September 5, 2009

Those Who Oppose Our Message

[Salvation #4]

So, we're confronted with the possibility that we're blundering through life without a clear understanding of the gospel. And the apparent fact that we, "the saved," disagree on almost every aspect of what salvation is and what one has to do to be saved. We nod our heads and say the lost must be born again, but we have very different ideas about what that phrase means, how it works, or what it has to look like.

No surprise that this causes some heavy-duty cognitive dissonance—when many of us grew up with the gospel neatly packaged and delivered to us with a fistful of cliches about how simple the gospel is. But the bigger problem with our disagreement may be what it tempts us to believe about or do to those who disagree with us, though they are our brothers and sisters, our family, the church.

Let us be clear: disagreement coming from those in our own faith community, from those we thought we didn't have to persuade or defend against, can be very threatening. Especially when our criterion for being in community turns out to be the very point of controversy. If I can't convince you, might that mean my claims are weak? If you don't agree with me, might I be wrong? And if those in the church don't agree, why would we expect anyone else to believe our message?

Confused or threatened by our differences, our first instinct is often to question. Weren't we on the same side? Aren't we children of the same heavenly Father? Our hurt and puzzlement are understandable, perhaps. Disagreement, difference even, is the opposite of what causes community in the first place. Especially, as in the case of the church, when our solidarity is defined in stark absolutes: heaven and hell, the lost and the found, the redeemed and the damned. Especially when the stakes are life and death, and the consequences eternal.

The speed with which we move from confusion to suspicion, however, is much more problematic. If we disagree, his faith must be weak, we reason. If we differ, she must not take the Bible as seriously as the rest of us. We bolster our own rightness at the expense of the other. Our fear of being wrong and our need to justify at all costs are sad but all too predictable. I in the middle, again. The sin thing. Rather than preferring the other, always trusting and always believing the best, we entertain doubts about motives, allegiance, or even spiritual maturity. They probably aren't even saved. That would explain everything. Such ultimate accusations reveal how far we will go to justify our own position; how readily we will sell our own kin down the river to discredit their views and vouchsafe our own beliefs; how willing we are even to sacrifice relationships, rather than give up what we hold dearer than love and loyalty.

Difference leads to disappointment, suspicion, and, perhaps, eventual betrayal on our part. Which—far from apologizing for—we defend as our right. As though we founded the club and wrote its membership rules. How great our disappointment in those who should have seen the reasonableness of our wisdom. How great the offense of those who, if they were really saved, should have known better. As though, even worse than letting us down, they have actually sinned against us by not agreeing with all of our cherished convictions, our self-defining opinions, and our precious, precious preferences.


franklins7 said...

Wow, so what you are saying is that Christians, those who are truly Christ-followers can be imperfect, sinful, selfish creatures? How is that truly possible if we really do have the Spirit of Christ residing in us. How can we, who claim what we claim, not get along and not even see that we are not getting along, and actually repelling people, not attracting them. Oh, if only we could truly believe the best and speak words of life and not death...

keo said...


How is that possible, you ask? Great question.

We should probably modify some of those claims we claim so that we stop lying to ourselves about how perfect we have become or how automatically and completely we submit to and obey the one who has graciously chosen to live within us.