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Posted Wednesday, August 18, 2021, at 12: 00 AM
BY CLINT LOVEALL - FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF SPIRIT LAKE
“…You are all one in Christ” Galatians 3: 28b”
The early church had a rough start, and in some ways, the Apostle Paul didn’t help. When the former pharisee began figuring out that God was inviting not just Jews but also Gentiles into this new faith, it was like kicking a hornet’s nest. The two groups had never gotten along, and often nearly hated each other. Gentiles were not allowed inside the inner part of the temple, and the sign that proclaimed it threatened death for those that ignored it. In many Jewish courts, Gentiles were not allowed to testify because it was assumed they couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth. In fact, devout Jews wouldn’t sit with Gentiles for a meal, enter their homes or interact with them at all if it could be avoided.
Then Paul comes along and proclaims that God’s grace in Jesus brings Jews and Gentiles together to be one church. Paul calls both groups to unity in Christ, despite their differences and their disagreements, and it was a struggle. They ate different foods, followed different rules, worshipped in different ways and there was simply no easy way to reconcile those differences. It took tremendous grace and tremendous effort for those early Christians to learn that being one in Christ did not mean being the same. On some things, they never did agree, so Paul called for grace and respect, and he tried desperately to teach that unity is not the same as uniformity. They were all one in Jesus, but they were not all the same.
In some ways, it’s a lesson the church never fully learned. Every generation of Christians seems to divide up sides along some issues and ideas and begin judging and criticizing each other. Sometimes it is theological. Often it is cultural or political but, unfortunately, we have gotten quite good at it. If someone doesn’t see things my way, they must not be fully Christian, they can’t be trusted and there is no reason to interact with them. The church has always talked about our unity in Christ, but it has often been more interested in uniformity.
We have a lot to learn from Paul and our earliest faith-parents. They found many reasons to dismiss one another and go separate ways, but Jesus wouldn’t let them. Paul taught instead that they were one in Christ despite their differences, and that those gaps were an opportunity to practice patience, grace, forgiveness and compassion. He urged them not to let the things they disagreed on get in the way of loving each other in Christ’s name. It certainly wasn’t easy, but Paul seemed to believe it was right.
If I’m being honest, sometimes I wonder if we will ever learn. Will we ever get past the temptation to divide the faith along the lines of our opinions and ideals? Unity is not uniformity. People who love Jesus can see the world differently. They can have different ideas about society and government and deep disagreements about what is best. What they can’t do, is turn their back on each other. What they can’t do, is dismiss and demonize those they don’t agree with. We are not the same in Christ, but we are one. It’s an incredibly hard thing to learn, and it always has been. As we navigate our way through a very divided and divisive season, may we all look to the one who calls us to be one in Him.
Lord give us grace. Amen
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