Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
April 11, 2010
Can Christians settle their differences and live in harmony?
Differences exist among Christians. They always have; they always will. However, when they are willing Christians can find ways to work together.
Jesus was put to death partly because of his differences with the religious leaders of his day. The Pharisees hated Jesus, so much that they looked for ways to kill him. Eventually, assisted by the political rulers, they had Jesus crucified.
Saint Paul had his differences with other believers. Paul and Peter disagreed publicly. Paul and Barnabas separated after an argument about John Mark. Yet despite their disagreements, early Christians found ways to work together.
The challenge for Christians in every age is to find a way to love genuinely those with whom we disagree. Christians are not required to like everyone; they are, however, expected to love everyone! God offers no alternative to love.
One way to make room for love is to rejoice in our agreements and celebrate our differences. God has not made us all alike. He does not expect us to agree on every issue. We can even laugh about our differences. None of us is always right.
It is healthy to admit that you may be mistaken. Even the wisest person will be wrong sometimes. Wisdom without humility is an ugly thing.
During nearly 60 years of ministry I have watched Christians repeatedly disagree angrily with each other. There is something in our human nature that causes many of us to “love a good fight.” Yet all the energy spent in fighting could be used in ministering to hurting people!
Jesus said there is an unseen “Evil One” who deceives us. This Evil One is more popularly known as the Devil or Satan. Whatever you call him, he does seem to be real. And while he motivates people to do evil things; he also blinds Christians into thinking that some Christians are their enemies.
So is it possible for Christians to find harmony with other believers? There is a way. Christians can find harmony by coming together around the person of Jesus Christ. There is no other basis of agreement that can bind Christians together. Doctrine cannot. The Sacraments cannot. Music cannot. Ritual cannot. Fasting cannot. Traditions cannot. Ecclesiology cannot. Eschatology cannot. Only our common faith in Jesus can make us one and keep us one. A major commitment to anything but Jesus rips Christians apart.
Most people are not impressed by obscure theological terms so I try to avoid using them. However, there is one high-sounding word that seems to express precisely what I am trying to say. That is the word “Christcentric.” (My spell checker thinks it is not a word, proving my point.) I first heard it used by the missionary evangelist E. Stanley Jones.
Jones pointed out that Jesus said, “He that gathers not with me scatters.” “If this means anything” Jones said, “it means that we gather around Jesus. If Jesus is Lord, we can transcend all our other differences and find a unity in a common Lord; but if we don’t do that, if we gather around something else, however good, we scatter. Chirstcentric we gather; anything-else-centric, we scatter.”
This means that for harmony to occur we must put our pet ideas on the margin, not in the center. Paul put circumcision on the margin. He put eating certain foods, or not eating them, on the margin. He insisted that what matters is being made “new” men and women by the power of the gospel. To build unity some things must be marginalized; the center must be reserved for Christ alone.
If we who are Christians are to live in harmony, we must stop judging one another. We must cease despising other Christians. We must stop insisting on having our own way. The Evil One wins when he can persuade Christians to engage in a power struggle about what should be marginal issues.
Paul may have given us the secret when he said, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). When we learn to submit to one another we can live in harmony. Paul offers the only workable motive for submission: “out of reverence for Christ.” When we are submissive in love to one another, for Christ’s sake, it becomes a noble submission that pleases God. Think of it this way: we give up the struggle to win so that Christ can win!
There is a very important reason why Christians should seek harmony with other believers. Saint Paul’s warning sums it up: “We will all stand before the judgment seat of God,” and “each of us will be accountable to God.” That is reason enough.
But though we should seek unity, it is never a human achievement. Our best efforts will not secure it. Only God can create unity. It is a gift God gives when hearts are right. When giving God glory becomes more important than putting other people down, then God will give us unity that nonbelievers will notice. People of other faiths will take Christianity more seriously when they see how Christians love one another. + + +