In his 1858 U.S. Senate campaign Abraham Lincoln quoted Jesus in a speech by saying that, “a house divided against itself cannot stand”. That statement is as profound as it is simple. It was as true for America during that time as it was when Jesus spoke those words to religious leaders almost 2000 years ago. Sadly, the message still hasn’t been fully embraced. Even today, Christians seem obsessed with dividing.
I’m not talking about denominational divides. There’s nothing wrong with distinctives among various churches. If a variety of ways of worshipping God and serving others allows a greater number of people to become more fully involved in God’s family, then I’m all for it. No, the problem I am referring to comes when we fail to respect those with different denominational backgrounds or political leanings. We have allowed our differences to make us suspicious of each other, and we are paying a heavy relational price as a result. I’ll never forget visiting a church in college and being surprised that the talk for that evening was entitled, “Why We Are Not Methodists”. Many Christians try to establish their identity by denouncing people with whom they disagree.
If we insist on defining ourselves by what makes us different rather than what we have in common, we will continue to be divided and combative. There’s nothing wrong with being different, but there is everything wrong with disliking those who are different. Jesus said that his followers would be known for how well they loved each other, not how well they divided into groups of similar preferences. Loving each other in spite of our differences should be our goal. Instead, we seem set on creating little pockets of sameness where our thoughts are never challenged and our love is dependent on our doctrinal agreement. This leads to three large problems:
We never learn how to disagree well.
Having honest conversations that include grace-filled disagreement isn’t easy. It takes practice. Anyone can argue and insult. Jesus has called Christians to a higher standard. We can disagree and debate, but insults have no place in our faith. Jesus insisted that we not simply put up with each other, but that we love each other. We can only learn that skill if we are committed to being in environments with people who don’t see eye-to-eye with us.
We foster and ignore massive blind spots.
Each person has unique experiences and insight. No person has had all possible experiences, nor does anyone have perfect insight. Therefore, it’s natural for every person to have limited knowledge. There are things we don’t know and haven’t experienced yet. That’s not the problem. The problem is that we don’t know what we don’t know. Of course we don’t! That’s the point. Having blind spots isn’t a lack of diligence or intelligence. It’s part of the human condition. Everyone has blind spots. Healthy people are those who choose to surround themselves with people who are different enough from them that they can identify those blind spots and shine light on them. If we all see life the same way, we will all likely miss the same things as well.
We assume we can have truth apart from love.
We should be good students of the Bible and the Christian life. We should seek to grow in our knowledge and act on what we know. But if what we think we know limits who we love, then our knowledge is useless. First century Christian leader Paul said it like this,” And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2). In our search for truth, we must remember that one of the identifying marks of truth is that it increases our love for all people.
When Jesus instructed all Christians to love each other, he wasn’t just encouraging us to be polite while we seek doctrinal understanding. He was saying that our search for truth will never be successful unless it is bathed in love for others. Loving those different from us isn’t just a nice idea, it’s an essential component of the truth we seek.