The glass windows reflect the glaring blue lights from the police cruiser parked on the street. An officer walks quickly to the house and bangs on the front door with his clenched fist.
“Police. Open the door.” The officer repeats the command several times before anyone responds. When the door finally opens a small child stands in the doorway.
“Are your parents home?” The officer asks.
The child answers, “Yes sir. They’re fighting again.”
They’re fighting again. These words reverberate throughout our whole society. Everyone seems to be fighting. Our newscasters faithfully chronicle every blow and yet it is impossible to pick a winner. If you knocked on the door of the United States government, a young intern would likely answer it with, “They’re fighting again.”
If someone knocked on the door of the church, a disgusted teenager on his way out might answer, “Yes Sir, there are just a few of them in there, but they’re fighting again.”
It doesn’t take a very astute observer to notice that three major pillars of society seem to be crumbling. Distrust and strife threaten to destroy the sacred institution of marriage. The United States of America fights over taxes, immigration, foreign policy, and everything in between. The church struggles to maintain an outward semblance of unity while at the same time engaging in epic internal battles for power and control.
While we expect human institutions to fall prey to division and fault finding, it is surprising that the church suffers the same fate. There appears to be a disconnect between what the church believes itself to be, and what it has actually become. The church is depicted in the book of Revelation as the bride of Christ; adorned in white and standing in opposition to the harlot of evil. Jesus promises the church, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20 ESV). It would be prudent to remind ourselves what it means when Jesus makes His presence known.
To the woman who touched the hem of His garment, it means the days of suffering and shame are a thing of the past. To the disciples, trapped in a ferocious storm on the Sea of Galilee, it means an instant calming of the wind and the waves. To the woman caught in adultery, it means that mercy and justice will find their perfect blend. To those struggling for dominance in the upper room, Christ’s presence means a complete change in language and attitudes. As these men welcome the Master’s arrival, Jesus takes a towel and begins washing feet. The whole room comes to reverent silence as one by one the disciples realize what is taking place. The Majesty of the universe, the very One who spoke the world into existence and by His power sustains the lives of everyone present, takes on the role of a Servant.
Jesus is not making a pretense of humility. He is not putting on an act of submission. His servanthood takes Him from the upper room to Pilate’s court and from there to Golgotha where He stretches out His hands on that cruel wood and pays the ultimate price. Christ’s stated desire for all of His children is that we love each other the same way He loves us. Even though we may have differing points of view on myriad topics, our love for one another should bind us together under the banner of the cross.
Imagine with me for a moment a church that agrees on the ordination of women to gospel ministry. Imagine a church that agrees on the nature of Christ and the exact process whereby men and woman are saved. Imagine a church that agrees on a set of guidelines to determine which organizations are supporting the mission of the church and which groups are not. Can you picture a church that comes to complete agreement on exactly what the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation mean and how to relate to them in modern society? Can you visualize a church that comes into complete unity over the issue of Christian attire or the exact amount of jewelry to wear?
It occurs to me that we do not have to agree on any of these issues to be fully unified with Christ. Jesus never asks His church to be a perfectly oiled machine, grinding out licensed, patent pending Christians all created from the same mold. We are diverse and make no mistake, our Creator made us that way! Fallen human nature seems to recoil at the idea of accepting diversity. Church leaders sometimes prize loyalty and uniformity when love and tolerance for fellow believers might yield better results. Christ never asks us to agree on every issue. Instead our Savior stands at our heart’s door and through His Spirit offers to personally direct our paths in the ways of righteousness.
Often we are so loudly proclaiming our particular point of view that we cannot hear the gentle voice of our Savior. If we are ever going to resolve the issues that seem to tear us apart, we must allow ourselves to be immersed in God’s Spirit. We should exclaim along with the disciple Peter, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:9). Jesus promised, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13 ESV)
We don’t need compliance statements and carefully crafted dogma. Instead we need a ground swell of dedicated, Spirit-filled leaders and members who are willing to allow the Spirit of Christ to do His work.
Dwight K. Nelson, pastor of the Pioneer Memorial Church, implores us to implement a moratorium on debate and pray for God’s leading. He doesn’t call for a day of prayer, but rather months of prayer. He points out that we, as a church, are arguing ad nauseam over compliance to a set of guidelines, while the world is dying from our neglect. He observes that Jesus stands outside the church and is knocking at the door. Are we too busy arguing with each other to hear His voice?
For God’s people to have the kind of love that brings us together, we must first be willing to set self aside and emulate the servant model that Christ exemplifies. For weak, frail human beings, this kind of love is absolutely impossible to achieve. Most of us, truth be known, are not even trying that hard. But even if we exert all of our energy and resources, we will still fall short. I have come to believe that this unifying love can only be realized by a Divine miracle.
Mary, the Mother of Jesus, asks for a miracle at a wedding in Cana. Jars of water miraculously become wine to save His Mother from an embarrassing social situation. Christ’s ministry going forward involves a whole series of miracles of every description. But the greatest miracle of all is when Jesus bows His head and utters those three words assuring our salvation. “It is finished.” Our salvation in Jesus Christ is done! We are not waiting for a miracle. We are not waiting for God to step in and save us. He has already delivered the miracle we so desperately need.
That miracle of grace, so freely given to us, is the bedrock of Christian unity in Christ. When we accept God’s forgiveness for our own mistakes and failings, logic dictates that we recognize that same miracle in the lives of those around us. We must step aside and allow the miracle of grace to permeate all of our relationships. Seeing our fellow travelers in the light of the Cross brings us to a point where we can truly love and accept each other. As the Spirit of Christ does His work, we will see dramatic changes take place. Criticism and fault finding will vanish into love and compassion. Rigidity and uniformity will fade into acceptance and tolerance. Strife and contention will give way to peace and kindness.
When Jesus returns in glory to redeem His Laodicean church, a church that has been tried in the fires of ridicule and persecution, we can be assured that He will not be told, “Yes Master, there are a few of us here — but we’re fighting again.” Oh no, my friend, when Jesus comes back, He is coming to get His Bride adorned for the wedding. He is coming to get His people who have allowed themselves to be clothed in His white raiment. We will stand in the glory of our Savior without spot or wrinkle. Not because we argued ourselves into truth. Not because we figured out a way to make ourselves holy. Rather because we finally gave up on our own wisdom and allowed the Spirit of Christ to guide us and transform us.
Leroy Sykes lives and writes from Alabama.
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