The Unified Body of Christ
The political climate in the United States these days is more polarized than at any other time in recent memory. The Pew Research Center reports that unfavorable opinions by members of both political parties towards their opposing party has doubled since 1994, and those who hold very unfavorable views are at an all-time high.
Unfortunately, that can also hold true theologically between those church members who hold to traditional views and others who are more progressive. University professor and author Alden Thompson has studied this polarization extensively, and he concludes that the church needs both conservatives and liberals.
“Liberals are worldly, pleasure-loving free thinkers who play fast and loose with God’s word,” reports Daniel Akers in his review of Thompson’s 2009 book Beyond Common Ground: Why Liberals and Conservatives Need Each Other. “Plus they probably voted for Obama.”
Conservatives, on the other hand, are “Narrow and judgmental, (and) they would wall off the world and enforce doctrinal purity according to their slavishly literalistic understanding of the Bible.” This person probably “voted for W and listens to Rush Limbaugh.”
Bringing these two groups together will require hard, but necessary, relational work. “Rather than conservatives demonizing the worldly liberals and liberals dismissing the simplistic conservatives,” states Akers, “Thompson suggests something different: believe that each camp is honest and brings something valuable to the Adventist table. Celebrate and build upon the strengths each side brings — don’t throw rocks at the other side.”
Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4:4-6, that we are united (like it or not) through Christ: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” We may have different views on how to approach Christ in worship and how to share Christ with the world, but ultimately, if we are God’s children, we are unified in one body with Christ at the head.
Every family has relationship challenges at times, and that’s no different for the family of God. The question for us to answer is—when challenges press on our family, will the blood of Christ prove thicker than the petty differences that tend to divide us?
Connecting: How well did you get along with your siblings when you were growing up? Have you grown closer, or are you more distant today? What contributes to those changes in your family relationships these days?
Sharing: What is the most effective technique that you’ve found to help heal broken relationships?
- I recognize that I don’t contain all truth
- I listen respectfully to others (even though they are obviously wrong)
- It’s good to bring in a third party to help mediate our differences
- There are times when it can be dangerous to compromise truth just for the sake of getting along
- We may disagree now, but when outside persecution comes those differences will drop away and we’ll unite around each other
Applying: Would you classify your local congregation as traditional, or progressive? Are there sister congregations in your community on the other end of the theological perspective? Consider if it would be possible to set aside any differences to work together on a community service project.
Valuing: Daniel Akers reports in his book review that it’s difficult to peg Alden Thompson on the conservative/liberal spectrum because he exhibits behaviors identified with both groups. Do you see this as a healthy way to live? How do you think people would categorize you? Can you, in good conscience, be more open to the perspectives of others?
~ Chuck Burkeen