I’m not exactly sure how I stumbled upon this article from The Presbyterian Outlook, but I’m glad I did. In it James Calvin Davis talks about how Paul’s counsel to the Ephesians when he says to “mak[e] every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” can be related to the decisions made at the last PC(USA) General Assembly. He does a really good job of explaining how anyone who might be tempted to react gracelessly might be able to look to Paul’s epistle for guidance on how to disagree while still fulfilling our efforts to maintain unity as members of the body of Christ.
What might it mean to practice forbearance in today’s PC(USA)? Surely it requires all of us to approach our disagreements with a healthy dose of humility, acutely aware that we don’t know everything there is to know about this world and God’s intentions for it. Forbearance also demands the exercise of patience, taking time to listen to sisters and brothers and respecting their place in Christian community. It likely requires a commitment to faithfulness, maintaining relationships of trust with one another across theological differences and, more fundamentally, trusting God to reveal truth in God’s time. Ultimately, forbearance invites us to love one another as friends and fellow travelers on this pilgrimage of faith.
Ephesians doesn’t commend forbearance on the assumption of uniformity in the church. Quite the opposite, in fact! The call to forbearance doesn’t make any sense without high-stakes disagreement in play. But while disagreement has always been a part of being [the] church, so is the cosmic unity in which we negotiate that disagreement.
I’m not part of the PC(USA) and there are probably things I’d disagree with Mr. Davis on but isn’t that the point? I think we all sometimes need to be reminded of the need for Christian ” unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” and I appreciated the call to “faithful witness in times of disagreement.”
You can read the whole things here.
I really enjoyed Ed Stetzer’s post over at The Exchange about receiving criticism (his series on giving criticism is also VERY good). I’ve listed the 3 ways to avoid feeling attacked by criticism and some summary thoughts here but please do read the whole thing over at his blog. It’s really, really good (and brutally honest).
To start off, he mentions the inevitability of facing criticism in life:
“You may not be a public figure, but if you are a leader in any capacity, you will earn critics for yourself. People won’t always be happy and sometimes they will say so.
But, that does not mean we should be afraid of criticism.”
And hilariously (or perhaps that’s just my sarcastic sense of humor coming out…):
“Simply put, you are not always right and you won’t know that if you are always offended when people point that out.”
3 Ways to Avoid Feeling Attacked by Criticism:
- Disagreeing with you is not the same as disagreeing with God.
- If no one can criticize you, you are probably too inaccessible.
- If you lash out at those who criticize you, you probably don’t have a teachable spirit.
Read the Stetzer’s detailed explanation of his points here.
For a bit of a deeper look at what congregations and leaders can do in their overall approach to criticism, Ken Sande wrote up a good piece here on accountability in the church.
We also have a great article by Alfred Poirier here for everyone, not just those in leadership, about how our theology of the cross should shape our understanding of criticism and help us put it in it’s proper place. I find myself recommending and referencing this article time and time again.
There’s a great article over at Relevant Magazine that builds off of what we covered in last week’s PeaceMeal about e-mail and letters (and any digital communication, really) having the potential of sparking more conflict rather than resolving it. Michael Hidalgo has some really great contributions to the topic of why Christians so often resort to mean-spirited discussion online and how to prevent it. Here’s just a few snippets:
On the role of grace in our exchanges:
If our words are to be filled with grace it demands we give a gift to others every time we speak or write words. And too many of us are not crazy about giving grace to others, because something in each of us knows grace is expensive. If we are to speak words full of grace it costs us something.
Giving the gift of grace invites us to think outside of and beyond our agenda, our opinion and ourselves. And this is where the real difficulty comes in.
On how our small/currated social circles can impact our view of others:
It may do us well to break out of these enclaves we create for ourselves. Consider Jesus. He always hung out with those who made the religious—those who insisted on being right and defending their religion—uncomfortable. Whether it was prostitutes, tax collectors or “sinners” Jesus was often in their midst.
Not us. We stay away from them too often. And whenever something or someone from the “outside” comes into our space, we attack in the name of defending our faith, our ideas and our way of life—by any means necessary. These attacks are commonplace on the Internet and email. We launch explosive words caring little about the spiritual shrapnel that harms others.
On how listening is crucial to responding in a Biblical way:
For those of us who are passionate about God’s truth, it may do us well to ask: “Are we more concerned about the truth being known or about us being right?” I say this because if we are committed to what’s true, there is a good chance our attitude and approach will change. We will experience the move from being mean to being kind.
If our deepest desire is to know the truth, then we will be open to listening—not just speaking—because there is a good chance someone else may share a thought, insight or wisdom we have yet to learn. And when our desire for the truth surpasses our desire to be right, then we will be open and always seek first to listen and learn.
The whole article is more than worth the time to read, so hop on over to Relevant’s website to check it out!
Some excellent thoughts from our friend Thabiti Anyabwile over at Pure Church on The Blessings of Theological Unity. Here is one particularly thought-provoking where he points to disagreement as a blessing:
Disagreement. Here’s a hidden benefit. When a group rejoices in the same theological truths–especially on the main matters–it enables them to retain trust and love for one another while they disagree on other matters. Groups bound together by sound theology find themselves able to go to “war” with each other over a host of secondary matters and still leave the table knowing they’d rather be in the foxhole with the very men they just “battled” with. When truth is held by all, disagreement almost never threatens unity but strengthens it. It’s counter-intuitive, but disagreement where men and women hold the same view of God actually leads to greater love for one another.
