The church can be amusing. You’ve seen those church reader board photos floating around the internet, “Free Dinner – All Welcome – Come and Enjoy our Hostility.” Then you have your “bulletin bloopers” like, “The ushers will eat latecomers” or “Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community.”
The church can be confusing too. What, after all does a Presbyterian believe or do that an Episcopalian or a Lutheran doesn’t? I sometimes feel sorry for the poor soul who needs a dictionary just to cry out to God for help.
I’m ok that the church comes in many flavors, wears many labels, and gathers in diverse meeting places. What bothers me is our failure to know, appreciate, and be strengthened by our differences. The Church of Jesus Christ is balanced in her breadth. But in any given local assembly she can be imbalanced. Part of that is a pendulum effect. The divisions mostly occurred as corrections to perceived imbalances. But part of it is just the isolation of churches holed up under their historic label with little opportunity to find the vitality of faith, prayer, love, and mission that resides just down the street.
A recent stunning image of persecution and martyrdom captured our attention. Twenty-one Egyptian Coptics, Christians of one of the earliest streams of the Church, were summarily beheaded on a Libyan beach. Pope Francis offered a heartfelt and captivating response: “The blood of our Christian brothers is a witness that cries out. If they are Catholic, Orthodox, Copts, Lutherans, it is not important: They are Christians. The blood is the same: It is the blood which confesses Christ.”
Suffering and blood gave occasion for a deep sense of Christian unity. Historic division became secondary. Doctrinal differences were laid aside for the moment. Only one commonality mattered. Followers of Christ confess Him as Lord even unto death.
In the earliest history of the church called The Acts of the Apostles, we read that after the martyrdom of Stephen, “a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” The global spread of the Good News of Jesus began in ugly persecution, even martyrdom.
What if in our time ugly persecutions (and researchers indicate that they are accelerating) would not scatter the church but rather, unite her? What if opposition drove us to one another in such a way that all who confess Christ as Savior and Lord renewed our love for one another. In this way, we could be strengthened to do that radical thing that Jesus called us to do, that is to love even our enemies.
Here’s your homework assignment. If you have no church, visit one. Laugh at the typos in the bulletin, and then look for Jesus there. And if you have a church, visit a different one. Worship God and be enriched by the beauty and breadth of the body of Christ.
Okoboji Bible Conference Ministries