Bringing Down The Walls

Photo by Benoit Rochon

Photo by Benoit Rochon

The Lord’s Supper is a perfect coming-together time for the church. Yesterday, I talked about some thoughts I’ll be sharing on how Jesus tears down walls. These thoughts will be delivered as communion thoughts, which is highly appropriate.

Christians around the world join in this remembrance. Our songs may sound different, our prayers offered in different languages, but we all take bread and drink from the vine.

Our churches often end up segmented by age groups, but the Lord’s Table marks a coming together of all ages. Longtime members and first-time visitors are on an equal plane. Gender differences melt away. All walls are torn down.

“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (1 Corinthians 10:16–17)

That’s why we work to tear down walls as well. The wall of enmity between brothers. The wall of unfamiliarity. The wall of political disaccord. The wall of doctrinal disagreement. The wall of rivalry and power struggles. All walls.

Jesus set an example, tearing down that incredible wall that separated Jew and Gentile. Now his followers continue that task, attacking and destroying the walls that separate mankind, preventing them from infecting the church.

See a wall? Tear it down.

Tearing Down the Walls

Photo by Benoit Rochon

Photo by Benoit Rochon

This Sunday, I get to share some thoughts about Ephesians 2:11–22. It’s a passage with powerful imagery about Jesus tearing down the wall between Jews and Gentiles. It’s hard for us to imagine today what that meant for them. Maybe if we imagine an Arabic couple, the man with a turban and the wife with her burka, coming in and sitting by a family of Orthodox Jews. What Jesus did in bringing all men together was truly remarkable.

I was thinking about the word xenophobia. We use it to mean fear of (or prejudice toward) foreigners. From what I know of Greek (which ain’t much, folks), that meaning could be extended to anyone who wasn’t a part of your immediate group. Anyone who was a stranger or an outsider. As far as I know, that word doesn’t appear in the Bible.

But it’s opposite does. Philoxenos, the love of strangers (or guests… interesting that the word for guest was also the word for foreigner). It’s translated as hospitality. It’s a laudable trait and a commanded attitude for Christians.

The world builds walls between people, walls based on race, color, ethnicity, age, gender, political outlook, religious opinion… many things. Jesus came to tear down such walls. He came so that we could truly say:

“Here there is no Greek or Jew,
circumcised or uncircumcised,
barbarian, Scythian, slave or free,
but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

and

“There is neither Jew nor Greek,
slave nor free,
male nor female,
for you are all one
in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Us and Them in the church

dog and catI wanted to continue the discussion about “us” and “them” in the church. I think one of the greatest challenges that Christians continually face is this question of groups/factions/cliques/parties within the church.

On the one hand, let’s accept the fact that we are always going to find those with whom we feel more affinity than others. It’s okay to have friends. As I heard Lynn Anderson say once, it’s okay to have circles in the church if everyone is in a circle.

I’m talking about rivalries. That feeling that “they” are trying to do something that “we” don’t want them to. Sometimes it’s about language. Oftentimes it happens based on age. Sometimes it’s about outlooks. It can be about worship styles, preaching styles, songbooks or pew Bibles.

The problem is, for most of us, this suspicion of “them” arises time and again throughout our Christian life. It’s not a one-time decision, but a continual choice to NOT label, to NOT distrust, to NOT scheme to get our way instead of their way.

We need to emphasize the things that unite us, for they trump all that may divide. In Christ, there is no us nor them, there is only we Christians, we church members, we brothers in Christ.

I’d like to hear your suggestions as to how to overcome the natural tendency to be factious.

photo from MorgueFile.com and Longridge Kennels

Can we support those with whom we don’t agree?

Beheading of Anabaptist Martyrs (Rembrandt)

Goshen College has been in the news a lot this year. This small school in Indiana was founded by believers steeped in the Anabaptist tradition, specifically Amish and Mennonites.

In keeping with their beliefs in peacemaking, Goshen College did not play the national anthem at school activities. In 2010, school officials decided that as a gesture of hospitality toward visiting athletic teams, they would begin to play the anthem at sporting events.

Their was a strong outcry among their alumni, leading the administration to return to the policy their school had practiced for over 100 years. That’s when the national media jumped in, especially Fox News. Reports came out that the school had “banned” the national anthem, and patriots everywhere denounced this act. [Anabaptists have been persecuted for centuries because of their views. As someone said on Facebook, “during the Reformation, the one thing that Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists could all agree on is that Anabaptists ought to die.”]

I’m not surprised that groups like Fox News would jump on Goshen. What’s been sad to me is to see the Christians that have done the same. Even if we don’t agree with them, shouldn’t we support a school that makes an unpopular decision based on Christian principles? Someone who stands up for their convictions despite the ridicule of non-Christians?

[A sports writer in Oklahoma had an interesting take yesterday, not as a Christian, but as a citizen of the U.S. He wrote:

The decision brought home the true dichotomy in the debate of freedom of religious expression and paying homage to the nation that enables such freedoms.

Clearly, the school has the right to play or not play any song it wants and it would run counter to everything our many valiant, brave citizens and soldiers have given in the fight for freedom.

It would be ironic if a school were forced to play a song that celebrates the birth of a nation born out of the desire for freedom.

You can read his whole article here.]

Maybe I’m only saying that because I’m sympathetic to their position. (There’s a well-written explanation of one alumnus’ views in this article title “Why I Don’t Sing The Star-Spangled Banner“) So I’ll look for input from you. Should we support those who stand up for their convictions even when we don’t agree with them?

Let me point out, as the discussion begins, that Goshen only changed what the school does as an official organism. They did not ban the anthem, as has been wrongly reported in the press. They do not forbid other schools playing the anthem when Goshen is the visiting team. They don’t burn flags nor beat up soldiers. I feel that their stand is different from that of some who try to impose their views on others or flaunt their views in the face of others. Goshen’s decision affected what they did on their own campus.

Is this a time for Christians to stand united or are their bigger principles in play here?

Unity for Christ’s sake

Once again, the comments section on this blog is proving to be the most enlightening part. If you haven’t had a chance to do so, read over the comments from Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s posts. Lots of good, insightful discussion.

I’ve heard it said that David Lipscomb taught that it was a sin for a member of the churches of Christ not to attend the congregation closest to his home. (That would make sinners out of a lot of people in Abilene!) I see some merit in the idea. I think we’ve been too quick to find a congregation that fits our tastes rather than pausing to see if God is trying to shape our views through the people around us.

That’s a hard one for me to do, yet I fully believe that the Bible is to be interpreted in community. We tend to be very individualistic with our faith, be it concerning our salvation or be it about our beliefs. The Hebrew mindset was much more community oriented.

I’m not arguing for unity for unity’s sake. I’m arguing for unity for Christ’s sake. For the good of the body. Yes, there are critical issues on which we much agree, but none of these critical issues allows us to leave love by the wayside. (just ask the Ephesian church addressed in Revelation 2!) There will be extreme moments where separation is the only answer, but these should be few and far between.

In the United States, we often have the luxury of being able to leave one group to find another where we are more comfortable. I’m not sure that luxury has served the body well. I’m wondering if we wouldn’t do better if we were forced to try and work through our differences in love, forced to find reconciliation and restoration. In places where there are no alternatives, Christians are forced to stay together and learn to get along.

I’m largely preaching to me here, reminding myself of things that should never have been forgotten. When I get full of myself, believing that I have all the answers and that my way is the right way, I need to remember that those hard-headed, closed-minded people are the temple of the Holy Spirit. And maybe, just maybe, God has something to tell me through them.

(Any resemblance to persons now living or dead is purely coincidental)