the question, how does one do that? But this post is already getting long). But I’ve seen people get hurt. My grandfather lived in a world where you either outwardly conformed to the views imposed upon you, or you were punished… arrested, even. Nowadays there is room (at least in this part of the world) for questioning and discussing things. And we should celebrate such freedom. I don’t know how long it will last.
Who are we to be so sure of ourselves anyway? To be so convinced that our stances on issues are right? We serve a God who is higher and wider and deeper than our understanding will ever fathom. He is also a God who is passionately interested in pursuing a relationship with us, all sinners saved by grace. That’s the ultimate leveller, really.
You know, everything pales in comparison to Jesus. Yes, there are instances where things happen that are wrong, and they need to be dealt with. But let’s not let minor gripes distract us from what matters most. Jesus is alive and He has overcome the world. Let’s focus on that.
I hope this does not sound condemning in any way. I don’t even know if it’s relevant to anyone so if it doesn’t resonate with you, feel free to dismiss it! This is simply my way of coming to terms with my own questions, but I felt maybe it was a good idea to share it. And of course, I welcome your thoughts.
God bless you!