A couple of days ago, I was saddened by the news that my Twitter pal, Larry, is leaving Twitter and other social media outlets sometime in the near future. He wrote this post explaining why he is doing this and has a very clearly-defined vision for why this and other changes are necessary in his own life and in the life of his family. Larry and I have never argued about our faith, and there are many things we agree upon and I’m sure many things we do not. But nonetheless, we are united in faith in Christ. If you take the time to read his post, he carefully explains why these changes are right and necessary for his family, but he does not cast judgment on those who do not strictly adhere to his views.
Juxtapose that with what is going on in my world. Through social media, I’ve been reconnected with a long-lost acquaintance who is hoping to re-connect with God and the church, and so far, our social media “friendship” has been pivotal in bringing this person back toward God. In a mainstream culture, God has prompted me to utilize aspects of mainstream culture to make a difference in the world, while my friend Larry feels God is calling him away from these types of things.
A common phrase I’ve always heard is “Different Strokes for Different Folks.” Of course this is part of the namesake of the popular 80′s sitcom starring the late Gary Coleman. We apply this ideal to many aspects of life as we embrace our differences. Whether it is a difference of preferences, TV shows, food, automobiles, hobbies, sports teams, blondes vs. brunettes, etc., people generally are not adamantly opposed to those who have different opinions in certain matters. But I’ve never heard “different strokes for different folks” applied to people of faith. Why? Because people of faith, seemingly always want to be right.
Can the same God be glorified in both a liberal mainline believer, and a conservative evangelical? I want to submit to you that the answer is “yes”. There was a time where I believed everyone who did not believe exactly like me on various points of doctrine was somehow not on the right track. This was prideful and arrogant, not to mention alienating me from a world of Christianity with a vast array of opinions, differences, as well as commonalities.
In the book of Romans, Paul discusses the differences believers have between one another over what things are sinful or appropriate for believers, i.e. adhering to Old Testament dietary restrictions. In this example from chapter fourteen, Paul says that those who believe that belief in Christ has nothing to do with their diet should not look down on the one who believes that dietary restrictions are an important part of faith. In the fifteenth chapter, though, he goes on to say this:
1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. 3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”[a] 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
I think unity is paramount in the church universal. In the United States there are over 350 recognized Christian denominations. And for the most part, these denominations are united in basic belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the risen Lord, who takes away our sins and makes us right with God. But yet we focus on our differences more than what unites us.
Over the years, I have met some believers who really relish in the ultra-conservative, fundamentalist style of ministry and theology. This type of teaching, preaching, and church environment speaks to their soul. Young believers who are finding their way, often thrive in these churches because there are hard lines and boundaries presented on a regular basis. On the other hand, there are people who feel God’s presence in church settings that are more laid back about some things. The Bible is often interpreted in different ways and people have freedom to disagree, discuss, and learn from one another in these settings. And I don’t have a problem that a church of each type could be next door neighbors on Main Street USA. What I have a problem with is the judgment that the two churches cast on one another. Instead of being thankful for each other’s professions of faith, membership growth, new classes, community ministry, and other victories, they talk down the other congregation and its leaders for using a different approach to reach people, when we have a clear command in Scripture to preserve unity.
Is doctrine important? Absolutely. Should you know what you believe and why? Without question. But can God be glorified in your contemporary service with a sermon about the grace of Christ and yet still be glorified down the street at the same hour where the organ is cranking out songs about the “straight and narrow” and the weekly message is about a different sin than the week before? I think God can be glorified in both churches if we commit to keep a spirit of unity and share in one another’s victories.
What do you think?