2.26.2008

United?

(Disclaimer: I started the post almost a week ago. I fear it has gotten ramble-y and unfocused. I apologize in advance. Also, Ashley beat me to posting this comic, which I sent to her when I started this post. That's what I get for being slow to the Publish button...)


I'm a pretty quiet blog-reader. I know that if I was pursuing more traffic for this blog, I'd get out there and comment on posts left and right, but I don't. The primary reason for this is, I don't have the time (or want to make the time). There are lots of other things to do away from a screen.

More importantly, perhaps, is another reason why I stay silent. This week at church, the text that was discussed was the first verses of Philippians 2:
1If 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, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.
According to this, what should distinguish Christians, since we have so many good things from God?
  • Being like-minded
  • Love
  • Unity in spirit
  • Common purpose
Hmm. So, how are we doing? Is this what Christians are known for? Common purpose? Unity in spirit? Love? The speaker cited a few examples. My daily glance at the blogosphere reminds me of the deep divisions in the Church. Based on a recent conversation with a coworker, we're known for the opposite of the characteristics on this list. It's true- we as the Body of Christ aren't exactly perceived as being "united" & "pursuing a common purpose". I just came across a TIME article that makes me think we're consumers first and Christians second. It bothers me, really. We're out with our own agenda, looking for a "faith community" that fits the bill, and then continue with our own agenda "in the name of Christ".

Paul goes on to how to achieve these distinctives.
3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Wow. Convicting. What about my opinions? What about my rights? What if I know I'm right? "Consider others better than yourself."

Do I always need to be right?
Do I always need to have the last word?
Do I always need to answer my critics?
Do I always need to correct a "wrong" opinion or interpretation?

As hard and nonintuitive as it is, for the sake of others and of the reputation of Christ's Church, I should let things slide. I don't need to stay up at all hours because Someone Is Wrong On The Internet. I do not need to rebut all the posts that insist that a different way of doing the Christian life is the One Right Way- whether it be belonging to a certain denomination or participating in a certain worship style or voting for a certain political party. Perhaps if I stop insisting my style is the Only Way, others will figure out what I'm now realizing- we do have Christian liberties and differing opinions and preferences and interpretations, and that's OK. We can live for God each in the way He has called us to.

I had a friend call me in a worried tone a few weeks ago. She has a friend who she has been praying hard for to find Christ, and she had heard from him he started attending church with another friend! That was exciting news... except it was an Episcopal church! Her father said this was an awful thing- might as well be Catholic! Her father (and, stereotypically, their denomination) has deep-seated prejudices. I told her what I knew- that there are devoted Christians in both the Episcopal & Catholic churches, ones whom I respect very much. It's possible to meet God in that worship style. Whatever you do, I told her, don't call him & tell him all the things wrong with the one church he's finally decided to visit & feel comfortable in. This would just give him yet-another bad taste in his mouth for Christians, and Him who we represent. Pray that he can see Christ & learn more about Him where he's at, wherever that may be.

Back to the blog commenting thing- I get angry every time I happen upon a "Christian" blog (or hear "Christians" in the media) railing on other Christ-followers or their life choices in a very unloving way- choices that aren't "sinful" or explicitly "un-biblical" but just don't match the writer's preferences & own choices. I see both writers who I agree with and those who I don't doing this, and, as I said, it annoys me. I'm going to try to not do it myself, in my words or my blog posts. I'm going to try to be more pointed about leaving encouraging comments or comments that encourage unity rather than ones that disagree and cause disunity among the Body when I'm perusing blogs. If a comment pops up here on Keeping Feet that doesn't reflect unity, I'll probably leave it where it is, but not respond, unless I feel I was misunderstood or there's a chance at finding common ground. I don't need to have the last word. I don't need to prove myself "right". I do need to love others. "Consider others better than yourselves." Confession: Sometimes I find it hardest to love fellow Christians.

4 comments:

James Kubecki said...

Good thoughts. Some good discussion of the WSJ article here, also.

