When I was sixteen, my grandfather, the patriarch of our family, died. It was devastating to lose him and particularly so for me, as he was my father in my own dad's absence. He meant the world to me and I to him and I knew it deep in my core. It was a tremendous loss for our family.
And then it got worse.
My mom and her sister and brothers began fighting over the details of his will. One of my uncles had been left more than the others and also refused to relinquish funds from accounts that listed him as the beneficiary. My memory of it all is faded and I was young and not nuanced in estate matters so it's possible, and likely, that my recollection is not entirely accurate. Regardless, the family I had grown up believing to be close and connected was suddenly splintered, angry and behaving outrageously towards one another.
Even as young as I was, I did my best to refuse to take sides. It was painful for me to hear what they all said and thought of one another and they often tried to cajole me into running interference between the two camps. I can remember my mom becoming angry with me for not shutting out her brother who was just ten years older than I and very much like a brother to me as well. She interpreted my desire to love all of them as betrayal and insisted that he'd stolen from me when he stole from her. I remember thinking that it was impossible to steal something from me that wasn't even mine to begin with and told her then that all I wanted was my family back.
Eventually, I realized that my grandparents had held our family together and once they were gone there really wasn't much left at all. I had no idea how it could have ended up that way. But, it did and even when everyone calmed down and began to behave civilly again, it was never far from my mind that we probably didn't love each other much at all.
When all was said and done, all I inherited from my grandfather was his worn Bible that he'd made no notes in and a page was marked with a small piece of paper where he'd written "Pray for my children: Carol, Joan, Stan and Mark." I felt actual pain in my chest when I saw the note for the first time. How much it would have hurt him to see us all now?
I'm feeling that way again lately. Not in my own family here in my home and not with extended family scattered from here to there. God's redeemed so much and given me bonds in my home to heal the fragile bonds that had been broken. Those who don't live near but mean so much are just a phone call away and it's like we didn't miss a moment when we can chat and catch up. My family, as in those I am related to, is mostly life giving these days and the source of so much joy.
But, I'm a member of another family. According to Scripture I have been adopted into the family of God by the sacrifice made for me on the Cross. And it's not just me, but millions of people worldwide have been adopted into my family. We are children of God, they are my brothers and sisters. God went to great lengths to adopt us all into His family. He loves us so much to have done that. I can only deduct that He desires for that love to flow between His children as well.
The problem is, I've recently observed some really ugly behavior in my family. Sometimes we act more like that splintered family I grew up in than one in which every member is filled and led by the Holy Spirit. It's like we forget who we are. We seem to prefer rivalry over love. Sometimes we are just embarrassing.
And let me be clear, my frustration with my family in Christ isn't so much about how it makes me feel, although it does effect how I feel. It's about WHO we represent when we behave like entitled children fighting over which one of us is most important.
And even more than how we represent Him, my burden is for how our sinful quarrelling and backbiting must grieve the very heart of Jesus who prayed that we would be "one as We are one." In John 17, Jesus prays for us, all of us, and not once or twice but rather FOUR times in that prayer he prays and even pleads with His Father that we would be one. And do you know when he prayed for us to be unified as one? He prayed for us to be one body like He and the Father are on the night he was arrested when the rest of us would have been praying for ourselves standing face to face with our own coming murder. That's what was on the heart of Christ just before he was led away to his brutal death. Us. We were His burden and, specifically, how we treat each other. Dripping with his own sweat and blood, there in the garden, my Savior prayed that I would love ALL the people He brought into His family. Please, let that sink in.
You may wonder what's brought on such strong emotions for our unity. It's not like it's new to the Bride of Christ to be destroying herself, refusing our own the love we claim to want to bring to a hurting world. Nope. We've been doing that since the beginning. We carry around our denominations and theologies and political positions like membership cards to the "right thinking" club as if temporal and feeble thoughts from the human mind can somehow enrich our solid identiy in Christ. We cling to our own image of what we think our brothers and sisters should look and act and even teach and think like. We seek to connect with those who reflect our own pridefully constructed images rather than focusing on the only image that matters, that of God. Yes, those petty constructions, and how they sort us into groups we prefer for our own comfort, are divisive and completely undermine what Jesus prayed for. That's all true. It just seems to be getting worse or maybe it's just become so obnoxiously public. It's so ugly and completely opposite of who we follow but we just keep on airing our grievances towards one another right in plain view.
I have no idea who will read this post, but I'll tell you that anyone who knows me can affirm that I'm not afraid to have my thoughts and beliefs challenged. I'm also a naturally curious person and I've always loved learning about the different denominations and sects within Christianity. I don't agree with all of them. I've got my own theological positions and I stand on certain sides of various political issues based on such. It's just that I'm always reminding myself that while I may be right and maybe even landed squarely in the place of the exact theology God, Himself, designed, it's far more likely that I could be dead wrong. Only God knows how all our differences and views come together to tell His story perfectly. He's going to settle it all and makes things clear someday. And we will all, every last one of us, be so humbled by how wrong we were in our understanding of Him, that we won't even notice if we got any of it right.
