Joining the party
Unfortunately, though, in almost any social setting it is human nature for cliques to form. Similar personalities tend to group together. Those who have one kind of sense of humor will seek each other out, while those with none will probably do the same. Within and between groups of believers, those who have similar beliefs (read “understandings and opinions”) will tend to coalesce with each other as well.
We have to fight against our cliquish ways because it ultimately does damage to the body of Christ. How can we mutually edify each other if the “arms” in the body only spend time with other “arms,” and “hands” with other “hands?” If those who are “correct” only rub elbows with other “correct” people (and who is 100% correct, anyway?), then how can they share their “correct opinions” with those who are “incorrect?” I put these words in quotes because believing we’re correct doesn’t make us so, of course.
But problems like pride and divisiveness come in when we become intolerant of the convictions (read “beliefs, opinions, and even errors”) of another. That’s not to say that tolerance is in all cases a virtue. It certainly isn’t, for we shouldn’t be tolerant of sin. We can and should form correct ideas of what sin is, and then humbly teach our brothers about sin. But we are still called to be tolerant of a brother who has a weak or uneducated conscience, knowing that we ourselves may be the weak and uneducated one at times—maybe even more often than not.
Segregating ourselves into opinion-based cliques based on teachings that are not directly related to sin or the gospel is not a scriptural way to behave. We shouldn’t be out to form religious parties—institutionalized coalitions of people with similar opinions—nor are we to proselytize people to join our party. We are to proselytize people to Jesus Christ.
When we think of our religious party as the entirety of Christendom and focus our efforts on adding to it, we are promoting our faction, not necessarily Jesus Christ himself. When we defend to the death the distinctiveness of our religious party, we are in essence putting our opinions above the teachings of Paul, John, and Jesus Christ himself. They all taught emphatically that Christians are to do no such thing. Are we not emulating the Corinthian Christians’ error when they divided into camps claiming to follow either Paul, Apollos, or Jesus Christ?
Paul betrayed his view of religious parties when he thanked God that Jesus was being preached, even by those with base motives. These people were spreading the news of Jesus Christ in the hope of bringing bitter punishment upon Paul in his Roman chains. But Paul didn’t tell them to stop or instruct the true believers to rise up and combat these evil teachers. Instead, he gave thanks that the Person of Jesus Christ was being preached.
Many Christians have stood against the idea of adopting creeds, but it seems that we have unintentionally adopted them anyway. If we feel it’s taboo to associate with someone because of their incorrect opinion, then we already have a creed—a test of fellowship. It doesn’t matter whether it is written or spoken from a pulpit or spread from individual to individual by word of mouth. If we make a test of fellowship out of our opinions, we have a creed. We are promoting a religious party in some sense or other.
So what does one do if he finds himself in the midst of religious partisanship that zealously promotes opinions at the occasional expense of Christlike treatment of others? Should he leave the party? Join another party?
I have no pat answers, but leaving and joining parties is probably not going to be the answer to the dilemma. Ending partisanship in our own hearts is ultimately where it’s at. As our brothers see that we mean no harm in putting a Christlike freedom into practice, our example will be of greater effect than endless debates. To paraphrase the old song, they will know we are brothers by our love—our love both for them and for the Lord.
That’s what I’ve learned so far in my walk along The Way. The more I get my own heart in the right place, the freer I am to serve God more fully in every aspect of my life, whatever religious partisanship is happening around me. I’m free to love those who don’t yet see things my way. That’s fine. They may never agree with me, but I will love them and treat them as brothers in Christ anyway. I won’t let it get me down, because I know they won’t be judged by my opinions, nor I by theirs. So I just have to be resolved not to make a religous party out of my own opinions and to set a Christlike example in my treatment of those who may misunderstand or disagree with me.
I may not always flawlessly execute that goal. But I hope you'll forgive me as I die trying. :-)
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