Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The way of Grace & Peace - what unites us?

Christians disagree on so much don't they?

Think about it. The role of women, what different verses mean, what we 'have' to believe to qualify as a Christian. There's so many things which have divided the church. Look at how it is now - I can't even count how many denominations, doctrines or strands of theology there are.

But what does the Bible say about that?

Rob Bell discussed it in one of his recent sermons, using some passages in Philippians and beginning with one from Romans 14, v 1-10.

This is a big chunk which you can read in full at your leisure, but the key verses are verses 1 and 5.

V1"Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters".

V5 "One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind"

Then we move on to the passages from Philippians. They're a bit shorter so I'm going to put them here in full so that you can refer to them later.

Philippians 2 v 1-2 "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose."

Phil 3 v 14-16 "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained."

This is incredible.

First Paul tells us not to judge each other on disputable matters. He accepts here that we will disagree on aspects of faith, on matters of interpretation of scripture, in individual issues regarding our faith. Matters of doctrine and individual belief. He says that we all need to be convinced of what we believe, and if you read the passage in full you will see that he ends up saying that we shouldn't judge one anothers faith.

Then in Philippians Paul says we need to be one in spirit and purpose. That means that at the heart, at the centre at the core of what we believe needs to be the same purpose, the same heart. The same root at the centre of everything.

So we need the same core centre of our faith, but there are disputable matters and we should allow others to disagree with us, and leave it up to God to convict them.

Paul is accepting we will disagree. He says that its likely that at some point some people might think different. Not only that, but he says that its okay to do that, and allow God to speak to individuals and convict them. In Romans he says also that we're not to judge those who think differently, on 'disputable matters'.

That is, matters that are up for discussion and debate.

Bottom line, Paul is accepting that there will be disputable issues that will arise and its okay to disagree. Just don't judge. He's almost preparing people in advance, knowing that these things are going to come up.

So that leads me into the obvious question.

What's the heart of our faith? What does it all come down to? What remains if you take all the teaching and doctrine away?

There's only one answer isn't there?

The cross.

The one thing which unites Christians of all doctrines and denominations - that Jesus is the Son of God who came to die and rise again to save us.

Whatever you think of issues of the role of women, about the gifts of the spirit, tongues, no matter what your different doctrines are, Paul is saying we shouldn't let that divide us. We need to be working together, for each other, supporting each other, not falling out over doctrine. If people see the church divided, they see Jesus divided.

Why not put our differences behind us occasionally? Stand up and show what God stands for, what we agree on.

The cross.

Jesus came and died to save us all, we all need salvation.

All the rest is interpretation and disagreement, but the cross is indisputable. So your friend thinks women shouldn't be in leadership and you think they should?

Fine. But you both believe that the cross is the most important thing to our faith.

Its a whole attitude isn't it? Find what unites us, not what divides us. Then use that as a basis for discussion.

When I go to football I can talk to anyone there about football, because I know we all have a love of football (and Chelsea FC often as well) in common. So if I start there, then I can build trust and a relationship and even if we disagree, we still have a core value in common.

We can use this attitude with non-Christians. So they don't believe in Jesus and think the church is irrelevant?

Okay, but do they think there are big problems in the world that need solving?

Yes, most likely. Most people do. Well, so do we. Not only that, but we believe we have a way to solve them. So then lets talk about ways we can solve those problems.

This is the way of grace and peace. The way of love.

Its not our job to judge and condemn, but to have grace to accept others disagree and find a core value we have in common, from where we can build relationship so we can have unity.

The lowest common denominator, some value that two individuals in a conversation or a two or more groups working together can hold on to. Something that unites them.

When followers of Jesus have true unity in this sense, then the church really can change the world.