Faith in Tension: Distinct but not Divided (Part 1)

Posted By Timothy Burns on Jun 13, 2015 | 2 comments

“Father, I pray that they’re all one.”

On Tuesday mornings, I meet in a coffee shop for Bible study with five friends. In addition to the energized conversation over Scriptures and authors, this bakery prepares one of my favorite treats. Their Danish pastry ring has light, flaky crust topped with apple, cherry and cream cheese frosting, drizzled with confectioners glaze, and coffee in a dozen different flavors. As the six of us wrestle with the Scriptures, the coffee shop lattes and pastries are an illustration of our differences. We often argue about what’s important in a particular passage, even debating our understandings of the central doctrines. Yet we’re all growing. We’re moving toward the same goal – a deeper revelation of Christ in us and through our lives.

The piece I like most had cherry filling drizzled with tasty white frosting, and to drink I like steamed milk with only a hint of coffee. My friend across the table ate the same pastry, from the same ring, but his had apple filling, while Mike’s and Dan’s were topped with a generous dollop of cream cheese. Mike drank his java black, while Ron filled a thermos for the job site that would power him all day long. Their choices were equally tasty, yet different from my own. Looking at the pastry and drinks in the middle of our table, I realized how easily well-meaning Christ-followers use their own experience as the reference point when talking about God.  We choose to make our experience the ground-zero of our faith, instead of God’s Word.

Paul’s words to the Corinthian church chastised them for putting one preacher’s style and message above another. Looking at the pastry, I had to face these sins in my own heart.

  1. Even though the pieces of treats came from the same kitchen, I could argue that my friends’ choices don’t look like mine. My piece featured cherry, while the others didn’t. I could easily demand that because I knew my experience of God was true, and my experience of God was real, that their experience of God must look the same as mine.
  2. I could argue that because their piece of the pastry didn’t look like mine, that they must’ve picked the wrong piece. It’s too easy to tell others that they must be wrong because . . . well . . .  I’ve got it right.
  3. Because they chose to eat apple and cream cheese instead of cherry, I can approach them with an attitude that I have to convert them to my tastes. I love cherry topping. In order to be a “real pastry lover” I can, like the Corinthians, insist that they agree with me, instead of looking to the bigger picture.

Putting this controversy in a larger context, I often hear from church-going seekers and from non-church attending unbelievers that one of the things that turns them off is a church’s insistence that their tribe  has all the answers, and therefore the other churches are wrong (of at least not as right as they are).  When I was a young Christian, these denominational skirmishes turned me off from faith. Standing on the outside looking in, I saw the doctrinal, generational and denominational conflict as a reason to stay uninvolved. After all, didn’t Jesus say, and pray that we be united in genuine community, Denominational infighting harmed my faith and created real obstacles between myself and a relationship with God.

What do you think? Have you ever been turned off by conflict and disagreements in the church?  I’ll pull these ideas together in a post later this week.

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