I don’t know if it’s all the testosterone and endorphins that are released this time of year or what, but lately I’ve begun to feel the tensions of “us versus them” dynamics hitting the church. Clearly this is not a new thing. When Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis on the walls of the chapel, every Christian from that point on has joined in the proverbial us vs. them debate. Is it just me or do you ever feel like Christianity has been reduced to a March Madness bracket system? If we were to label the Sweet 16 of Christianity as of today, I think it would go something like this:
Calvinism vs. Arminianism
Catholic vs. Protestant
Prosperity Gospel vs. Acts 2/Community living/sell it all Gospel
Extreme Grace Movement vs. Holiness Movement
Missions is for everyone vs. Some go/Some send
Homosexuality is a sin vs. Homosexuality is 1 of a million sins
‘Women, shush it!’ vs. Jesus Feminist
Charismatics vs. Strange Fire, not wanted here.
I don’t know about you but it is exhausting. I feel as though I live in a theological pin ball machine, where I bump around 100,000 arguments that don’t always make me feel like I am getting closer to Christ.
The trouble is that I personally have a high value for truth and believe that knowing these answers is incredibly important. I believe the tiniest of nuances effects generations of believers, and as a leader I feel I bear a certain amount of responsibility in what the next generation is being taught from my mouth.
So what can be done personally and corporately to not lose our sanity in the midst of a myriad of arguments?
For me, when I get worked into a frenzy because of unanswered questions, I have to remind myself to go back to the basics. Most of the above issues revolve around practice in worship, while I truly believe that everyone on that board can simply agree on the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and what that meant for humanity.
I am reminded of 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 (MSG) which says, “The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.”
I think it’s incredibly important to step away from the arguments, quote scripture over your mind “God has not given me the spirit of fear but of love, joy and a SOUND MIND,” and focus on the simplicity of the Gospel. That being said, I think far too many Christians run away from exploring these issues. We have been given a gift in critical thinking and higher reasoning to explore the nuances of complex matters.
Jesus says that we are to “love the Lord with all our heart, soul, MIND and strength.” Don’t give up thinking about such things completely, but don’t be consumed by them either. Remember what it says in 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
Trust is built on the premise of relationship. When Jesus told us to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” I believe He expected us to know what it meant to love. But clearly we have forgotten. While everyone can practically recite 1 Cor. 13:2-8 in NIV, there is a new translation that paints quite an amazing picture for me. “I could predict the future in detail and have a word of knowledge for everyone. I could possess amazing faith, and prove it by moving mountains! It doesn’t make me any more important than anyone else. Love is who you are! You are not defined by your gift or deeds.
Love is not about defending a point of view; even if I am prepared to give away everything I have and die a martyr’s death; love does not have to prove itself by acts of supreme devotion or self sacrifice! Love is large in being passionate about life and relentlessly patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others with kindness. Love is completely content and strives for nothing. Love has no desire to make others feel inferior and has no need to sing its own praises.
Love is predictable and does not behave out of character. Love is not ambitious. Love is not spiteful and gets no mileage out of others mistakes. Love sees no joy in injustice. Love delights in everything that truth celebrates. Love is a fortress where everyone feels protected rather than exposed. Loves persuasion is persistent. Love believes. Love never loses hope and always remains constant in contradiction. Love never loses altitude.” (The Mirror Translation)
Trust is Earned Through Relationships
In the digital age, Christians have become so quick to take their grievances to the digital forum, pronouncing decrees outside of the context of relationship. If you don’t know me, you don’t have a right to speak into my life and vice versa. Trust is earned at 2 am after a bad break up or after the bar. Trust is earned after you have been exposed to me in ALL my glory; the good, the bad and the ugly and you still chose to stick around. Trust is not earned by sitting on your proverbial high horse and looking down at anyone. If you want to be an effective communicator to the masses, you earn that through building disciples who make disciples. I know I am guilty of this. I am blogging now, for goodness sakes.
As Christians we have to be extremely careful about our message and if it’s being communicated in love because otherwise we will continue sounding like ‘resounding gongs.” I am NOT saying that love is soft on sin. I believe that love is sometimes looking people you love in the eye and telling them that their choices are destructive. I also believe that Jesus is incredibly long suffering and patient, slow to anger and quick to love. I rarely see that side of Him reflected in the corporate bride. I also believe that loving someone can be never opening your mouth to them, but having a constant dialogue with the Lord about their freedom. Love has a multitude of expressions that are uniquely needed for each situation.
In conclusion, 2 Timothy 2:15 (AMP) says, “Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth.” So study, but when you feel the arguments are overwhelming and becoming more important that the foundations and basics of the Cross, step away. Look deep into his eyes of love. (Did I just quote an old Country Song?)
Let love be your guiding force. Love God, love yourself and love your neighbor, which may or may not be confrontational, but is hopefully done out of the depths of relationship either way. Well, I will leave you with that before I start breaking into karaoke. Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Jill Hurley is the Executive Director of Tech 24-7, a campus ministry at Texas Tech University which has invited students from all denominations and backgrounds to join together in the Campus House of Prayer (CHOP) and pray for our Texas Tech University. We also host a weekly gathering called Ekballo, which serves as a training ground to train students in how to practically do evangelism and discipleship as students. She is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Religion and Anthropology, and hopes to graduate in the next two years. Jill is single and taking applications for currently unfilled roles as husband and children. If you would like to apply for either, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. She is partially joking.