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#CRClistens: Listening- It's More than Just Tolerance

Editor's note: This is the first post in our new series How to Stay in Conversation with "the Other Side". During this series, we hope to learn together how to communicate about contentious issues in ways that build up the Body of Christ. Above all, we hope that this series will help you stay in conversation in constructive ways that honor and respect the image of God in those you disagree with and in the people affected by the issues about which you are talking. Perhaps these reflections will even help us to engage well as a Christian Reformed Church in dialogue around hard questions, particularly at Synod 2016. To receive updates on the series in your inbox, subscribe here. To engage in the conversation on social media, use the hashtag #CRClistens.  

Listening to Christian brothers and sisters certainly helps us understand where they’re coming from. Often we even start to sympathize with them. But what do we do after we start to understand someone we disagree with?

Many suggest that tolerance should be our goal. Difference is uncomfortable and inconvenient, but we allow space for others to chart their own course. Tolerance preaches agreeing to disagree, leaving each other alone.

But we at The Colossian Forum believe that Christians are called to something much better—and more difficult—than tolerance. We belong to Christ and to each other. We share a common life, which Paul likens to a body (1 Corinthians 12). Many of our differences are intentionally given to us by the Holy Spirit so that we can build up Christ’s body (vv. 7, 11). Our differences aren’t inconveniences to be tolerated, but gifts for our overall good. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don't need you!’” (v. 21). The eye doesn’t tolerate the hand. It loves and serves it.

But eyes think differently from hands. A healthy body coordinates its members across differences. We must listen to work together.

Yet sometimes difference comes from one part really getting it wrong. The hand suffers if the eye is blind. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (v. 26). If the hand is to help an ailing eye, it has to think like an eye. This is hard work. It is our calling. The goal of Christ’s body is not tolerance of difference, but building up the body amidst difference. So we must listen.

But shouldn’t I protect myself from their error and keep far away?

Avoidance does make some sense. Christians are indeed vulnerable targets of various cunning agendas. Of ourselves we are weak, so we sometimes need to withdraw from dangerous error. But Jesus holds tightly to us (John 10:28) and calls us to something far better: befriending those who err.

Jesus offended many by sharing life with impure tax collectors and prostitutes (Luke 5:30-32). Of course, He didn’t applaud their sin; He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). He didn’t fear the impure, but infected them with his purity. When we follow Jesus’ pattern, we don’t build walls against those whom we believe are erring, but dare to listen to and live with them as we embody Jesus for them. Hasn’t this always been the way of missionaries?

If we are willing to sacrificially love non-Christians, shouldn’t we all the more embody Christ for our Christian brothers and sisters? Paul made a habit of first going to his Jewish kin before then bringing the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 17:2). He wished himself to be accursed if it would save the erring Jews (Romans 9:3). And missionaries know they receive the greater blessing. They find themselves “converted” not to error, but to fuller knowledge of the breadth, length, height, and depth of Christ’s love (Ephesians 3:18) as they see the power of God at work.

That’s why we listen in love, even to Christians in error.

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