A question for your consideration: What does unity look like when it's consistent with biblical teaching on discipline (Matthew 18:15-17, Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 5, etc.) and correction (1 Timothy 5:1-2, 2 Timothy 4:2, Titus 1:9-14, Titus 2:15, Hebrews 3:13, etc.)?

I think we would agree that too many churches, like the one in the WSJ article, discipline not out of love or out of hope of reconciliation or restoration. They have forgotten their first love, Christ.

And yet, we must be careful, I think, to not overreact to abuses by neglecting this duty, either.

I would say that we need to "balance" unity and discipline, but I hate that image - to me it implies that an increase of one results in movement (or even decrease) of the other. Whereas what we REALLY need is to be full of both.

And ultimately, that's the same thing the Philippians passage says - that our unity comes from having the loving and obedient mind of Christ.

Matt said...

"Perhaps if I stop insisting my style is the Only Way..."

I don't think anyone would ever accuse you of being too insistent about your style. Seriously, I'd categorize you (based on conversation and reading your blog over the past year) as a person that already rarely needs to have the last word, answer your critics, or correct a "wrong" opinion or interpretation.

As the articles point out, there are definitely people who, in the name of love, need to be more cautious about how they reproach people, but unless you're a real Bible thumper in a social circle that I'm not part of, I don't think you fit that mold at all. I think you describe the kind of person you have hope in pretty much to a "T".

So is it working? Is your hypothesis valid? Is your refrain from outwardly disagreeing with people actually bringing intimate unity and like-mindedness? Or is it just masking the disunity?

Joanna said...

James- I totally agree that there is a place for discipline & correction when dealing with sin patterns or wrong thinking. Definitely. I was using the article as an example of churches that struggled with unity. When thinking about this topic of Unity & Common Purpose, I had in mind more the preferences or opinions people hold, rather than discipline issues. The examples offered during the sermon were along the lines of preference of dress at church or worship style or service elements. Around the blogospere, I've heard Christians sharply criticizing Christians over things like whether sending children to Sunday School is a good thing, whether women should only wear skirts, whether only hymns should be sung, or whether it's OK to "do" Santa & the Easter Bunny. I see these issues, which are causing disunity in the Church, as opinions or preferences or "Christian liberties" with which we should have more grace with each other.

Matt- I don't think anyone would ever accuse you of being too insistent about your style.

I was speaking in first person as to not sound accusatory or above this issue. Speaking in second or third person might come off as accusatory. "If these people/you would stop insisting their/your style is the Only Way, they'd/you'd realize it's not, and there are other good ways of 'doing' Christianity." sounds kind of condescending.

To confess, there are definitely times I get riled up, when another Christian is describing their opinion of how ALL Christians ought to live that is not in line with how I live (nor has a very strong biblical basis) I usually refrain from commenting, but my first thought is definitely not "I appreciate the diversity in the body of Christ!" and, honestly, I know I should have a softer heart toward them.

So, does "my strategy work", you ask? I don't know. By fostering unity through "refraining from outwardly disagreeing with people", I've made some good friends. I've been able to better see the commonalities in views between myself & others, rather than just the differences, and connect with people on those. I'd say that people who don't agree with each other or me feel comfortable stopping by the blog. (See the poll on the sidebar. Republican & Democrat visitors are split 50/50. Apparently, I drive away Clinton supporters.) Does that mean that there's "unity" here? Perhaps not, but I've appreciated the willingness for conversation.

What would you all say is the best way to foster unity & common purpose among the very-diverse Body of Christ?

Lisa said...

Obviously, the best way is to sing "How good and pleasant is is when we dwell together in unity" and clap our hands. (Oh, sorry, I just got that song stuck in my head after reading your post.)

Really, though, kindness goes a long way. As one who is more prone to sarcasm, it's humbling to realize that those who have kindly and nicely pointed out there reasons for what they think in response to my sarcastic rejoinders have often, eventually, been the ones whose opinions I ended up sharing.

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