Ephesians 2:14-17 describes Jesus as a unifier that broke down walls of separation and brought us all near to God. One of the most amazing things about being a Christian is that we all share equality in the eyes of our creator (Gal.3:28). Still, in our human imperfection, we have built all sorts of divisions that fly in the face of the unity that we should share as God’s children. Over the next several weeks, I will be sharing a series of posts about “bridging the gaps” between us with the goal of figuring out how to achieve the unity that Jesus himself prayed for before he was crucified (John 17:20-21).
In this first installment, we will discuss some of the external factors that cause discomfort even among mature Christians. While one article will certainly not remedy these issues, it is significant for us to even have these discussions. Many times, we do not even realize that we have subdivisions based on worldly differences, but we find ourselves clinging to our own homogenous groups. Below are some of those problematic divisions:
Unfortunately, on Sunday mornings from 11 until noon our nation is still as segregated as it was in the 1950’s. While many would argue that this is by choice, it’s time that we get over ourselves and learn to worship together. I can almost guarantee that as we praise God for all eternity we will not be concerned with different worship styles and how long the sermons are. Still, as we languish in a world that is plagued by sensationalism and uncontrollable use of the pronouns “we” and “they,” we must learn to set the example as Christians. We shouldn’t be satisfied until congregations of the Lord’s body never wear the title predominantly white, black, or Hispanic. We also should not pretend that racism does not exist in the world we live in!
I am blessed to preach at a congregation in the North Georgia mountains that has become popular among tourists and retirees. As a result, our church family is split about 50/50 between those that were born and raised in Ellijay and those outsiders that have moved in from out of town. I was reminded again on Saturday of those cultural differences during our Men’s Fish Fry. One of the local men made the comment that the potatoes would taste better with ramps in them. You can imagine the look on my face as I imagined two pieces of wood placed in the middle of the platter of potatoes only to be told that ramps are a regional vegetable similar to onions that are popular in our area. That’s just one example of cultural misunderstandings that can plague church families. As I have grown into adulthood I have learned to embrace cultural differences including making pasteles (look them up) with my Puerto Rican in-laws during the holidays. We must love our differences instead of looking upon them with disdain. We grew up in different places, but we are all striving to get to the same place when this world is over!
When I started preaching I promised that I would never talk about financial issues. It’s uncomfortable, and we risk offending people. The only problem is that biblical writers talk about it all the time! While our socioeconomic differences are more complex than just how much money we have in the bank, our status often separates us. God obviously foresaw this, and the Holy Spirit gave us a tremendous amount of guidance on the issue. Go read the Book of James! The neighborhood we grew up in, the title we hold at work, and which car we drive off the lot are of no consequence in God’s eyes. Why do they matter to us? We must embrace the poor and struggling in our communities without looking at the rich with contempt. The Gospel is for all!
4) Religious Background
As Christians, religious differences are and must be a dividing line. We are charged with standing for the truth while trying to share its saving message with the world around us. However, I think we often section ourselves off based on where we came from religiously. Just because someone comes from a different religious background, there is no asterisk by their name when they accept the truth! I understand that we may have differences in terminology and understanding based on whether or not we grew up in the Lord’s Church, but we should realize that out traditions are only traditions, and we should teach those who are new to the Church which issues and terms are of doctrinal consequence.
Take yourself back to the high school cafeteria for a moment and remember the painfully stratified caste system that defined the experiences of most students. The jocks, the geeks, the band members, the glee club, the cheerleaders, and even the teachers and staff all trying to find a place to belong. This same narrative exists within the cliques that plague each church family. We all have differences in personality, but these should never be value judgments. We should always be looking to expand our horizons and get outside our comfort zones, but crossing over the dividing lines is of the utmost importance among the children of God.
Next week, we will look how age differences are a major problem in churches and how we can seek to find unity among the generations. I realize that as people we are unique, and it is often strange to be around those that are different. However, our Savior died so that we could be unified in spite of our racial, cultural, socioeconomic differences and no matter what background we came from or how quirky our personality is!
“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To God our Savior, Who alone is wise, Be glory and majesty, Dominion and power, Both now and forever. Amen.”
– Jude 24-25 (NKJV)