I'll try to keep this one short and to the point because I know that long posts can be off-putting and I'd really like to hear what people think about this.
One of the most significant ideas I've been pondering the past year or so is that of unity, particularly the passage found in John 17, verses 20-26, I'll post the text:
Jesus Prays for All Believers20“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. 25“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Issues come and issues go but that passage has remained in my mind for a while now and strikes me as significant. For one, we hear here a prayer of Christ towards the end of His life. Second, His prayer is for "those who will believe in me through [the disciples'] message", a prayer for both you and I, from the mouth of Christ! Finally, and here's the thing, it almost sounds to me as though He desires to make the Church, the body of believers, His followers, the fourth member of the Trinity, if there were or could be such a thing. Jesus prays here for unity between all believers, and in speaking to the nature of this unity He refers to the nature of unity found in God Himself! Now that blows my mind entirely, but more than that, it challenges me.
On a related note, I was also drawn to think of 'the fellowship of the Holy Spirit' shared by all believers and how we all share an individual fellowship with that one single Person. A Person who is not divided in Himself but who is perhaps the definition of unity, and I wonder whether that shared fellowship doesn't suggest that as partakers we should in fact be drawing nearer to unity.
Bearing all this in mind, I've been finding it difficult to understand the behaviour of people I often come across within the Church, and which finds a parallel within the world of political discussion. Working within the world of talk radio I hear how the show hosts speak passionately about the values and ideas they strongly believe in. I hear how they strive and speak for change and to get people to think, and then, I hear them use tools which cripple their efforts. Sarcasm, derision, insults, or just otherwise making fun of callers or their views. I realise that in talk radio there's money to be made and a 'good' show to be maintained. Insults and cutting wit make for attractive radio and ensure that you keep your listeners, even gaining them at the expense of the few you directly drive off.
In the Church though, I don't understand how the same practises are found and no attempt is made to overcome or change them. If you're speaking out on matters of faith and it concerns an issue of change or difference, then I cannot see how insult, sarcasm, or poking fun helps anything. None of us came to Christ by any of those means, we came instead through His love and patience and now I hear Him calling me to treat others the same way. I understand that often times, much of this comes from hurt and the need to express that offence. I bear no condemnation or criticism for you and I cannot speak specifically to that issue for anyone reading this now, but I would urge that you to work at dealing with that hurt that you may be free from it, the pain it brings and the further hurt it may cause. It may be true that in healing that wound, someone else's help is needed it occurs to me that this speaks again to the importance of unity and of love. Of being able to come together to help one another rather than building walls. Some walls may be needed for protection, I am not expert on psychology, but I do know that the openess, love and support of a family help tremendously in bringing healing, and though it may not have been true in your experience, I believe God intended His Church to be an ever-expanding family of loving people supporting one another, healing, and helping to make the changes necessary for a better, more joyful and happy life.
And does this not speak to need for greater unity, love and patience within the Church? I am truly sorry for those people who not had the blessing of family in Church that I have had, yet I am convinced that a unified Church, and a Church that works to overcome differences with love is the intention and will of God. That whatever the issues are outside the Church, and whatever a believer's own position on an issue it seems to me that all believers' intentions and actions should by guided by or aimed towards the heart of God; seeking to draw nearer to Him in knowledge and experience.The partisanship I see within the Church frustrates me, particularly when I see it in or hear it from those closest to me, or whom I know should know better.
I have no ideals of everyone believing exactly the same things or of us all joining hands and singing around the world forgetting difference. Difference is good, it adds variety in some arenas and provides challenges for growth in others. I'm talking rather of a practical or working unity. A decision to pursue unity and love in and through all situations, and to spread the love and gospel of Christ. To make much less use of tactics which only increase partisanship and cause offence. In the end I find that they only serve to reinforce those who hold the same view and not attract any of those from the 'other side'. Even if a good point is made in this way, it only makes it harder for an individual to overcome their pride in changing view - feeling offended or beaten.
If you're a Christian and I disagree with you I have no room to belittle you or cast you aside, for Christ would not and does not. The same of course goes for those not a part of the body of Christ, although I think the sad truth is that most Christians have no problem treating non-Christians nicely - only their own brothers and sisters.
I'll end the post here since I think I've expressed myself and at greater length than I originally intended. Ultimately, I think the challenge is for Christian apologists, critics, writers or whatever to make use of more developed and mature forms of communication and persuasion, seeking to exclude none, nor create division, with one's writing whilst preserving the challenge.
Hear the call of Christ, "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."