A recent article in Christianity Today “Is Evangelicalism Due for a Hundred-Year Schism? | Christianity Today”, was both thought-provoking and disturbing. While it is commenting on the situation in the USA, I see similar issues at work in our context here in Canada.
As I reflected on the issues raised and integrated them into my own story, the thing I began to really stumble over was why we Christians are so prone to disagreements that seemingly can’t be resolved; nor, apparently are we able to live together in Christian community while disagreeing with each other.
By no means am I exempt from this tendency.
A careful reading of John 17 shows how concerned Jesus was about Christian unity. On the eve of his crucifixion John records Jesus praying for us:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20-23)
Our subsequent history shows that Jesus was right to be concerned. We are prone to dispute; quick to speak, slow to listen and slow to extend grace.
Compounding the problem: we are short on peacemakers.
In Matthew 5:9, Jesus said,
‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.’
It’s easy to gloss over the complexities of this role, but by definition this is a high and difficult calling.
Dictionary.com defines it this way: “a person, group, or nation that tries to make peace, especially by reconciling parties who disagree, quarrel, or fight”
A difficult assignment, yet one that Jesus says is blessed.
Five Thoughts about Peacemaking
- The peacemaker must be courageous to engage in an argument or battle. Neither side may like you. Retreating and avoiding, while definitely easier, is incongruent with our calling as God’s people.
- The peacemaker must have or develop relationship with both parties—deep listening and understanding are essential.
- Peacemaking requires the peacemaker to put aside their own agenda or preferred outcome. The goal is to make peace. This is true of a third-party peacemaker, or of when two disagreeing groups are committed to making peace together.
- Neither side will ‘win’. In a true peacemaking outcome, both parties will need to cede some ‘rights’ in order to be reconciled.
- Of course, the most obvious requirement is that peace is desired by both parties.
If we are to avoid the next great schism, both corporately and personally in our relationships, then we must press into the call to be peacemakers, and we must call disputing parties to reconsider their posture towards one another.
3 More Observations
1. The Christianity Today article points out that we are more influenced by the news cycle than we are by the gospel itself. We are not immersing ourselves in God’s Word and allowing it to wash us and refine us.
Biblical peacemaking must be established on a thoughtful, humble reading of scripture; understanding that our perspective is still only partial.
1 Corinthians 13:12 says,
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
One day we will fully know the heart and mind of God. For now, we must be humble enough to admit the possibility of being wrong.
2. We seem to be convinced that the solutions are political or organizational, rather than relational and personal. We give up on relationships quickly and seem to be fiercely loyal to structures or leaders who are unlikely to have our best interests at heart.
Biblical peacemaking invites us to fellowship on level ground at the foot of the cross. If Jesus Christ’s forgiveness extends to me and my errors, then it also extends to you and yours. We are invited to the table together, where the Lamb who was slain sits, welcoming us. Broken fellowship with fellow table-sitters is broken fellowship with the Lamb.
3. Love is a beautifully kind filter through which all our words and works must pass. If we are to build and keep peace, let our words and actions mirror the love we have received from our loving heavenly Father.
Our Posture in Disagreement
I do not belittle the challenges facing the Church today, or each of us personally. Disputes arise because issues are deep and complex, but our posture in disagreement affects our witness to the world, and our relevance to our cultural context.
Our witness is on the line.
Whether we are able to walk in fellowship in disagreement with brothers and sisters, will truly be a test of our faith in Jesus Christ.
We are His Church. He is building it. His Spirit is at work.
Can we trust Him? Will we join Him?
Lorna Johnston is the Diaspora Ministries Leader at Outreach Canada. She leads two national teams--Loving Muslims Together (LMT) and Simply Mobilizing Canada (SMC). She works with teams of diverse and experienced leaders and ministries across Canada to alert and activate the church in Canada to the changing opportunities to engage God's mission right here in Canada.