Can we just agree on that?
And if we can, why do we act crazy about these differences in the most public ways we can think up? Remember that family on your block, or maybe you were like me and it was your family, the one that was always yelling and going completely nutso on each other? And remember how you were so glad it wasn't your family or prayed that one day it wouldn't be? People, WE ARE THAT FAMILY.
Almost every day on Twitter I see fellow Christians tearing down other Christian traditions, theologies, and practices. Sometimes I see my brothers and sisters tearing down INDIVIDUAL PEOPLE WHO ARE IN THEIR SPIRITUAL FAMILY, SEALED BY THE BLOOD OF JESUS, AND WE SHOW THE WHOLE WORLD WE ARE DOING IT. What's worse is that the guns are usually aimed at someone they don't even know personally. Yet, still a brother or sister. Still someone Jesus prayed we would be one with.
Dear Family, this ought not be so. What is happening to us?
And, please, before I get bombarded with accusations of suggesting we should not call out sinful behavior or heretical teaching, just stop. That's not what I'm talking about.
I'm talking about being able to tell when an otherwise thoughtful blogger doesn't like a certain pastor by what they post about him. On more than one occasion I've seen some serious mountains made out of far less than a speed bump and attempts made to inflate such nonsense to support serious accusations of fraud and abuse. And, no, I'm not suggesting that we avoid calling wolves out for the protection of the flock but just because we don't agree with a teacher doesn't mean that they are a wolf. And just because we have some sort of sick need to see a brother fall into sin because we don't like him, doesn't mean that he has. It does, however, mean that we have fallen into sin by wanting such a thing.
On one occasion I saw a Tweet that said, "I'm just over evangelicalism." What the what? First of all the term "evangelical" is defined in a myriad of ways so I'm not even sure what that Tweet meant. Secondly, that's a whole segment of the body, however you define it, that a believer had publicly devalued and dismissed with a single sentence. How are we justifying such behavior? When did it become ok to marginalize our own in order to avoid risking being considered one of them? Y'all! We are one of them! We didn't adopt ourselves. We don't get to decide who's in the family. God does.
And Jesus prayed that we'd all be one. He prayed passionately for his body to be unified. What we are doing to each other, we are doing to Him.
It's not love, dear siblings. Shoot, it's not even civil debate that unbelievers manage to achieve daily. Our culture is one of diversity and every single day people of all faiths and backgrounds have to figure out how to navigate that respectfully, but here we are, supposedly the "light of the world", and we can't even celebrate and respect the diversity within our own body. Aren't we supposed to be modeling Jesus so the World will want to know Him? Is it any wonder that many unbelievers in America have zero interest in investigating our faith when we can't even treat our own family like we matter to each other? It's shameful. Our disdain for each other is a larger obstacle to the Gospel than any ideaoligy you may disagree with.
Listen, I've argued and back stabbed with the best of them. I still have to watch my tongue and check my judgmental tendencies regularly. I'm speaking to myself in this, too. I'm not an innocent bystander. Often the things that get under my skin end up revealing the sin in my own heart before I speak up about something. And it makes me angry that some brothers and sisters whom I genuinely consider thoughtful and challenging are becoming so arrogantly judgemental of members of our family that I just quit following them. I'm not angry at them for the divisive behavior, I'm angry that the valueable conversations they otherwise bring to the table are being drowned out by ugliness and intentional discord. And I don't want that to happen to me. I want to be heard because sometimes God graciously allows the right words to come out and people hear His love for them. When that happens, I want them to believe me, believe Him.
Again, I'm so open to healthy discussion and enjoy respectful debate. I am not afraid of any thought or opinion. I just sincerely believe that in every instance those thoughts and opinions can be shared respectfully, even in love. And not every thing we think needs to be said or posted on the Internet. Particularly about other people in general, certainly about your brothers and sisters in Christ. We're not obligated to retweet everything we see. In fact, quite often, we're likely bound by love not to.
And before you think I'm not for accountability and justice you should know that those things are deeply ingrained into who I am, even more so because I am a Christian. I don't want leaders in our faith to get away with sinful behavior. I just know that I serve a big God who is capable of disciplining His children and trust that most of us respond better to rebuke when it's handled privately amongst people who love us dearly. If you're not one of those people in the life of someone you feel is in need of correction, you're probably not who God planned to do it through anyways.
I'll leave you with this...we ALL roll our eyes when we see the posts and tweets from those recounting their own personal drama that would likely benefit from an actual conversation with whomever they're in conflict with. We all know that's tacky. Let's not do that with our own family. Let's honor that passionate prayer of Christ and His own command to handle conflict in the body in person with people we actually know. Anything less cannot be rooted in love.