Can We Be a Unified Church in a Divided World?
*Editor’s Note: I recently caught up with Renew.org Regional Director Marcos Mercado and asked him some questions about how we can help hold a church together during an incredibly polarizing 2020. How can our churches be characterized by unity in diversity, in a bitterly divided society during a deeply polarizing year?
#1 – 2020 has not only been a difficult time, but it’s turned out to be an incredibly polarized year. How can we keep our churches from fracturing in an election year like this?
For one thing, I’m grateful for the relationships within Renew. Here, we have an openness, a willingness to have dialogue about the times we’re living in. We’re able to have real conversations, without it being hostile, judgmental. When it comes to politics, we’re in this to try to understand each other instead of just trying to convince each other.
I’m grateful that, at Renew, we’re unified on biblical doctrines, but even when it comes to other matters, there is a spirit of humility, a desire to understand each other. That’s the kind of open, honest dialogue we need in our churches.
When it comes to people within the church who are too politically polarizing, we have to realize that there are issues that will tend to divide us rather than unify us. Ultimately church isn’t the platform for that. We don’t have a partisan political agenda. Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus. I like the approach of the (&) Campaign, which emphasizes that you can have political convictions and still show civility and the love of Christ. You can have conviction and compassion.
Here on the East coast, we have people in our churches who are completely on the left politically, and people who are completely on the right. We want to be a church that is inviting to all sorts of people. So it’s important for the leaders to take that stance of being welcoming and civil, without turning the pulpit into the place to take sides on political issues. That tone starts at the top.
#2 – It’s important for our churches to be places which aren’t characterized by division. But how can we go the extra mile and become churches which are truly known for unity in diversity?
You can typically walk in a room and see when unity is real, when it’s not just a forced diversity. You know there’s real unity when you have Christians gathered together from different backgrounds and ethnicities, eating lunch and obviously enjoying themselves. It’s not just a meeting which people are forced to attend, but a gathering of likeminded people who truly enjoy being around each other.
That’s what we’ll experience in Franklin at the annual Gathering. We’ll all grab lunch. It won’t just be the Urban Chapter sitting together. We’ll all break bread together as brothers and sisters.
As far as Scriptures on unity, I like to point people to Acts 2 where people from numerous nations come for the Day of Pentecost and are all baptized into one church in Christ. Also, you have a diverse leadership in the church at Antioch, which is the church which sent Paul and Barnabas out for the missionary journey.
#3 – How can unity be something which is tangibly seen, not just talked about?
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the parable of the Good Samaritan. I think if we want true unity in our churches, we’ve got a lot to learn from that parable. The priest and Levite must have felt fine about their religious lives, but that didn’t meant that they were doing God’s work.
Once, when I was a young leader in a church, I was driving a hatchback, hauling sound equipment, to the church. And my car died in a bad neighborhood. There were drug deals going on within sight of the car. I didn’t have a phone, but if I left the car to find a phone, someone would steal the gear in the car. I didn’t have a way of communicating with people at the church, so I tried to flag people driving by. But no one stopped. Three police officers drove by, and even they didn’t stop.
A guy pulls up in a really nice car. It was a local drug dealer. He had a phone in his car, and so he asked if he could call a tow truck for me. He called and then even came back to check in on me. By then, he had me stay in his car until the tow truck arrived, because he knew it wasn’t a safe area.
Likely, there had been Christians who had driven past me that day. Police drove past. And yet it was the drug dealer who stopped and helped me.
Jesus ultimately wants us to be able to do our convictions, not just hold them.
We can feel great about where we are as Christians. I’m sure the priest and the Levite had their justifications, their reasons, their priorities, and that’s why they passed the hurting man by. They didn’t help the man, but the Samaritan did.
When it comes to cultivating unity in our churches, we need to be less focused on where people stand politically and more focused on how we can actually help them. It’s John 13:35. Will people be able to see our love? Do they see our good deeds and praise our Father? It’s going to look different in different circumstances, but what are we willing to actually do out of love?