Broadway Christian Church · Columbia, Missouri
The Worship of God · July 15, 2012
Based on Psalm 145
I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you, and praise your name.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall laud your works to another,
and shall declare your majesty.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
World without end. Amen. Amen.
Dear Giving and Gracious God; we come to this gathering place from a disconnected world, so that you might bind us together as a people, as a community of faith. We thank you for your unyielding grace that heals our spirits and warms our hearts.
Thank you for your patience, O Lord, for we know that even in the times that we turn our backs on you, you continue to pour out your mercy and grace. We yearn for your grace, for a place to call home.
We come to you as a fellowship of believers, perfectly content to “Let go and let God,” for we know that through you, all things are possible. As we stand at your feet, united in equality in your eyes, we ask that you use us this season, that you work through us and within us, that all of your work might be in the glory of your name.
And now, we pray the prayer taught to us by your son Jesus…
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
I Corinthians 12:12-13
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Is It Important to Feel Unity with All Christians?
Let’s see. What is the question of the week that you have submitted that I shall try to answer? I think it is one that will resonate with most of us. “Do I really have to be in unity with all those people, as in other Christians?” We get that question. Don’t we? We understand the person’s mind who asked that question.
If you have witnessed, even on television, one of those funerals in which Fred Phelps and his maniacs show up to tell people they are going to hell at the funeral, you know you really don’t want to be affiliated with those Christians. You would rather distance yourself from them. Right?
Sometimes I hear statements that are offered by card-carrying Christians, and I say, “Oh, NO! Everybody in the culture is going to think all Christians think that. Please, No! Don’t count me among their number.”
It is something that drives people away the faith. Then we have to struggle to help people find a way back and say, “Look. It’s not all that way.”
We want to distance ourselves from all of that. We want to cry out and say, “Wait a minute! Not every Christian feels or thinks that way!”
And there are, undoubtedly, feel exactly that way about me. Right?
Since we are well into the election season, all of the attack ads have come out on parade. Oh, my gosh; I’d rather have a root canal than to listen to those things. I’ll be glad when they’re gone! It really doesn’t matter who is putting them out. They are all equally bad. And the millions of dollars from this PAC and that PAC. God, forgive us for that use of money. They all distort, exaggerate, take out of context, spin it one way, and otherwise offend any thinking person. Do they really think we’re that stupid to be taken in by it? The answer is, “Yes.” They believe we are that stupid.
Some of those political ads truck out religious qualifications. This person has these values, takes these moral stands, or has this religious pedigree. Sometimes the platform of religious-political virtues contains all manner of strange contradictions. One must wonder how do they all belong in the same sentence.
I heard one the other day that said the candidate was Bible-based. Really? Couldn’t we have fun with that? I mean; all of it? What parts? Do I get to pick the parts that he is Bible-based about?
Look at the response to the governor’s recent veto of the bill that exempted companies from having to provide health care that included reproductive services. What a firestorm of religious voices on the evening news!
So here is the question. Are we really obligated to have a sense a unity with Christians with whom we radically disagree, who are so far afield from us in so many ways?
Our Disciples of Christ founders considered themselves to be a movement for Christian unity. They said, “Christian unity is our polar star.” They appealed to the motto from Meldenius: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty [freedom]; in all things love.”
In other words, identify the essentials of the faith and stand together on those. Recognize a wide berth of freedom for individual interpretation. And concentrate on being loving.
It’s not a bad prescription, but people differ on just what comprises those essentials. That is your non-negotiable list. People have held competing lists of non-negotiables throughout history. I would be a Fundamentalist, if I get to determine the fundamentals. And it goes without saying that we’ve not always been loving. Different religious movements and traditions have not always respected the other. In fact, some have been the object of persecution.
In the American experience, with our heritage of freedom and individualism, we have attracted every religious expression imaginable. We are a veritable religious mosaic. At the same time, that same atmosphere of religious freedom has created religious movements. We’ve been a sort of religious incubator.
With Mitt Romney’s run for the presidency, Mormonism has come into spotlight again. With Tom Cruise’s divorce, Scientology has stood beside it. Both are American homegrown. And though Disciples descended from Presbyterians in the British Isles, our movement formed and expanded with a distinctly American flavor. It shaped who we are and how we are.
This is all to say that we live in a sea of doctrinal differences, competing values, and differing views of the world. These conflicts and differences flow into every aspect of life – from the work place to church to politics. From the way the Bible is regarded to views of sexuality, people are polarized.
But rather than recite the list of particular differences, of which there is no end, I would like to talk about how we might view them differently – as Christians, as Church, as citizens of a very complex world. And I hope to suggest some keys that may help us navigate this rugged terrain.
