People joke about it but it really does happen and it is not funny. People disagree. They argue. They strongly assert and advocate for their position. Sadly, they sometimes even leave a church over issues like what color of carpet will be laid on the church floor – Blue? Green? Brown? There are many things, big and small, over which people disagree.
Almost everything associated with COVID-19 tends to polarize people providing fertile ground for disagreement, controversy, and conflict in our culture and in the church. One pastor I know in another state has people who are likely to leave the church because he “caved in” and did not continue services. Others may leave because he has now resumed services and people may still be exposed to the virus.
As previously announced, this evening (5/9/20) we will have a church meeting at pastor Jeff's house to discuss when and how to resume services. We will need not only to figure out how to comply with the government constraints and ensure protection of health, but also how to do this with unity, harmony, and peace in the church body.
We need to acknowledge that there will be a broad spectrum of opinions. We need to recognize that people will have very strong feelings that are completely the opposite of what others feel very strongly about. We need to take steps and adjust our attitudes so that even though we may strongly disagree about something it does not become a source of conflict and division. Successfully addressing these challenges will require each one of us to be humble and loving.
We need to admit that it is possible to meet together as a church and the outcome be bad. Paul told the church of Corinth that the way they behaved when they gathered together was worse than if they just had stayed home.
“But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. (1 Corinthians 11:17-18)
The division and factions were bad. On the other hand, the ability to have unity and harmony in the church is evidenced of who is is “approved” by the Lord. If we are going to be in the approved category then we need to figure out how to have unity when we have strong differing opinions. Having unity is not only possible, but it is commanded and expected of God's people.
Following are few of the many texts of scripture that will help us attain to the unity that glorifies God.
The early church was comprised of Jews and Gentiles who came from very diverse cultures, standards, and practices. In Ephesians 2 Paul emphasizes that God brought the two groups into unity one body. In Ephesians 4 he commands them (and us) to do what is needed to keep that unity.
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to PRESERVE THE UNITY of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-5 emphasis added))
We are one body and we serve the same God and have one calling . . . . so we need to do what it says here to preserve what God has established. Take a moment with pen an paper and jot down those things that this text says you personally (each one of us) needs to do to preserve the unity.
The emphasis on unity, and the love that is needed to have unity is also found, in the letter to the church at Philippi.
“. . . make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, . . .” (Philippians 2:2-6 emphasis added)
Unity is attained by considering other people more important than ourselves. This was the example of Jesus. He laid down His life for us and we are to lay down our life for one another. If we consider others more important than ourselves, then we will defer to them thereby not creating division. The secret to having the “same mind” is that we intentionally focus on the purpose of the church to make disciples as the major thing and consider everything else as minor. We will defend and die for the gospel for the sake of people's salvation and God's glory, but will not argue over whether we need to wear face masks or not. If we re-calibrate so that our Christian fellowship is focused on Christ only, and not all of the issues of politics or health or other things, we will have unity. We will have the same mind because we are focused on God's salvation in Jesus. Period.
One of the topics of discussion that has been prevalent in recent days is whether, and to what extent to comply with the government mandates to cancel church services. In that discussion one text, Romans 13:1-8 is often referenced. Early on I shared from this text pointing out that our submission to the government is essential to our peace and progress for the gospel. As the text unfolds it says this.
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)
Our submission to the government is an act of love toward God and toward others. If we truly love one another, we will be willing to sacrifice out own desires and preferences for the sake of what is good for others, including maintaining the unity of the body.
When we come to Romans chapter 14 we find some very important and very helpful instructions regarding how to lovingly deal with our strong differences of opinion. Here are a few excerpts from the chapter that we need to heed to maintain the unity that God has established in the church.
5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. 7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.
20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.
22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
The point is that your opinion may be right, or your opinion may be wrong, but what matters more is whether or not you love your brother. We are to be careful not to violate our conscience and we are to, in many instances, keep our opinions to ourselves out of concern for others.
Please take some time to read and pray through all of Romans 14:1-15:3. Ask God to give us all wisdom and grace as we seek to honor Him in the days ahead.
It is going to be a challenge to resume meeting together as a church with social distancing, limits on sizes of gatherings, and other requirements. We can do it by God's grace if we are willing to major on the major issues of the kingdom of God and humbly lay aside our own preferences and opinions for the sake of the unity of the body and the glory of God.
Please be praying with me that God will give us grace and wisdom and discernment how best to practically proceed into future which is going to be different than the past.
Serving with joy,