We aren’t as strong as we think we are.
Heaven-hell cycles seem to be speeding up. So small was the latest cycle that those of us who are Americans couldn’t make it a week after merrily ringing in a new, unsoiled year before seeing radicals breaking windows and scaling walls of our own US Capitol. On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, our stomachs sank as we saw photos of lawn nooses, Confederate flags, barricaded doors, and senators huddled in fear. As a nation we are not as strong as we think we are.
Capitol Hill became, for more than one protester, the hill to die on.
One of the great disappointments of 2020 was seeing Christians die on the wrong hills. We’ve all shaken our heads after hearing stories about churches splitting for stupid reasons. “Can you believe that some churches have split over the color of the carpet?” Crazy, we think. And yet some of our richly-resourced, multi-staffed churches of 2020 threatened to tear apart over what to do with even thinner strips of cloth—called masks.
We are not as strong as we think we are.
Many churches need to go back to school for a great many lessons. Our 2020 grade card show us barely passing in some core classes, such as prayer and fasting, compassion, and disciple making.
In addition to these, however, there’s a new class we ought to consider enrolling in as quickly as possible: Hills to Die On 101.
We need a Masterclass taught by Jesus. At least two of the lectures would be called “Hills to die On” and “Hills to Withdraw From.” These would deal with being able to tell a good hill for dying on from a bad one. In John 6, we read about Jesus withdrawing from a hill that was presented to Him by a zealous mob:
After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself (John 6:14-15).
Jesus relinquished mediocre hills so He could set His focus on the one which would accomplish the most for the world. As His final Passover approached, Jesus recognized the hill He’d been called to:
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:23-25).
As Biden’s electoral dominance made no signs of wobbling, a prominent Evangelical leader urged his followers to make reversing the results the hill to die on: “We need to fight to the death, to the last drop of blood, because it’s worth it.”
Yet the apostle Peter was insistent that Jesus’ followers reject mock martyrdoms:
If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name (1 Peter 4:15-16).
Dear friends, please choose your hill wisely.
A violently divided nation is scary. And so is one in which there is no room for dissent, such as a totalitarian North Korea. It’s unity in diversity that’s beautiful. Unity in diversity is even suggested in our nation’s singular-plural name: the United States.
And it’s a grace-based unity amid political and cultural diversity that our churches are meant to model. If we can love each other well amid mask debates and political disagreements, then we can show a wounded nation the way forward.
If there are political differences within your church, then praise God! That means that you haven’t circled-the-wagons so tightly that outsiders won’t ever feel welcome. Differences also mean that you’ve got a great starting point for living out the biblical commands to “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11) and to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). You can’t seek peace with people who blandly agree in every detail as if the gathering were a political cult rather than a church.
Do not make the eradication of political differences within your church your hill. Instead, use those political differences as the opportunity to clarify and unify around the convictions that matter most to Jesus and grow stronger as a result.
Dear friends, please choose your hill wisely.
What are the convictions that matter most to Jesus? At Renew.org, we have prayerfully and carefully crafted a threefold categorization which helps churches major in the majors.
The three elements of faith are “essential,” “important,” and “personal.”
As we close out this plea for unity and discernment in a season of division and chaos, we would like to end with a section from the Renew.org belief statement which describes the three elements of our faith: “essential,” “important,” and “personal.” We hope that this threefold categorization helps you as you navigate 2021 and labor toward a stronger church.
We believe the Scriptures reveal three distinct elements of the faith: essential elements which are necessary for salvation; important elements which are to be pursued so that we faithfully follow Christ; and personal elements or opinion. The gospel is essential. Every person who is indwelt and sealed by God’s Holy Spirit because of their faith in the gospel is a brother or a sister in Christ. Important but secondary elements of the faith are vital. Our faithfulness to God requires us to seek and pursue them, even as we acknowledge that our salvation may not be dependent on getting them right. And thirdly, there are personal matters of opinion, disputable areas where God gives us personal freedom. But we are never at liberty to express our freedom in a way that causes others to stumble in sin. In all things, we want to show understanding, kindness, and love.
We watched the news in helplessness on January 6. Today, let the world watch the church in hopefulness as they see us love well.