When I started blogging I really took Michael Hyatt’s advice to heart that advises bloggers to keep a post within the region of 500 words, which I usually do. Due to the nature of this post I am going to break that rule today, so please bear with me.
Many people in my life have a hard time understanding my preoccupation with church. Some of my non-Christian friends are generally accepting of the fact that I believe in Jesus, but I can see them getting uneasy when I drop the word church into our conversations. Some of my Christian friends, on the other hand, find it a bit confusing that I keep on talking about church as something I believe in and value even though I don’t attend church in the classical sense of the phrase. I am just conjecturing here, but I sometimes sense that what some of my non-Christian friends try to tell me is ‘just get over this church thing of yours already’, whilst some of my Christian friends sometimes leave me with the impression that I should either return to the fold or go the whole nine yards and ‘backslide’ all the way.
But something has grabbed a hold of my heart that makes it impossible to satisfy either of these two options. The more I walk with God the more convinced I am that His church is His preferred method of playing out His purposes in this world, chief of which is to form a people under His lordship that exists to glorify Him. That said, as I mature I also grow increasingly convinced that much of what we have been doing under the banner of His church falls way short of His intended eternal purpose. As already discussed in some of my previous posts, I think this aforementioned departure is closely linked with our inbred tendency to associate church with a place and a program rather than with a people. It’s not that the people can’t ever be associated with a certain place that may or may not have a program; it’s just that we have tried to squeeze body life into a fixed liturgy that plays out in a fixed time instead of enjoying and edifying one another within the course and context of everyday life, epitomised by the meal that is the Lord’s Supper.
As a Christian, I have always been one who practices a radical kind of inclusivity: if somebody has put their trust in Jesus somehow or another, then that is enough grounds for fellowship for me. I reckon that if God’s accepts someone, it’s arrogant of me not to do the same. Thus as the years of my short life have flown by, I have spent my time with a wide variety of Christians from various faith traditions, ranging from Catholic monks to Protestant pastors and almost anything in between. Now don’t get me wrong, not all of these people actually knew God. I am not being judgmental in saying that, I am simply stating the obvious. But what I have realised is that a person’s doctrinal viewpoints or denominational affiliations have very little to do with whether or not they actually know God. I have found that meaningful union with God and one another runs much deeper than this.
Even now, the people whom I share life with on a regular basis in a deliberate way are wide and varied. One of these people is the manager of a Dutch Reformed church. Another one is a pastor at an independent Charismatic church. Some of my Christian friends go to church on Sundays whilst some of them haven’t seen the inside of a church building for years. Just yesterday I struck up a friendship with a bunch of people who take this idea of a common life and mission very seriously, so much so that they have chosen to live on the same property and have their goods in common. As a bachelor living on my own in a mountain house this is quite a radical lifestyle, but I can fully see where they are coming from and commend them for their courage to put their faith into practice in such a drastic way.
What’s rather noticeable about all these friendships is that I don’t agree fully with any one of the people that I share life with on a regular basis. For instance, some of my friends believe in infant baptism whilst others of them believe in tithing, both of which I think are ridiculous ideas without any biblical, or at least New Testament, backing. But that’s my point of view, and just because we don’t share the same belief on these things doesn’t necessarily negate the fact that we can enjoy genuine fellowship. True, these kinds of differences often bring an unfortunate rift in many of my relationships, yet a handful of individuals and I have somehow experienced enough grace in our lives to look beyond our differences to focus on that which really matters: union with one another in Christ. As I am experiencing the joy and edification that come from these friendships, it is becoming more and more apparent to me that as brothers and sisters in Christ we are not primarily called to agree with one another. Our clearest and most irrefutable calling is to love one another with the same kind of love that God has for us, whether we agree with one another or not.
Now here’s the really exciting part, and this part of the dream of God has really arrested my attention of late. Because I strongly believe that a community of love is possible in Christ, and I should add that I believe it’s only possible in Him, I no longer see our different denominations and doctrinal points of view primarily as an impediment to our unity. In fact, I see our obvious differences as opportunities to choose love and understanding over and above our own pride that undergird so many of our fixed assumptions. What’s more, I see it as an opportunity to unify our often scattered lives around the presence and person of the Lord Jesus Christ as we experience Him both individually and corporately through the indwelling Holy Spirit. I think this is better than endeavouring to unify ourselves primarily on the grounds of assumed correct beliefs and practices. It’s not that the latter are unimportant as such, it’s just that they are not as important as unifying under the headship of Christ as we surrender our whole lives to the guidance of God’s Spirit both individually and corporately. It’s crazy that we will choose to badmouth and backbite one another because we disagree on certain beliefs and practices that aren’t clear to us for whatever reason, whilst we ignore that which should be clear to us without a doubt.
What excites me about what is happening in the body of Christ these days is that there are a lot of people who are catching this vision that we are called to love one another despite our differences. Almost every day without fail I talk to someone or read an article or a blog post or get reminded in some way or another that God is uniting His church by calling us back to this simple truth of loving one another in Him. This love is becoming less of a theological concept that forms part of our doctrinal statements and more of a day to day reality that is slowly but surely beginning to play out in the lives of people who have heard the call to simplify their lives to that which ultimately matters: loving God and loving one another.
Sure, loving one another is so much more than a mushy feeling that simply lets any fault or error slide due to our desire to keep the peace. But I do think that if we can grab a hold of the vision of truly loving one another in Christ then we will be slower to defend and eventually divide ourselves based upon our beliefs and practices and quicker to seek unity and fellowship in Christ based upon the reality of His presence and work within our lives. The prerequisite for experiencing this reality of God’s Spirit alive and active in our lives, in turn, has more to do with willingness, surrender and attentiveness, and less to do with ticking all the right boxes in some cosmic doctrinal quiz. Is such a life possible? I truly hope so.