The first thing we can do is to challenge some mistaken assumptions.
There is a difference between unity and uniformity. To live united does not mean that all must be exactly the same – on the levels of belief or practice. Sameness does not create unity. In fact, a strong sense of our oneness together often is highlighted by the differences among us. When we discover we are one, in spite of the differences, then we know that the unity is a deep unity, not just built on superficial sameness.
For instance, two people can be equally compassionate and hold very different opinions about to express that compassion. And that is going to be expressed differently in their personal lives, in social policy, the way they do business. Compassion is the primary Christian virtue. But the ways we choose to express that are secondary. To be one, to be united, does not mean that we have to be the same or do things the same way. Unity is not uniformity.
We have more in common than we know. That discovery often requires looking beneath the level of ideology or doctrines or beliefs. So often, those competing values skew us to the edges, the extremes, the poles. We become polarized as we regard certain principles as absolute. And when you make things absolute, compromise is seen as a weakness, selling out. It used to be that the art of politics was compromise. When we are polarized, it is seen as a weakness. The way forward is often discovered in the third way with the recognition of a common cause.
For instance, in the never-ending pro-life/pro-choice debate, there is often more common thinking under the surface than is recognized. Most people I know respect the sanctity of life and are not cavalier about those decisions. And most people I know expect that in most moral decision-making, we should have the freedom to make those decisions ourselves. In actuality, most people regard both of those as important – the sanctity of life and moral freedom. Now they are most often presented as opposites. But are they?
They are presented as though they are on the same scale at the extremes. But aren’t they on two scales? With the sanctity of life moving from high to low, and moral decision making moving from high to low on parallel scales.
When we move beyond either-or thinking, then we start to do real problem solving. We find solutions that are more satisfying to everyone than when we are just polarized.
Once upon a time two men brought a conflict to their rabbi. One man made his case and the rabbi said, “You’re right!” The second man made his case and the rabbi said, “You’re right!” The first man said, “Wait a minute, we can’t both be right.” And the rabbi said, “You’re right!”
We have more in common than we know.
Agreement is not the source of Christian unity. Part of our problem is that we assume that unity is something we achieve, a human accomplishment. Certainly, virtues like respect and tolerance are important. We have lost a lot of that in the social domain. But in the Christian household, we see this differently.
In Paul’s first letter to the divided Christians in Corinth, he used an analogy. He said that the church is more like a body than anything else. That body has many different parts serving different functions. Nevertheless, they all belong to the same body. No one part can say to another, “I have no need of you.” Each part takes its own place in the one body. The parts are not one because they are the same. No, as a matter of fact, they are very different according to gifts, beliefs, and practices. They are one because they are a part of the same body, not because they are the same nor have agreement.
In Corinth, members of the congregation have different loyalties, views of the world, status in the community – from the wealthy to slaves. And so, what is the source of their unity?
I can tell you it’s not sameness or agreement on every aspect of the faith. Their unity comes from the astounding knowledge that Christ has made us his own: Jews or Gentiles, slave or free, male or female, weak or strong. All are one in Christ who is the head of the one body. If Christ has made us his own, then who are we to say that our brother or sister is not a part of the body?
Uniformity (birds of a feather) or agreement (like-minded people) can never be the source of Christian unity. If we turn to those for the source of unity, we’re sunk from the beginning. That’s a human achievement, and human achievements fall apart.
When we know that Christ has made us his own, we know we all stand before the same infinite and loving God without distinction. When you view your neighbor that way, from the aspect of the eternal, things start to change. In fact, for us Christians, who struggle with forgiveness, we can struggle forever on that level to attempt to forgive a person, but from a spiritual point of view, once you view that person as a child of God, you are able to forgive. It is because you are both standing exactly the same proximity to God. That is the source of Christian forgiveness.
You may disagree on X, Y and Z, but you both abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
You both are radically dependent on the amazing grace of God. You both stand before the same righteous God in equal imperfection. To view yourself and neighbor in that light gives birth to humility. And pride is the enemy of unity, because it exalts itself above the neighbor.
And so… will I continue passionately to disagree with brothers and sisters of the faith on many issues? You bet I will. I will argue my point of view. Ideas matter. Consequences come from them. But as I do, I pray for a special grace that I continue to regard the one with whom I disagree from a vantage point of Christ, as children of the same loving and awesome God. Can the hand say to the foot, “I have no need of you?”
We are the body of Christ, and individually members of it; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things love.”
May the impossible – that we have unity with other Christians who are so different and with whom we disagree – become a possibility in Christ who has made us his own in order that we may belong to one another.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
And now go forth in the unity of the faith, loving and serving the Lord, your God, all the days of your lives. Amen.