By Rob Morley
Exploring the possibility of real unity under one roof despite differences of opinion
Imagine if this was posted in a local newspaper:
I’m a Christian in a new Exploring city and I’m hoping to find healthy fellowship with other brothers and sisters. I would love to be with a group of people who share God’s love with each other and who cherish one another’s place in the body of Christ. An environment where everyone gets to participate and be blessed through one another’s life and gifting. A group where I would feel accepted and really listened to even if I should start thinking differently from everyone else. Not that I want to change others to think like me, but where I can really be free to be me. You know, like in a pub after a few beers ? Oh, and I would like the leaders to be real about their lives, and not above me, but next to me, like brothers and sisters. Is there any group in the city like this?
Even if not at first, this kind of hope often becomes just an illusion for many. And, they find themselves having to settle for one of the various forms of dysfunction where the group or its leaders sadly push their agendas at the expense of true fellowship and unity.
There are all kinds of opinions on a wide range of important issues in the Body of Christ. To name just a few, consider matters like women in ministry, children ministry, our response to homosexuals, the gifts of the Spirit, and styles of church governance and leadership. These are some of the bigger challenges that we are sometimes faced with, which, if handled badly, can cause unnecessary division.
(In this post, I’ll be focusing on the effects that our differences of opinion have on unity. However, that said, it’s quite often the little foxes that ruin the vineyard. Things like gossip, unforgiveness, resentment and bitterness probably turn out to be more destructive and divisive than our differences over the larger issues.)
Editor’s Note: Pastor Rob Morley has written a thought-provoking six-part series of posts on his Real Church Life blog. called Welcoming Differences, Avoiding Divisions. His series challenges all of us to look at our participation and roles in our own churches. He also challenges us to seek unity in the body of Christ. He also speaks to pastors in the church as well. This is a wonderful series all of us can benefit from reading. This series will appear here on ChristianBlessings for the next five weeks. Today we look at parts 1 and 2. Enjoy.
Now, regular church folk have a range of opinions on different topics. Some views may be quite developed while others are less established. Some are based on the Bible, others on what they’ve heard, and still others on what they feel, and to top it off there are those views that are endorsed with a “God told me…” label. And, oddly, some feel that the later can even trump the first (see my post, The Words of the Bible are Alive for more on this issue). Generally though, most views are often probably a combination of these sources.
Then, alongside (although sadly typically above these folk) are those who are discipling the flock, like your typical pastors and teachers. They tend to hold better honed, but, nevertheless, diverse opinions on different issues too. Based on the Bible of course! At least those that good evangelical Christians would even begin to consider listening to.
This is the conundrum, that those who claim that the Bible, undoubtedly the purest source, is their source of inspiration still get varied results. So, clearly claiming the correct source for your ideas does not mean that you have its content. Now, the problem is not the Bible, but the one reading and studying.
(For help on reading and studying your Bible I have a site that you might find useful at Bible Coaching: How to Read & Study the Bible.)
If the ideal was always true, where the life and thoughts that are shared and taught emanate only from Jesus and a pure understanding of the Bible, then all would be well. However, we know that such an ideal is an unrealistic constant and that at best exists only in part. Nevertheless, people, especially new believers, find comfort zones that appear to them to be the ideal, only later to discover the flaws. And, when this happens, and the issues are big, fellowship can be ruined.
Those happy with the status quo feel threatened when differing views crop up amongst members on important issues. Their insecurity and the need to have all persons think alike, demands that all should return to the default. Sadly, this protective response has the opposite effect and threatens to jettison the unity and fellowship rather than save it, or at best maintain only a false unity based on ignorance, fear, insecurity and intimidation. Would you like to join ?
But, should our differences, even over big issues, divide us? And, can we maintain unity, able to lovingly fellowship week in and week out under the same roof despite the differences of opinion that may arise in our fellowships? History has shown that we have struggled to do this, but surely it’s possible?!
In my next post I’ll share more on this issue.