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Why Can’t Christians Get Along? The “Battle for Loving Co-Existence”

Reading a recent article, the question: “What do you see as the biggest struggle or issue currently facing Christianity?” was posed. One of the respondents, Thomas Mathie, had this to say: “I’m seeing some viscous sectarianism between conservatives and liberals…I see law without love… and love without law. I see orthodoxy without orthopraxy … and I see orthopraxy without orthodoxy. The greatest struggle we face isn’t “out there” but “in here”… a battle for loving co-existence… because if we can’t love those who love the same Lord as we do… then how the heck can we love those who don’t even acknowledge Jesus as Lord?”

Mathie identified himself in his response as a resident of the UK – not the US. It surprised me to see a UK resident identifying liberal vs. conservative infighting among Christians as a major problem in Great Britain, but I suppose it really shouldn’t have; the UK is no stranger to the conservative and liberal party factions in their government. Any human malady that exists in government usually exists in religious circles as well.

A similar phenomenon is recounted for us in the New Testament. In that case, factions have developed in the early church between Christians who followed the teachings of various Christian leaders, and began to squabble among themselves. In 1 Corinthians Chapter 3, the Apostle Paul was dealing with this situation, and said: “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?” Paul described the Christians involved as carnal – not because they hadn’t been redeemed by Christ, but because they were focusing on the teachings and guidance of mortal leaders rather than on the teachings and guidance of Christ Himself.

It is an easy trap to fall into; a charismatic human leader that you can see standing in front of you is a very powerful force, and often drowns out the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. It’s also easy to fall into this trap because the situation is complicated. Genuinely well-meaning leaders, charismatic though they may be, are human. Therefore, they are imperfect, and will err in their guidance at times. When they are correct most of the time, it’s more challenging to apply a constant filter of spiritual discernment to what they say.

It appears from the context surrounding the passage in 1 Corinthians Chapter 3 that this problem is less prevalent among more mature Christians, because the more knowledgeable we become about the teachings of Christ and the guidance provided in the Bible, the less dependent we are on human spiritual guidance. We are able to stand on our own.

That makes perfect sense to me. In the same way that God has directed us as Christians to approach God the Father in prayer through the intermediary of Jesus Christ, and without another human intermediary like a priest (See Luke Chapter 11.) Jesus Christ is our intermediary because we cannot approach a perfect God in our human (and therefore sinful) condition; praying in the name of Jesus invokes the condition of a redeemed Christian covered by the atoning blood of Christ, and enables God the Father to hear our prayers. Relying on another human being to intercede for us simply does not work from a theological perspective, in my view. So spiritual maturity – focused increasingly on Jesus Christ and decreasingly on any human authority or guidance – seems to be one primary key to reducing the level of divisiveness among Christians.

A second element that seems to come into play here is human vanity. We all like to be perceived as correct, and as intelligent. It is certainly no different in Christian circles. And when our own self-image becomes a focus, evil has found a way to drive a wedge between our fellow believers and us. Explaining how to NOT behave, Ephesians 4 says: “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” Explaining how to behave, the same chapter tells us to employ: “all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” In so doing, we learn that the result will be “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.”

When this action and result occur, the conditions that exist among Christians, according to this chapter of Ephesians, will be an environment where “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” In other words, as Christians we should teach ourselves through our own exploration of the Bible, and through the lovingly shared lessons of our fellow believers (which, of course, would include our pastors.)

So Christians who base what they say on their exploration of the Bible and their own experiences in their daily walk with God are not as prone to focusing on self-esteem and self-image (vanity). They are more focused on Christ. When everyone focuses less on themselves and more on the common element of Jesus Christ, there is less opportunity for division and dissention. This is a theme woven in as a common thread throughout the Bible, and is plainly Stated in James Chapter 1: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”

I have known some pretty intelligent people over the course of my last 50+ years. Some were very well read; some were very thoroughly versed in Scripture having learned both Hebrew and Greek, and studied diligently to understand the exact nuances of every word inspired by God. Others were well versed in other areas – aerospace engineers, English literature teachers who had worked with original manuscripts at Oxford, and CEOs of think tanks devoted to the exploration of quantum physics working on research. I have met and worked (briefly) with faculty members at Princeton, MIT, and Washington University. I have watched some of our nation’s top military leaders and government civilians at work from close quarters. Many of them – perhaps all of them – are more intelligent than I am. Like the rest of us, they all fall victim to the need for self-esteem and self-aggrandizement. All of us become vain from time to time, and as the old saying goes, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.” No matter how intelligent one is, or what level one rises to in his profession or his financial standing, no Christian will ever supplant the need to turn to Christ for wisdom. And every time we do – every time we purport to know something based on our own vanity, or just to elevate ourselves (in our own minds, at least) above others – we risk not only striking a note of discord, but drawing our fellow believers’ attentions away from Christ.

I have to admit, this is a tough lesson for me. I usually enjoy a spirited debate. It helps me to understand the many facets of complex situations, and expose what seems to me to be the best solution to difficult problems. The real trick here is often to focus on the problem and the potential solutions; to focus on WHAT is right and NOT focus on WHO is right. The real challenge, it seems to me, is retaining objectivity, and not allowing passions to lead us into disagreements with fellow believers while still untangling the problems and issues of the day.

What do you think?

One Response to “Why Can’t Christians Get Along? The “Battle for Loving Co-Existence””

  1. Carl Burney says:

    Some contention is necessary as it serves to keep false teachers/prophets in check. Jesus himself did not ‘go along to get along’ telling more than a few religious leaders that they ‘err because they don’t know the scriptures’.
    When it comes to salvation and how to be saved it is vitally important to contend for the truth whenever err seeks a foothold within a congregation. There are certain non-negotiable doctrines pertaining to salvation and Christ’s divinity that must be adhered to without compromise.
    However,other less important aspects of Christianity, like how the church should be governed,styles of music, preaching styles or even what color to paint the walls are all things that too often divide us and are things Satan uses to divide and conquer if we aren’t careful. These are all things that have more to do with personal preferences than the non-negotiable’s referred to earlier and I think it vitally important to be long-suffering in these things. Many of the differences are nothing more than cultural differences. Sadly, too often we try to canonize our personal preferences to try to force others to abandon things they enjoy and some get pretty ornery about it.
    Several years ago we had several guys who were members of the fire department I belong to. My friendship with them tended to be quite contentious as they were what is referred to as ‘officer wannabees’ who were always trying to make themselves look in charge and important. Too often their m.o. in doing so was to find fault with everything everyone else did. The problem was not that they were not good firefighters. The problem was that they thought they were the only ones who were. We can be like that in the church sometimes in our zeal to cover our own insecurities and put on an air of being ‘spiritual’.

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