How easy it is for this to fall apart and not hold true in practice! We are so quick to judge one another and a disagreement slips into sinful exchanges, harsh words, and deep conflict. May God give us all the grace to disagree in ways that “never threatens unity but strenthens it.”
Read the whole piece.
Over at the Her.meneutics blog, Natasha Robinson offers some good insight as to what the church would need to do in order to see racial reconciliation. While her post is meant to be a type of review of the new film “The Help,” I found in it a very astute understanding of what reconciliation of human relationships (not just the ones broken from racial bigotry) looks like and what we need to do to achieve it.
Here’s one of my favorite paragraphs:
“That’s what I loved about The Help. It sends a powerful message that reconciliation does not happen primarily through speeches, books, diversity initiatives, or training and it should send a clear message to the church that reconciliation cannot happen with programs, goals, “special” services, and activities. Reconciliation is the result of intentionally building intimate relationships, one day at a time, with one person at a time.”
Read the whole thing.
Here’s a video testimony from the leaders at Quail Springs Church talking about the conflict in their church and how God moved to unify the church through the work of some committed peacemakers. For a bit more background on the story, I recommend reading this article from that Fred wrote a while back.
Conflict and Reconciliation in the Church: The Quail Springs Story from Peacemaker Ministries on Vimeo.
The story of a church that faced a deep conflict and pursued reconciliation.
“Christians in community must again show the world, not merely family values, but the bond of the love of Christ. Increasingly the ordered fellowship of the church becomes the sign of grace for the warring factions of a disordered world. Only as the church binds together those whom selfishness and hate have cut apart will its message be heard and its ministry of hope to the friendless be received.”
—Edmund P. Clowney, The Church
A nice post over at the Gospel Coalition blog on unity in the church. I thought this was particularly well said:
[Jesus’] prayer is what glues sinners together, and it is by design that conflicting sinners would dwell together. Why? Because Jesus uses the nagging sins of others to expose our own sins, creating opportunities to forbear, forgive, and fulfill Jesus greatest ecclesial instruction: Love one another (John 13:34-35). In this way, strife in the church that naturally leads to disunity has the possibility of refining the church when the underlying sin is confronted, confessed, and the gospel of grace is applied (Matt 18:21-35).
Read the whole thing.
This was over at Justin Taylor’s blog last week and I thought it’d be good to share here:
- Because of the gospel, Christians have become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). Therefore, in our marriage, our past does not define us, confine us, or determine our future.
- Because of the gospel, we are forgiven (Ephesians 1:7). Therefore we can live free of all guilt and condemnation for every sin, and we can trust that God, in his mercy, will be gracious to us.
- Because of the gospel, we can forgive, just as Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32). Nothing done against us compares to our sin against God. Therefore all offenses, hostility, and bitterness between Christians can be completely forgiven and removed.
- Because of the gospel, we are accepted by God (Romans 15:7). Therefore we are not dependent on a spouse for who we are or what we need.
- Because of the gospel, sin’s ruling power over us is broken (Romans 6:6, 14). Therefore we can truly obey all that God calls us to do in our marriage, regardless of any circumstance or situation.
- Because of the gospel, we have access to God through Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16). Therefore we can at any time take any need in our marriage to the One who can do all things.
- Because of the gospel, we have hope (Romans 5:1-4). Therefore we can endure any marital difficulty, hardship, or suffering, with the assurance that God is working all to our greatest good (Romans 8:28).
- Because of the gospel, Christ dwells in us by his Holy Spirit (Galatians 3:13-14). Therefore we are confident that God is always with us and is always at work in our marriage, even when progress is imperceptible (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).
- Because of the gospel, we have power to fight and overcome remaining sin, which continues to dwell and war within us (Romans 7:19-21, 24-25; Galatians 5:16-17). This indwelling enemy represents the essence of what is called the doctrine of sin.
These are just a few of the ways the gospel can transform a marriage. Sometimes it’s not easy to live in the reality of these truths. But it is always possible—and not because of our strength or determination, but because of God’s empowering and enabling grace.
Gary and Betsy Ricucci, Love That Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace (Crossway, 2006), pp. 22-23
Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile (a keynote speaker at this year’s Peacemaker Conference) has been re-posting a classic (and excellent!) series of articles on preventing church splits. It’s a five part series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 are all available.
To give you a sense of where he’s going, here’s how he began the series:
I have a new and growing conviction. It’s occupying a lot of my thoughts these days… good thoughts, I think. I don’t know why it hasn’t always been a conviction, at least not quite in this way. But, nonetheless, I am convinced that one of my fundamental objectives as a pastor is to prevent church splits from happening.
I don’t mean that it’s my responsibility to make sure no one leaves, or to settle every dispute in a way that preserves unity at all costs. No, there’ll be times when a “split” will humanly speaking be inevitable, and I trust that the Lord has good purposes in causing or allowing them to happen.
What I mean is this: I have some basic responsibilities as a pastor. I must teach and preach God’s Word; I must pray; I must be an example; and, I must carry on a visitation ministry. That’s basically what I think a pastor is to do (admittedly a bit oversimplified). But I am increasingly convinced that I am to do those things with a particular perspective. I’m to do those things with an eye toward the developing and continuing unity of the church. Said negatively, I’m to work in such a way as to prevent the splintering of Christ’s local body in my charge.