Unity

“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements.”   Have you ever wondered if unity is possible, especially among people of faith?  In my more cynical moments I wonder if the unity that emerged during the council at Jerusalem was a “one-off” event. Today the church seems to make more headlines for its theological division than for its ability to bring folks together.  The reasons for this fracturing are varied and move from humorous to sad.  There is an urban legend about a church that split over a painting in the baptistery that depicted Adam and Eve with belly buttons.  When I was in college I remember debating vigorously about the virgin birth and Jesus’ resurrection.  If someone was on the other side of my position I quickly moved to questioning their faith commitments.

In 2013 many faith battles are directly connected to sexuality.  As more and more churches rethink think their stances on the ordination and marriage of gays and lesbians the church seems less and less unified.  Some church leaders have even taken to starting new denominations over these disputes.

I realize that unity for the sake of unity makes no sense.  After all if everyone is unified in allowing something that is evil to occur then unity is only allowing a mass of folks to do and be wrong.  Unifying people of faith around unity only is pointless at best.

This does not change that Jesus’ final hope for people of faith was that they would be unified (read John 17).  My job provides me with many opportunities to work with both liberal and conservative believers.  If I am honest I see no quick faith fix to the sexuality battles.  Unity is still a possibility.  It will demand something people of faith often confuse with backsliding - compromise.

Like the leaders at the council of Jerusalem the church needs to become less concerned with burdening its membership with unnecessary requirements.  When Jesus was asked what was most important, his response was simple, concise, and profound.  For Jesus everything boiled down to love.  Anything we do as individuals or communities of faith that violates this rule moves all of us towards dis-unity.

As a friend of mine is fond of saying, “love God, love your neighbor, nothing else matters.”

Obstacles

A few weeks ago, my pastor made an interesting statement, “An obstacle is what the eye sees when it is distracted from the goal.” The more I have thought about this, the more I believe the statement to be true – especially for those of us who call ourselves Christians. But how can we know the difference between an obstacle and the goal?

According to my Reformed brothers and sisters, the highest end of man (humanity) is to glorify God and to fully enjoy him (God) forever. This sounds a whole lot like “the goal.”

Now, figuring out what the obstacles are is a tad more difficult.

For example, if Sunday worship helps us to glorify God, then it cannot be an obstacle, right? If this is the case, then why do we spend so much time arguing about worship? Some folks want their worship experience to be quiet and reflective; well others want their worship to be loud and expressive with a little dancing thrown in. Does this make worship a means to the goal or an obstacle?

Worship is simple compared with some of the other issues faced by the church. Is God a God of life or choice? Should we pray for victory in war or the courage to be a people of peace regardless of what others have done?

Keeping our eyes on the goal is important, but obstacles are a fact of life. Debating the merits of the obstacles is an inescapable reality. Is it possible that healthy discussions about obstacles help us to better see and understand the goal?

Maybe the problem isn’t the obstacle itself, but rather how we choose to engage the obstacle.

Can you imagine a church where people with different understandings and beliefs about the obstacles choose to worship together anyway?