This feels like a dangerous time, and not just because of COVID-19.
I’m talking about division and how we treat each other.
There are a lot of tensions right now: racial, reopening our churches and economy, political tensions as we head towards another presidential election, etc.
Here’s what I know about my church: We are made up of Republicans and Democrats.
We have people who diligently wear masks in public, and people who purposely don’t even own a mask.
We have people whose businesses have failed in the shutdown, and people who continue to work and are doing fine financially.
There is tension, and it feels significant, both in our culture and in our churches.
The danger for our churches is division.
As you move towards reopening your services, it’s likely some of your people will be angry at how slowly you’re moving, and some will be angry at how quickly you’re moving.
Social media is not helping either.
Our culture is engaged in ideological wars right now.
There’s so much irrational shouting on social media, and it’s happening between believers in our churches.
In this challenging season, I am reminded of the words of Jesus, from the Gospel of John as He’s praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
As he neared the cross, Jesus’ prayer was for unity among his followers.
When those who are not following Jesus see unity within the Church, they will know something special is going on—something that cannot be duplicated without the transforming work of Jesus in the hearts of His people.
We have an incredible opportunity in this cultural space.
Not to be right about the issues, but to be one as a body of believers.
We have a chance to display unity in our diversity.
I’m not saying we have to all agree, be members of the same political party, or view this pandemic in the same way.
I’m talking about how we talk, treat, and serve each other in our diversity of opinion.
The goal is not to become homogenous but to focus intently on our commonness in Christ so we can love and serve each other in our diversity.
The Apostle Paul faced a similarly fractioned world as he worked tirelessly to establish outposts of the Church throughout the Roman Empire.
He put it this way,
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus
Our unity in Christ is greater than our division, whether that be ethnic, political, economic, or something else.
Amid all the angry emotions and words, I’m reminded of a quote from Charles Spurgeon that I ran across recently.
The context is a debate in the church from a century ago about “how” to do church.
Now I hate High Churchism as my soul hates Satan; but I love George Herbert, although George Herbert is a desperately High Churchman. I hate his High Churchism, but I love George Herbert from my very soul, and I have a warm corner in my heart for every man who is like him. Let me find a man who loves my Lord Jesus Christ as George Herbert did and I do not ask myself whether I shall love him or not; there is no room for question, for I cannot help myself; unless I can leave off loving Jesus Christ, I cannot cease loving those who love him.
Spurgeon and Herbert disagreed on the form of church, yet Spurgeon loved and respected Herbert.
It’s impossible to love Jesus and not love your brother or sister in Christ, whatever their opinions are.
So, here’s the challenge in this season: How do we keep our churches unified in this challenging space?
Two quick thoughts:
Don’t Leave Anyone Behind
As we engage the reopening question, we are attempting to include everyone, no matter their comfort level with gathering.
Our next step will be home churches where we encourage our people to invite friends, family, and neighbors.
But, as we do this, we will continue to pour energy and resources into providing the best online services we can, for those who are not ready to gather in small numbers.
Similarly, when we reopen our services in small numbers, we will continue to resource and encourage home churches and our online platform.
Our commitment is to show unity by not leaving anyone behind.
Celebrate Communion and Baptism
The sacraments of the Church are powerfully unifying.
Participating in communion together reminds us of the unity we have in Christ.
Baptism draws us together and reminds us of what this whole thing is about.
If you have not already, I encourage your church to look for ways to celebrate both of these sacraments safely.
I think it’s our job as leaders and pastors to remind our people of our oneness and to help them experience it so that we don’t splinter into further division.
We have a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate the power of the cross in this season.
While everyone else is shouting at each other, we can model unity in diversity and display the transforming work of Jesus.
What are some ways your church is working to unify your body of believers?