John answered and said, Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us. But Jesus said to him, Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you. Luke 9.49-50Let me start by clarifying what I’m not saying this week. I do not believe we should sacrifice passion for what we sincerely believe to be Truth. My concern is rather how we treat those with whom we find ourselves in disagreement about what is Truth. The Bible seems, from what I have witnessed, to contain two types of teaching. One is purposeful. It is clearly the intention and passion of the author to communicate, and it is expressed with such clarity that most people find themselves in agreement with. The other kind of teaching is one that we derive by observing the authors as they write about a different topic than the one we have questions about.
An example of the first type of teaching is that Jesus is the Christ. This is clearly the New Testament’s central passion.
One of many examples of the second type of teaching in the Bible is church organization. None of the New Testament authors sat down and composed a church manual for us. We are left piece together how the church was organized from what the authors say about how the early church was organized and functioned while they are passionately speaking on other topics. Another example (and I want to be clear that I am a Sabbatarian, if labels mean anything) is the Sabbath. Nowhere in the New Testament do the authors forsee the church’s history of transitioning from a Saturday celebrated day of worship to a Sunday celebrated day of worship. They do not forsee it, and thus they do not address it DIRECTLY. What we do have from the New Testament authors are gleanings that they themselves and the early Christians were Sabbatarian in their day of worship. But we have no DIRECT writing on the topic in which it seems to be the author’s passion to give us a complete dissertation of the Sabbath in the New Testament, its meaning, and how it should be celebrated by New Testament Christians. Does this mean it isn’t a concern for us simply because they were not concerned with it then? No, it simply means that those writing the New Testament lived before events they could not forsee took place, and thus they did not address the issue.
But this is not my point at all. I simply what you to begin thinking about these two types of truth in the New Testament. The first kind is clear, and most Christians today agree about it. The second is the “gleaned” kind in which there is room for misunderstanding, misapplication, and disagreement. My point is, how should we relate to others who we find ourselves in agreement with on the first kind of truth, but disagree with on the second? Does it mean we write off what we believe about the second category as unimportant? NO, it simply means that we understand that these two different types of teachings in the New Testament exist and we still extend the right hand of fellowship to those we disagree with about the second kind of teachings. Follow John’s statement closely:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 1 John 5.1 (TNIV)
If someone in our post-modern, evolutionist, atheistic-tending society believes that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, then we already, simply by that belief alone, find ourselves having something very special in common with that person. I guess my concern is an attitude I see too often in our churches (and I’m in a different one each weekend). There is this “us and them” kind of spirit. It is not espoused by all, but it is definitely more present than I like to admit. There is something inside us that wants to set up a criteria, a list, of what makes a person “in” or “out.” It’s an attempt to find a kind of false assurance that we ourselves are “in.” But in doing this, we reject God’s love for us as being the basis of our assurance, and we establish our own criteria in its place. Our religious beliefs and practices take the place only God is to have in our hearts and become nothing more than idolatry. We go about establishing our own ideas of what is the identifying mark of who is “with” us or who is still “outside.”
This attitude is fundamentally flawed on many levels, but the greatest problem, in my opinion, is that in thinking and relating to others according to these principles, we deny the very fabric of what God’s kingdom is all about. Jesus was much more inclusive than what we find many Christian communities, including my own, being today. (For evidence of this, just look at the types of people Jesus attracted. Those are the folks that churches today repell.) I’m simply being honest, and I’m speaking from my heart. The more familiar I find myself becoming with what Jesus was all about, the more questions and concerns I have about how modern traditional “Christian” communities fit into that. Just questions. Not doubts. Please don’t label me too as being “out.” I’m simply asking questions and voicing concerns. I want to be different. Not that I have by any means arrived, but I want to live in relationship to others with that radical, self-sacrificial, other-centered, inclusive love that characterizes the life of Jesus and the kingdom He came to establish in our hearts.
I’ll close with a story a dear friend of mine from Minnesota shared with me recently that I believe expresses my point beautifully.
I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said, “Stop. Don’t do it.”
“Why shouldn’t I?” he asked.
“Well, there’s so much to live for!”
“Are you religious?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “Me too. Are you Christian, Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist?”
“Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?”
“Me too. Are you Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Pentecostal, or Baptist?”
“Wow. Me too. Are you Southern Baptist, General Baptist, Northern Baptist, or Separatist Baptist?”
“Me too. Are you Original Separatist Baptist, or are you Reformed Separatist Baptist?”
“Reformed Separatist Baptist.”
“Me too. Are you Reformed Separatist Baptist, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Separatist Baptist, Reformation of 1915?”
He said: “Reformed Separatist Baptist, Reformation of 1915.”
I said: “Die, heretic scum,” and pushed him off.
Within our churches, we already have so much in common with each other, especially within the denomination I belong to. On some of those secondary areas of Biblical teaching, can we not administer a little more grace toward one another, trusting that God is at work in all of our lives and that He will complete this beautiful work He has begun in us? Patience, love, and forbearance—these are the staples of the kingdom. Love that will not let each other go, but at the same time, gives each one his or her own space to grow in.
Thank you for your patience with my heart’s cry this week. It comes from a sincerely troubled, weekend-church-visiting, traveler.
I wish you God’s best this week.
Love like the sun. Love like the rain. And go enlarge the Kingdom.