One of my earliest church memories is about anger and division.
Our pastor and his family had attended a conference. They returned to our church in great excitement the next week. In sharing their experience, they said "and we learned a new song that we'd like to teach you all." So our pastor got out his guitar, his wife and daughters joined him at the front, and they began to sing. "Clap your hands all ye people, shout unto God with a voice of triumph. Clap your hands, all ye people, shout unto God with a voice of praise. Hosanna! Hosanna! Shout unto God with a voice of triumph! Praise Him! Praise Him! Shout unto God with a voice of praise!"
Our organist was not amused. She (as I remember) slammed the lid on the organ and stormed out the back, declaring that "if those guitars ever show up in our church again, I'm leaving for good!"
Little did I know that I had seen an early volley in what would become The Great Worship Wars, a battle that would rage throughout the Christian church. And little did I know that I would still witness skirmishes in the same war almost 4 decades later.
I've lived through numerous variations on this war; I've endured horrendous church splits that found their energy in this same battle. People screaming at each other about the value of their "choruses" and the worthlessness of "those old hymns" (and vice versa). People spitting nails over the issue of where to put the piano. People claiming their way as the "true biblical way" and the other as "a danger to the church."
But this post isn't really about the worship wars. It's about all the ways people draw lines in the sand, claiming a moral high ground, proclaiming their way the "one true biblical way" and all others a faulty danger to God's work in the world.
I've seen it over and over and over. The issue changes, but the game is played the same way. "My way is God's way, and all others are scoundrels and heretics and worthy of much condemnation."
You know the issues:
- spiritual gifts
- women's rights
- wearing hats in church
And just this last week we've witnessed it all over again as the infamous Ham and Nye debate took place over the issue of evolution vs. young-earth-creationism.
And I just want to say: I am so tired of it all. It almost makes me want to get off the internet completely.
No, I'm not tired of the issues; they are of extreme importance. What I am tired of is the posturing, the bombastic gatekeepers who seek to proclaim their one understanding of truth as God's Truth. The ones throwing grenades at the other side. "It's not just creation, it's the entire scripture that is at stake!" The ones breathlessly tossing out tired tropes that come from fear and anxiety, rather than a seeking after truth.
My friend Wes, speaking of the debate, put it so well: "
On issues of faith, the only thing that has ever made a real change in
my position was the examples set by people living out their faith. I've
got friends posting on both sides of this debate. If we took the time
spent watching it, and spent it having a meal together, we might
actually accomplish something worth the time spent."
Instead, the internets are filling up with people whose only interest is defending their position at all costs.
Out of everything I learned in seminary, this one stands out: in Galatians, when Paul talks about confronting Peter after Peter had given into the circumcision group, he doesn't challenge Peter about his theological position. Instead, this is what got Paul so hot and bothered: "For before certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group."
Did you get that? Paul doesn't argue theology. His offense is over division in the body, a refusal to come to the table with people who don't agree with a certain belief. Peter wasn't challenged for his belief; he was challenged for dividing the body.
Belief is important. Doctrine has its place. But when any Christian says to another "I can't worship with you because of your musical tastes," or "You're a lesser Christian because you believe in evolution" (or, as John MacArthur says, "You can't be a Christian if you believe in evolution,"), or as some will say "You can't be a Christian if you are accepting of homosexuals," or, when somebody says to me "you are a danger to the church because your approach to innerancy is a little sketchy," or fill in all the rest - how you dress, what Bible translation you use, whether or not you speak in tongues - when any Christian speaks this way, they are committing the same sin as Peter, and, ironically, become the ones who are actually dangerous to the Body of Christ.
And what of judgment? Peter shows us the way. He confronted Peter. And so, we would do well to call these people out on their sin of dividing the church that is made One in Christ. It is not ours to draw lines in the sand to predetermine who's in and who's out. It's ours to share table fellowship with people with whom we disagree and say "show me where Christ is working in you."
So, let's review:
Going on the internet and finding all the people who hold positions we don't like, and then dumping our condemnation and judgment on them: BAD
Doing the hard work of getting to know people, even people with whom we strongly disagree, and sharing life together because we're both saved through the same saving action of Jesus: GOOD