I sat in stunned silence. The tension was thick and palpable. I’m pretty sure my mouth was hanging open at one point. I just witnessed something I had never seen before and I hope will never see again. However, that may be me being overly hopeful.
For a long time, I was a bit idealistic regarding the church and Christian community. I never fully realized the true depths of how messy it could get. Last night I saw a little of that. Regardless of who was involved, we will at one time or another, run into a brother or sister in Christ that doesn’t like us, rubs us the wrong way, is mean, hateful or condescending and sadly the list can go on. Personality conflicts are bound to happen whether in the workplace, amongst friends or even in the church. The question for those of us following after Christ in community, how do we handle it?
This is not a matter of when or where but how because it eventually will happen. Someone misunderstands something said or done. Someone doesn’t like what leadership is doing. Someone is immature. Someone thinks he/she knows all the answers. Before you know it, people are squabbling like little children. Wherever you find yourself in such a mess; on the outside looking in or in the big fat middle of it, what puts a stop to it? A few things come to mind that we should remember.
Those in conflict will find peace and reconciliation in Jesus Christ.
That brother or sister in Christ that you disagree with or dislike was bought with a price.
The point of mediation and reconciliation is Christ.
This mediation and reconciliation in Christ is through the cross.
The work of Christ on the cross is final and finished.
The inward work of the cross in our heart and life is ongoing and often slow and painful.
Wherever we find ourselves in the journey and whomever we come into conflict with, the work of Christ and the work of the cross is necessary for resolution and growth.
Bonhoeffer, in Life Together, spoke of Christian community as a gift from God. We need to receive it, nurture it and cultivate it. Far from being an idealist, he recognized the difficulties facing community, its formation and growth. Community as he understood it was under the Word. That is under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That is where it starts and where it ends. We need to cherish that which is given us, whether it is the fellowship found in a house church or a mega church or something in between. The issue is, what will you die to so the gift may remain intact? What will you take to the cross, let it die and let it remain buried? This is the beginning of spiritual growth….This is the beginning of true fellowship in Christ….
1. An acknowledgment expressing regret or asking pardon for a fault or offense.
2. a. A formal justification or defense.
b. An explanation or excuse:
3. An inferior substitute.
I have an apology to make. No, make that, apologies. They will touch on each of the definitions listed above. This is by no means the end of apologies but a beginning.
First, I regret certain choices I made early in my Christian journey. I bought into the notion that Jesus was a product you sell to unsuspecting strangers. I probably deserve a millstone for some of my antics. I have no idea how many people I turned off by presenting Christ in such a way. I was attempting to push off on others the religious baggage I had taken up. I was a short tempered, impatient, unloving religious hack. I bought into a religious system that claims what it often does not have. I supported those who sought political power by polarizing opposition on 2 or 3 issues to advance their agenda. My question now, was that agenda part of the Kingdom? These things I take responsibility for and trust in the mercy of God.
Next, the only justification or defense I can give is that of Jesus Christ. I am a colossal mess without Him. Even with Him I make mistakes, for which I take responsibility for not trusting His grace completely. In my opinion, too many have tried to justify Christianity intellectually. The need to defend Jesus Christ in an academic way is short sighted. He is the only One who justifies us and defends us. I can’t justify or defend Him, I will fail in the attempt. Better to trust in His making me true and be a living apology for Christ when His life is revealed in and through my life.
Any explanation I can give will fall short. Any excuse I give is all my own. The power of God found in Christ is beyond comprehension. The fullness of God is wrapped in mystery. Jesus Christ is the way to begin to embrace that mystery. This is not mystery to solve, but mystery of awe and worship.
Sadly, the Christianity I embraced as a young man was in some ways an inferior substitute. This is the worst kind of apology for Jesus Christ. The judgment, guilt, shame and burdens I took up hindered years of spiritual growth. Keep in mind, I do not hate the Church. I love the church and who she is and who she represents. My issue is with the Christianity that has grown in such ways as to hinder those who desire to follow Christ. If something, anything, keeps one from Christ and allowing participation in the love of God and love of neighbor, it should come into question. For all these things, I apologize.
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. Romans 13.1-2 [NASB]
We come to a Lord most gracious and loving, yet we live as if He does not extend that grace and mercy in the midst of our lives. We live as if we are still under judgment, still condemned. We strive for purity, holiness and the spiritual depths. We long for a deeper prayer life, greater understanding of scripture and a life overflowing with the love of God. We are compelled to work for God, pursue the Son and embrace the Spirit. We strive but never attain, we burn out, and faith begins to wither.
The Gospel has been proclaimed that is eternal in nature. The Gospel is a person, a man, Jesus, who is the Christ. In Him, we see the love of God made manifest. In Him is light and life. Salvation is in Him, in His cross, death and resurrection. The faith we receive is in Him. Yet we are compelled to do that which Christ has done. These are burdens we are not meant to bear. A well meaning but damnable religion places burdens that no person can bear.
The Good News is you and I no longer face condemnation. The eternal love of God has made a way for us live. That way is Christ. That life is Christ’s. Only in Christ is this way of living possible. Sin and death no longer hold us in bondage. Though we may stumble and fall, we are saints in Christ Jesus. Though one day this earthly life will end, we find resurrection in Jesus Christ.
Nietzsche was right in saying, “…there was only one christian, and he died on the cross.” The point he misses is that for those who turn to this crucified one, we can participate in that. We have the honor of living by the life of God. We don’t have to, we get to. This is the difference between the yoke of the Pharisees and the yoke of Christ. Life under bondage to rules, regulations and guilt or life shared on the life, love and grace of the Living God.