What is Christian unity?
November 16, 2012
If you are anything like me in this time of political unrest you might be wondering, “What does my faith say about all this ill will between persons of good faith?” Like you, I have my political opinions. Like you, I have my spiritual convictions. Like you, when there seems to be a tension between these two heart-felt values, whether those tensions are real or manufactured, I tend toward my spiritual conviction over my political opinion. And, like you, I seek others to help me understand the core issue asked of Jesus, “Lord, who is my neighbor?” There are, of course, Scriptural answers to all these questions. Yet the reality is we Christians differ on our interpretation of Scripture almost as much as we differ on our opinions of the place Scripture plays in our lives, not to mention our politics. It is in that spirit that I share with you the perspective of three scholars I hold in high regard. Dr. Charles Gutenson served 10 years at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky. Rev. Mike Slaughter is pastor of Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp, Ohio. Dr. Robert P. Jones writes a weekly column for the Washington Post “On Faith.” These three published authors have came together to write a book I recommend to you, “Hijacked, responding to the partisan church divide.” The rest of this article is taken directly from their book.
“Remember that Jesus said Christians would be known, not by their ability to draw lines between themselves and those with whom they disagree, not by their ability to hold only true opinions on all matters, but rather by their love for one another quite apart from whether they fully agree on all issues. The oft-recited notion that we are to “believe and let believe” is not adequate for those who claim to be followers of Jesus. No, we must not only “tolerate” one another and our differing opinions. Rather, we are to love one another in spite of our divergent opinions – a love that bridges the ideological differences and allows us to join hands with one another and with God in his great work of reconciling the world to himself. “In all things, charity” means being able to look past the points at which we differ and to look instead at the deep unity of belief and commitment we have in naming Jesus as Lord and following him. It is to recognize a deeper fellowship around our Risen Lord, even if we are deeply in disagreement over any one of a number of political ideas. Is one a capitalist and another a socialist? Is one a Democrat and another a Republican? Is one a strong believer in the separation of church and state, while another is less committed? Does one embrace just war theory? Does another embrace Christian pacifism? Positions on none of these issues – nor a host of others like them – are valid reasons for division in the local church; but even more than that, none of them are a basis for not engaging one another with Christian charity. God is not a respecter of political parties; and while we will most likely belong to one of the many parties available, our partisan commitments must never be allowed to infiltrate the church.”
If those words touch you as deeply as they do me, we are on the path of reconciliation together.
Pastor Pete Nelson of Carson Valley United Methodist Church is a member of Carson Valley Ministers’ Association.