Hope for a Divided Church

By Ray Williams

I love Thanksgiving.  Yes, good food and football are a part, but for me, it’s primarily the opportunity for meaningful family gatherings. I realize in these extended family celebrations, there has always been the potential for tension, drama, and sometimes outright conflict.   Early in my marriage, my wife Carolyn’s family met at her grandparent’s farm for Thanksgiving lunch.  Her mom had 5 siblings and the number of cousins was almost too many names to remember.   For some, it was the only time we would see each other during the year.  At this gathering, there was an unspoken rule that politics, religion, or anything that might be controversial should be reserved for another time.   

My family was different, however. There were times when debate on a particular issue was so passionate an outsider might have concluded we didn’t like each other.  However, when the conversations ended (and rarely was anyone’s viewpoint changed), we still loved each other deeply and looked forward to the next conversation.  Unfortunately, holding different views and continuing to love and respect one another is becoming less and less a reality in our culture and even in the church.

In a recent Barna briefing, Things That Divide Americans , the authors conclude,

“Americans are aware that there is division within the Church, a point that is only driven home by this and other recent studies. The denominational gaps on views of certain issues of morality and legality show just how divided the Church is right now. Further, we know from other Barna research that division and strife within the Church is high on the list of Millennials’ reasons for leaving.”

The study also reported, half of Americans see the federal government as responsible for making things better—that’s twice the number that hold religious organizations or Christian churches responsible for making real change possible.

These two observations are not only heartbreaking; they are closely related.   Because the church is divided and our efforts often fragmented, the good news and the true hope found in Jesus are often not seen by our culture.   

When true differences exist and worldviews collide, we are called as Christ’s followers to speak the truth, but to speak in love and in a winsome way.

As we move through a divisive election year and into the holidays, may we prayerfully seek to follow Paul’s exhortation, 

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

May a growing unity of the Spirit among our churches more clearly communicate the hope of Jesus Christ to both a divided church and a divided culture.

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