One of the negative impacts of social media on our society is that anyone who knows how to communicate well is automatically accepted as an expert, or at least as someone to be followed and quoted. In truth, maybe all they really need is an opinion that happens to fit well with other people’s in order to get followed. There are no credentials necessary. There is no life experience necessary. Credibility is “earned” merely by being a particularly gifted or innovative communicator. That notion is both refreshing and scary at the same time. And nowhere is it becoming more of a nuisance than in the church.
Last week’s Christian social media posts were filled with comments about World Vision’s President, Richard Stearns’ comment to Christianity Today that his organization would now be willing to hire legally married gay couples to work there, and then the organization’s subsequent quick reversal of that decision. As you might imagine, Facebook posts and blog posts (and Christ-followers’ comments on both) lit up the internet. No surprise…it was just the next in what has become a long series of school-yard brawls around LGBT issues within the church. They always draw a crowd. And, of course, the damage to the church is immeasurable. You can hear the chorus of those outside the church: “And THAT is why I will never go to church again.”
There are a lot of reasons why Christ-followers are going to be on opposite sides of the LGBT issues for some time to come…too many reasons to get into here. Maybe we will explore all those reasons in other posts. In the meantime, it is this Christian mediator’s professional opinion that agreement …
Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. Acts 15:36-40
I honestly cannot even imagine how difficult being on a mission trip with the apostle Paul would have been. It seems to me you would be hard-pressed to find a more driven, intense “missionary” in the entire Bible than Paul. He seems to have worked tirelessly through very long days and he seems to have pushed himself and his fellow laborers to extremes. Being on mission with Paul would not be for the faint-hearted. So, just between you and me, I don’t blame young John Mark one bit for bailing on Paul in Pamphylia. I am sure that young man felt utterly overwhelmed by it all.
But oh what I wouldn’t give to have been a fly on the wall during that later conflict between the two teachers, Paul & Barnabas, over this very incident. Paul would have argued vehemently that the mission field is no place for quitters and that he had no time to be babysitting when he could be out teaching. He would have pointed out that John Mark literally left them holding the bag when he quit on them in the middle of that mission trip. Barnabas, ever the …
My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”…Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? 1 Corinthians 1:11-12; 3:1-4
The milk/solid food metaphor was apparently popular in the early church. Paul used it. The writer of Hebrews used it. Peter used it. Some metaphors just work so well, they “catch on” and make the rounds, I suppose. It strikes me that this metaphor probably conjured up different images for the early church than it does for us today. When we think of babies drinking milk today, we may have images of bottles or sippy cups going through our minds. But in the days of the early church, I suspect the images were more of babies breast-feeding or perhaps of baby animals being fed by their mother. It was the very natural process of the mother digesting the solid food for the babies and then passing it on to them through her milk. Bottom line: being on a milk diet was the most helpless, immature form of existence.
Another interesting thing about this metaphor is that, when you or I read it in scripture, …
“He who no longer is listening to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
If I am honest with myself, I must admit that my ability to hear God speak through you is directly related to how much “agreement” you and I have on issues which are important to me. The more we disagree, the less we listen to each other. In turn, the less we listen to each other as Christians, the further we get from experiencing unity. But understand this: it is not disagreement that kills our unity…it is our inability to manage that disagreement.
Anyone involved in a peacemaking ministry to Christians will tell you that doctrinal differences are by far the most difficult differences for Christians to work through. It is one thing to say “In essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; and in all things, charity” (a saying often attributed to Augustine), but we Christians cannot even agree on what is essential and what is not. 50 years ago, one’s millenial view was considered by many to be essential. Today, one’s view of inerrancy of scripture is considered by many to be essential. Who knows what the hot-button issue will be for the next generation? And so, how you see certain “litmus test” issues of mine will determine my willingness to hear God speak through you on other matters.
For as long as I have been alive (and surely for much longer than that), peacemakers have struggled to get conflicted parties beyond their points of disagreement in order to agree on some other issues, i.e., in order to find some common ground elsewhere. That, I suppose, is one of the real challenges to the global church today. I am not talking here about some watered-down, ecumenical revolution …