I recently moved to a college town in the Northeast that is full of intellectuals and hippies. These are my people. I get weirdly giddy around free spirits and the bookish. I may have lived most of my life around a more conservative bunch, but I’m in my zone when I’m talking to a New Ager about the latest books we’ve read. I find them easy to be friends with and can find common ground in a broad range of subjects.
Honestly, that’s not always the case when I’m around other Christians. I’ve met many Christians and thought “The only thing we have in common is that we believe the Gospel.” And – I have to confess – sometimes, that doesn’t feel like enough. So if I really believe that Christ cares about the unity of His church (Spoiler alert: He does.), and that the most effective way to reach our campus is together, then what do I do when I feel like another Christian isn’t in my “affinity group”?
And what do I do when it’s not just mutual interests that are lacking, but mission methodology, goals and priorities for campus, what we teach our students? What about when it seems easier to butt heads than to find agreement, but I know we’re commanded to “have unity of mind” (1 Pet 3:8)?
Differences and Commonalities
If it were up to me, I’d tap out. It feels much easier to remain selfish and myopic, to think “I’ll just do my thing, and they can do theirs. As long as we don’t cross paths too much, we’ll be alright.” But the truth is, we won’t be alright. That’s like two siblings taping a line down the middle of their shared bedroom. It may stave off some arguments, but it doesn’t produce peace or freedom. And it’s not what the Lord commands.
Enter 1 Peter 2. Peter is writing to an ethically and linguistically diverse group of people. The work of the Gospel in their lives has thrown them together in some ways that were probably uncomfortable at times. But Peter tells them whatever their various backgrounds, they are now “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
The things that used to define me – race, nationality, profession, class – are no longer the most important. Instead, Christ and his redemptive work is primary. This is a radical change. My primary descriptors don’t have to do with where I’m from, what I do, or who I prefer to be around. My identity is that 1) I am God’s, 2) I have received mercy and 3) I am to proclaim His excellencies. And those that I have this in common with: they are my people. The suits, the chatterbox, the book-phobic: if they’re in Christ, they’re my affinity group.
So that campus minister with a mission methodology I just can’t agree with? My brother in Christ is more important than a methodology. The one who I find it difficult to have a conversation with? Find a way; she belongs to Christ. The argumentative one? Work for peace with him. Now the next time I see a shoeless person in tie-dye, I will still immediately want to talk to them. I can’t help it. God just made me that way.
As believers, we will continue to have differences. That is good and right. We’re each better off for it. But those differences shouldn’t be divisive. We are all in Christ, and He’s simply more important than our differences.
Heather is a campus minister with Campus Renewal at Cornell University and Ithaca College. She longs to see the church praying and working together to make Christ know. She’s originally from Texas, and it took a man named Andrew to transplant her to the Northeast. She’s glad to leave three digit temperatures behind, but has yet to find a decent tortilla in New York. When she’s not watching Sci-Fi with her husband, she’s usually playing with her dog or reading.