Recently I was approached by a friend who shares an opposite viewpoint on violence than I do and he was expressing some concerns about my steadfast belief that violence in all its forms is outside the reality of the kingdom of God.
And as he shared his concerns, he made one statement that has propelled me to greater research: “That (viewpoint) isn’t what we teach here (at this church).”
Now, to give you some context, I am a part of a non-denominational Christian church that has “no creed but Christ” and is a link in a long chain of churches that has held to the ideal that “we are Christians only, but not the only Christians.”
We are a movement that has held certain things we have considered essential to faith in Christ fiercely, but made allowance and grace for various other viewpoints on the periphery of these things to exist and be discussed in the life of the body.
It is, in my mind, a beautiful ideal and a marvelous history. And though I believe we have not been totally (or in some cases even mostly) successful in achieving this ideal, it is a goal that I think is noble and reflects Jesus’ desire that we “be one” as a unified body made up of diverse and unique individuals.
Now these “Restoration churches,” as we call them, have tried to achieve this ideal by “restoring” the things we find in the early church. The basic idea is that Christians can find unity together from various ecclesial backgrounds by escaping (as much as possible) the telephone game diversions in church history through returning to the “ancient order of things” or The SOURCE (Jesus) and the early church.
It is an attempt to “restore” or “reset” to the biblical origins of church and abandon the many other traditions, creeds and theological constraints that people have evolved throughout history to designate people as either “in” or “out” of their particular brand of church club.
The forefathers of this movement believed that the body of Christ could exist in unity, despite different views of end times, atonement, predestination/free-will and many other tests of membership that groups throughout history have employed, by uniting around one simple statement, “Jesus is Lord.”
In short, these “restoration pioneers” made great sacrifice and dedicated their lives to allowing the conversation that we are having today. I believe it was their intent and belief that the body of Christ is best when it talks, stretches, converses and grows in difficult issues, but always while maintaining the “spirit of unity”.
Now, some today would say that conversations like this one do harm to the church by causing division. But, in response, I believe my church tradition would say that it is this very diversity that when approached in love and mutual respect is what makes the body of Christ so unique in this world; that it is one of the defining characteristics of the true kingdom of God.
Yes, unity is the ideal. But unity is not achieved by taking a single theological cookie-cutter to clone the individuals of our body or by refusing to challenge each other to better model the life and teaching of Jesus. Unity is not preserved in “turning off our brains” and skirting difficult issues. Unity is what we commit to and fight for as we share the burden of stretching and growing in the likeness of Christ.
In this regard, the enemy of true unity is not discussions like these, but a spirit-of-disunity within these discussions and a loyalty to any human rationalization or construct that takes priority over what we find in Jesus and the early church.
Most historically, this is what “my” church teaches. And seemingly, it is as relevant today as it was in the 1800’s on the American frontier.
So, as we continue to think about this difficult topic and submit ourselves to God who is constantly working to move us to greater depth of understanding and participation in His kingdom, keep in mind that it may be discussions like this that help move us closer in that direction. May the voice of God arise out of the murmur and discussion of His people!
Here’s what is coming next:
1) What the “Restoration” church fathers thought about violence
2) What to make of the nation of Israel’s war and violence in the Old Testament
3) What is a Christian’s responsibility to government?
4) So what? Why is this particular discussion important?
The middle two topics will be addressed by two phenomenal guest bloggers (I can’t wait to tell you who they are!), so make sure and check back on their excellent insights!
In grace and for peace…