Monday, September 21, 2015

Walking in Lockstep

Some people feel the inability of Christians to agree is a fatal flaw in our faith. The fact that believers understand the word of God differently and apply it differently is, to them, evidence that there is something wrong with the scripture itself, or that Christians are deluded about it, or that perhaps God does not really exist at all.

On the contrary, I believe it is evidence of precisely the opposite. It is exactly what we ought to expect.

To Kendall Hobbs, the inability of Christians to agree about either the will of God or the content of scripture and how it ought to be applied constitutes a valid reason to abandon Christianity. So he did.

Here, in part, is how he describes his “awakening”:
“I could, as I had before, appeal to the Bible, but since so many different Christians have such different interpretations and understandings of the Bible, that just extended the problem. The Bible is supposed to be the guidebook and touchstone of the faith, the objective standard of God’s Truth, the standard by which understandings and interpretations of God’s will are to be measured. Yet it suffered from the same problems of having to understand and interpret it as does God’s alleged will. Christians of different types interpreted the Bible in conflicting ways, each group just as sure that their interpretation is the right one. Besides, other people viewed, and were inspired and changed by other sets of scriptures that did nothing for me, while my set of scriptures did nothing for them. My certainties, I reluctantly had to admit, were not necessarily all that certain.”

All Things Are Not Equal

Now all things being equal, Hobbs’ indictment might be quite daunting.

If, for instance, every Christian began the search for understanding on a perfectly equal footing — that is to say with identical default assumptions, background, training and study tools; with an identical amount of time to devote to the study; with precisely equivalent levels of commitment, intelligence, education and spiritual maturity; with a correspondingly equal level of open-mindedness about new ideas; and if there were no innate differences between the sexes, and all men and all women thought alike and studied alike; not to mention that it would be necessary to all start our studies at the same time — then we should rightly expect all believers to arrive at the same place in our understanding, shouldn’t we? We would reasonably anticipate that every believer would come to the same conclusions about what the Bible teaches and to apply them the same way.

But as should be obvious to any rational being including Kendall Hobbs that not only is this rarely the case, it is never the case. No two individuals in the history of the world have ever begun in precisely the same place at the same time to search out the same truth.

Howling and Bleating

Further, those who announce to us that “Christians disagree” rarely have the perspicacity to tell wheat from weeds, to recognize the snake in the woodpile or distinguish howling from bleating. Christendom is full of those who are either merely playing church or are actively trying to destroy it. This is not a surprise. The Head of the Church predicted it and the apostles warned of it.

How can anyone tell us “Christians disagree” if they are not equipped to identify genuine faith in the first place?

Small wonder that, whether from outside or inside the faith, it appears that Christians often disagree. But such disagreement is precisely what any reasonable person should expect. What is amazing is not that so many Christians disagree about God’s will, the content of the faith and how it ought to be applied.

What’s amazing is that we ever agree at all.

That They May All Be One

The Lord Jesus prayed this prayer of his Father:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Has the Father failed to answer the prayer of his beloved Son on the eve of his greatest extremity? Surely not. But we must understand what he was asking for.

The oneness of believers is not mathematical; it is not the one-to-one correspondence of data to like data on the other side of an equal sign. It is not the oneness of the die cutter. It is not the forced unity of an army or the monotonous chant of the brainwashed. The oneness of believers is the oneness of the symphony, the oneness of a body, the oneness of family: a unity in which vastly differing individual parts play vastly different roles but all are equally members and all are incomplete without the others.

I Am One With ...

I am one with the intolerant Christian. He is the white blood cell in the Body of Christ, primed to attack disease and ward off enemy attack. He sees dangers I don’t, even if I sometimes find his ferocity scary and hard to relate to.

I am one with the too-tolerant Christian, who in the spirit of charity puts up with things she shouldn’t. At her best she does it out of a devoted heart, not intending the compromises that often result.

I am one with the intellectual Christian, though I don’t share his interest in minutiae. It may be that he will bring to light a truth long-ignored or an obscure detail in scripture that will bring glory to our Saviour.

I am one with the Christian dullard who knows far less than I do but practices it far more consistently.

I am one with the mature Christian, even though she challenges and often irritates me because she succeeds where I fail.

I am one with the immature Christian, even when I find myself laughing inside at his naïve interpretations and despairing as to whether there is any way to get through to him.

I am one with all real, true believers in Jesus Christ from every moment in history and throughout every inch of the globe, whether or not we agree about the specific interpretation of this verse or that one, and even where our differences in understanding are so vast as to appear irreconcilable to those who only see and think in externals.

The Horror of the Collective

Each believer will give his own account to God, and therefore each believer must develop at his or her own speed, consistent with the conscience God has given and in the freedom for which Christ has set us free.

That means you are I are unlikely to be in the same exact place doctrinally at any given moment, even if we are both genuinely saved and growing, and even when we fellowship at the same church for years.

The alternative to the organic growth of each individual is the horror of the collective. History is full of ideologies that caused large numbers of people to walk together in lockstep: Hitler’s German, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China. Fear, force and propaganda may achieve the appearance of unity, but appearance is all it is.

They WILL All Be One

Still, complete agreement among Christians is not a lost cause. We are not to despair of it. But it is also not to be expected in this life between large numbers of believers at the same moment. It is precious to the Lord Jesus precisely because it is so rare. He responds to it because it matters to him:
“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.”
That should be a great relief to us all, because if we needed a quorum of believers to get anything done, we’d all be toast.

And Christians are all moving toward the same place in our thinking. Even if some of us are far behind on the trail. Even if some of us stagger and crawl as others leap and run. Even if some of us are doing it so slowly that only the Lord sees any movement at all.

After all, that’s the reason he made us one in the first place: so that by exercising the spiritual gifts he has given the different members of the Body, we would minister to each other:
“… until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
But until we have all reached that goal, the expectation that any arbitrary cross-section of believers at different stages of development will ever agree down to the last detail about God’s will, his Word or how we ought to follow it is, to be charitable, horribly naïve.

Walking in lockstep is not the same as being one.

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