For a while now I have had the picture in my head of the all the Christians in the Mackay region being a bit like a sleeping giant. If all the Christians from different church families (and those who aren't currently part of church families!), could bring all the gifts and skills and passions of their hearts together in unity for the sake of Jesus Christ - I reckon we'd have this place turned upside down overnight. Imagine the social problems that could be solved. Imagine the creative ideas that could be pulled off for the blessing of our region and beyond. Imagine the joy that could be found in Jesus Christ. It would be like a sleeping giant waking up. I'm keen to see that happen!
It's Very Possible For Christians To Be Able to Work Together
The exciting thing is, it's very possible! When you zoom out for a second, you realise that those who have faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of the church background or experiences, they immediately have a whole lot in common. They believe in God as our creator. They believe in the fact that humans need a Saviour. They believe that Jesus has died for our sins and empowers us to live for Him as our Lord, and to walk in relationship with God our Father. They believe in the gift of the Holy Spirit and in the necessity of doing good towards one another. That's a whole lot of common ground to work with.
It's always a joy to be around people like us and if you believe those things, you're a lot more like your Christian brothers and sisters than you might realise! What could happen if we recognised this common ground and looked to work together, as the Lord lead us?
There's Challenges To Being Able To Work Together
Of course, as much as it's important to celebrate the common ground that Christians have to work together, it would be naive to ignore the significant differences. Sadly, through the centuries, differences of opinion about theology and Christian practice have lead to deep and painful rifts between individuals, families, churches and even nations. To state the obvious, differences of opinions significantly hinder our ability to work together. In some ways, they can even steal our joy. So how do we work through them?
Trusting God To Reveal Truth Where We Disagree
In Philippians, Paul says we can trust God to reveal the truth where we have points of disagreement. If you will allow me a literal translation of the greek text of Philippians 3:15-16,
'Therefore, to the extent of maturity, so let us think. And if any of you think differently, God will also reveal this to you all. But, to that which we've arrived, walk according to it.'
There will be points where we think differently, but Paul says here that God will reveal in time what we ought to think about those differences. I've learnt that when a Christian brother or sister says something that I'm not sure about, rather than jumping in to offer judgment, I do well to listen first and ask questions. Then to gently raise concerns, while giving the other person room to instruct me, if I'm ignorant in a situation. It's amazing the things I've learned from others through such an approach.
Working Together On the Things We Agree About
Regardless of our differences, the important thing is to live out the things we agree on. Rather than spending all our time focusing on our differences, we could go a long way if we just put into practice the things that we all knew needed doing. To quote the NIV version of Philippians 3:16,
'Only let us live up to what we have already attained.'
To the extent that we've come to the same way of thinking, let's get busy working together for good. For Christians, they agree the world needs to hear about Jesus. They agree that the Bible is God's Word to the world. They agree that God wants us to help the poor, to serve one another in love and to pray for everyone. There's so much for us to 'live up to' already. We ought not get overly caught up about our differences. That's why Paul later in this same letter, will strongly urge two women in Philippi who had come to loggerheads over their differences, to 'be of the same mind in the Lord' (Philippians 4:2). They needed to spend less time focused on their differences and get back to their common 'mind' as those in the Lord.
Sitting In the Awkward In Between
Finally, it's worth putting a word to the fact that sometimes living the way God instructs us, can leave us sitting in an awkward in-between space. Working with people on the things we agree about, while knowing that we disagree about other things, is kind of awkward.
Certainly there are some things that are very clear in the Bible. If someone is ignoring the Bible and claiming to be a follower of the God who had it written, then as Jesus instructed we speak to them about it, then take another brother or sister and then the whole church (Matthew 18:15-17). That's kind of awkward.
But on the other side, sometimes we don't have absolute clarity on an issue from Scripture. Or maybe there are experiences that we don't understand exactly how to tie into Scripture. We are called to be patient in waiting for God to reveal the way forward and also patient with others as God reveals the way forward to them. ____________________________
About the Author
Jai Wright is a Christian Minister, who founded and leads MAKE Church in Mackay, Qld. He recently published the book, Life Plugged In: Connecting with the Source of Peace, Power and Purpose.
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