We live in a time of upheaval and confusion. The world doesn’t look like it used to look. We wrestle with bewildering questions and deal with threatening issues. Rock-solid certainties have eroded before our eyes. Anxious for ourselves and afraid for our children, we scramble to find or to create places where we can be comforted and reassured. Many people want the church to be that kind of place, a place where they can be insulated from ambiguity and protected from difficulty. They look to the church to be a place, maybe the one place, where the hard questions do not intrude and where disagreement does not disturb. They want their experience of church to confirm and support what they already think and feel about life, God, and the world. They want to have their current views affirmed, not challenged.
I understand that desire, but I also understand that it wreaks havoc in the church, and it keeps us from experiencing the kind of growth that can only come when we question our assumptions and have our biases challenged. For well over a generation, churches have fought one misguided ideological battle after another, dividing into warring camps usually labeled “conservative” and “liberal.” What we have failed to see is that both camps share a flawed assumption in common. Each believes that what matters most are our opinions on controversial issues rather than the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. Each forgets that the church lives on “good news,” not “good views” [see Jack Haberer’s book GodViews]
For Christians, what matters most are the love, mercy, and grace of God given to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel of Jesus creates a community of friendship in which his love binds together diverse people. His “good news” unifies us, not our agreement on “good views.”
What would it mean for the church to take its stand in the gospel, rather than merely on contemporary controversial issues? It would mean that grace and acceptance would matter more to us than judgment and agreement. We could relate openly to other people, even the people with whom we disagree and of whose behavior we disapprove, because we would remember that all us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It would mean that we could extend compassion rather than insist on conformity. We could embrace those who struggle to walk in the ways of Jesus Christ, even those who haven’t come very far, because we would know that we and they are still in process. It would mean that telling the story of Jesus would be more important than crusading for a particular agenda. We could open the Bible and share fellowship with all people, even the people whose politics and opinions are vastly different than our own, because we would recognize that the power to persuade and convince belongs to the Holy Spirit and not to us. We could live in peace and joy, knowing that all of us have limited knowledge and understanding but that God’s love for us is unlimited. And, we could have confidence that, if we will remain open and questing, we will find our minds and hearts stretched to embrace more and more of life in all its variety and mystery.