by Alexei Laushkin
In the Fall of 2017, KMS participated in and hosted various events to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. Many of these events used the series This Changed Everything to help be an anchor for discussion.
One of Bishop Barron’s points is particularly noteworthy. He says that if Martin Luther had stayed within the Roman Catholic Church and events had been different there would have been a Lutheran Order in the church today (similar to the Franciscans or Dominicans). One Roman Catholic friend added that what helped him see the Reformation differently from when he grew up, was the idea that this was really a controversy in Western Catholicism to begin with.
These two thoughts and my own ecumenical experiences have helped me practically synthesize a few ongoing observations about ongoing Christian differences and the sin of disunity or that of actively tearing down the body of Christ.
Theological difference is in some ways to be expected in a multipart body, and even amidst our present day divisions, there is still the active sin of disunity. When one part falls to understood or comprehend another part of the body and seeks to tear it down, we are witnessing the sin of disunity.
How many Christians grew up in an environment where a particular kind of Christian was suspect? Maybe as a Roman Catholic it was the Lutherans, maybe as Reformed Christian the Pentecostals, or for the Anglican the mega-church Evangelical. Without knowing or understanding the other, how many participated in conversations that quickly belittled or besmirched the other. Or how many times have you caught yourself thinking, well there a Christian but its really in spite of their Catholicism or Anglicanism.
This is one of the many signs and fruits of the sins of disunity. An unfamiliarity with the other, but also and particularly the actions used to take down the other. There is much we can do to remedy unfamiliarity and as a ministry KMS exists to help bridge the gap, but even as we learn, we can refrain from the active bringing the other down.
Christian difference is what one should expect out of the Lord who created and enabled every tribe and culture according to its kind. Christian difference is a given, and yet we are called to work for the unity and strengthening of the body.
This gets us to one of the great scriptural verses for understanding Christian difference. 1 Corinthians 12, and for our purposes 12-27:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
Putting on the framework, for a moment, of the idea that we are all part of one church already (in one sense we are through the Kingdom of God) than one of the problems we have is how do we handle diversity and difference. We have parts of the body that would not naturally associate with each other, by virtue of being at different points of the body. Ones fingers have little natural reason to be near ones back for instance, or similarly the elbow has little occasion to be near ones feet. Its an imperfect way to say that one by-product of being transformed and confirmed to Christ (as Christians) and part of our original createdness in being made into the image of God, is a type of diversity which creates some very distinct differences.
In my mind this helps us not see difference as destroying the body of Christ, but instead as being part of the promise of being part of that very body. And that difference in and of itself is not a barrier to being part of one visible church on earth.
What destroys the body and tears it down today (even with our natural fracturedness) is the active fighting between us. I don’t mean the act of disagreeing or the important work of understanding and reconciling theological difference, or working through what it means to be part of one corporal body (as in what would it mean for us all to be part of one church, and what would such a church look like) or even should more bilaterally should Methodists and Episcopalians come to full communion and agreement or can Pentecostals serve in Southern Baptist churches.
What I mean is that very insidious act of tearing down one another, or on a personal level, when I as a person go out of my way to take down, gossip, argue, and personally anathematize and break fellowship with a pastor or leader who I might dislike, or where there might be ongoing sin, or severe disagreement.When I’m in conflict with another do I look to contain the conflict to the actual points of disagreement or do I go out of my way, like Cain murdering Abel, in vengeance and jealousy to kill my brother or sister in my heart and even take steps to actively harm.
It’s not the differences, the sins, and challenges, it’s the personal act of tearing down one another inwardly and outwardly through (tweets, blogs, malicious talk, press conferences, and teachings). It’s the personal dehumanizing between Christians that breaks the unity of the Body of Christ.
Even though we aren’t part of one church, or one localized body, nor are we similar in our theology or our understandings there is still sin that continues to diminish the Unity of the Body of Christ that falls short of the perfect love that we are called to dwell in.
We are given some measure of unity being part of one kingdom and serving one Lord and Savior, and even in the midst of ongoing differences, we can commit the sin of disunity in the way we relate with one another.
I think as we ponder our attitudes towards those that are different than us, we can actively choose to refrain from the sin of disunity by taking the sins that may exist between peoples and movements and saying I will not further the devils work in these divisions. I have no need to make matters worse.
Because the fact of the matter is what we deal with poorly on earth on a personal level will be brought up and reconciled in very personal ways in the life to come. We can’t escape not relating to our brother or sister well, especially if we are going to share space with them in that heavenly city.
Alexei Laushkin is the Executive Director of Kingdom Mission Society