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Where Do We Go From Here?

I was out having coffee with a friend a little while ago when the subject of vaccination status came up. Perplexed by their stance, I approached the conversation cautiously optimistic, asking questions to genuinely understand their perspective. 

This time, I went into the conversation to listen and understand, not to change their mind (Read: I’ve entered a-many conversations trying to air my opinions because I was “right” or because they didn’t understand me– not listening to understand but listening so I could be heard.)

After chatting a little I began to realize the conversation may have been unsettling for them and we somehow landed our conclusions. I now recognize my intent to ask questions and understand may have had a different impact on them than I’d hoped. We never argued, but I could feel the uncomfortableness. In the midst of the conversation we were able to easily navigate this by changing the subject, but it is not that easy to practice this in other places. I even question if changing the subject is an appropriate resolution, though I think it is in cases where parties need time to gather themselves emotionally. 

What has now risen to the surface like impurities in metal when it is boiling

And for some reason, I wasn’t bothered by the conversation itself. What has now risen to the surface like impurities in metal when it is boiling is my concern for how divided the church has become over this issue. 

How am I still wrestling with this thing that I pondered and attempted to answer last year— where do we go from here? When I wrote on it last year I proposed a starting place of humility and I stand by that but as I continue to wrestle with it, I continue to recognize why it’s important for us not to stay here.

Division in the church is nothing new.  

In living in relationships with believers from different denominations, and different dimensions of identity, I can see multiple opportunities for refinement bubbling up surfacging in churches across America. Over-politicized opinions continue to cause further polarization.  Vaccine, no vaccine, mask, no mask, deconstruct, don’t deconstruct, teach CRT, don’t teach CRT. See how I could keep going?

As I list all the differences I call to mind a very vivid day in one of my missions classes. Our instructor asked us to bring topics that the church is divided on. Mannnnnnnn we filled a whole chalkboard with them. Disagreements and division in the church isn’t new and reflecting on where we (the Big “C” church or the global church) have been is key for us to get where we (the American church and global church) need to go. 

Where have we been?

Let’s take it all the way back to Jesus telling Peter, ‘upon this rock I will build my church.’ Only upon the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, revealed by the Holy Spirit, would Christ build the church. Interestingly those who received the revelation were a ragtag group of folks. Jesus chose quite the eclectic bunch. From an affluent tax collector, an oppressor of his own people, to a lower-income, working-class, quick-tempered fisherman, to a zealot, and so on and so on. We also shouldn’t forget about the Mary(s), who followed along–Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ mother. Though not listed as one of the 12, they were also disciples. Who would’ve put this group together? Who would’ve thought they could work together? 

How will the world know we’re his disciples?

The honest answer is they couldn’t. We see little spats throughout the gospels, like them arguing about who was the greatest. I can imagine the Mary(s) giving a Stanley–from the Office–eye roll. 

You do know how Jesus resolved conflicts right? He asked everyone to hold hands and sing kumbaya. He tells them to ignore their differences and get over it. Actually, he calls them to follow in his way, to lead by serving, and to join him in his suffering. 

[This whole scene takes place just before Jesus is arrested, and since this is the last time the disciples will have a meal with him before he’s crucified you might say what he shares is kinda important. I like John’s account because what Jesus says to them before his death spans John 13-17, the most extensive of the gospels.]

He goes on to say in John 13 how showing love to one another is how people will know they know him; how they will know they are his disciples. How will the world know we’re his disciples? By miracles, signs, and wonders? By our giftings and talents? By our cultural relevance? 

Or perhaps it’s by us loving one another, that people will recognize we’re Christ-followers. When people with differing views, different backgrounds, and different life experiences are able to come together and love one another in community with one another, it’s a testament to the Spirit’s work within our lives. 

If you think the divisions ended when the disciples got it together, you’ve missed the epistles. If anyone is well versed in managing dissension, it’s Paul. If we juxtapose what Paul wrote in 1 Cor 13 with John 13:34–35 no show of power, or gift, or whatever will prove that we are his disciples more than us loving one another. And loving one another, especially those that aren’t easy to love, is true spiritual maturity. 

Choosing to acknowledge the rough edges we bump against in our differences is a part of the process and part of our witness to the world. Let us endeavor to have more coffee, to seek conversations that will refine us, listen to those who think differently, learn from them, and most importantly love on them. 

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