Jackson Sanford served the Well through an internship in general ministry this last spring 2018 semester! Jackson is from Austin, TX, currently studying religion at Hardin Simmons University. We love Jackson and are excited to share a bit of what he is learning in this season!
After Jesus returned to heaven, his disciples gradually began to spread across the globe carrying a simple message: repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. As more and more people were touched by the Gospel, some inconsistencies of beliefs inevitably arose. Not only primary issues but also secondary issues began to split some apart. Various denominations were formed, some from peaceful separation and others through violent acts of persecution. Today there are hundreds of major denominations of true, Gospel-believing Christianity, all worshipping the same God, simply in different ways.
Abilene, Texas is a town where this diversity is incredibly plain to see. Three major denominations have three affiliated universities, and there are many different churches scattered about town that represent a wide variety of other denominations. Abilene Christian University, with its Church of Christ affiliation, sits right down the street from Hardin-Simmons University, a Baptist school. The Methodist McMurry University joins the mix as well. Despite their denominational affiliations, Baptists attend ACU, Church of Christ Students attend HSU, while Pentecostal, Reformed, and students of every affiliation attend them all. As a result, the people of Abilene are left with an eclectic mix of Christian traditions and beliefs, which allows for “secondary issues” to dominate the focus and make up the very DNA of Abilene.
The problem arises when we don’t have a foundation for navigating our differences. At first, the difficulty may not be apparent. Of course, we worship the same Christ and believe the same Gospel, so why would there be any difficulty arising from that? However, the problem of division arises because the universal church, the family of Christ, is made up of humans who bear the sin and divisiveness of their forefathers. Satan uses our broken tendencies to twist our diversity into divisions. Brothers and sisters in Christ then emphasize the differences between their beliefs far above what unifies them: the belief in the Gospel of Christ.
A professor once told me that the whole of Christianity is like a collage. It is not a neat collage, rather a great many different views and perspectives mixed and mashed together in a piece that when viewed as a whole is rather beautiful. So often, however, we find ourselves in our section of the collage throwing stones at another section for being different from us. As we meet other Christians, we can keep three things in mind that Scripture reveals to help us walk in the unifying love of Christ.
1. Show Love
John 13:35 states, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” How can we call one another brother and sister in Christ on the surface and not show the love of God to each other? We are called to love one another, whether we are Church of Christ and they are Baptist, whether we are Catholic and they are Protestant, whether we are white and they are Hispanic, whether we are rich and they are homeless. No man or woman is too dirty for the love of God, including the love of God that breathes through us, especially fellow members of the universal Church.
2. Show Charity
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis defines charity as “loving the unlikeable.” This includes those who disagree with us on secondary doctrinal issues, and especially those who do not show us charity in return! Paul calls us in 1 Corinthians 1:12 not to find our identity in the various human leaders we follow. Rather, we follow one leader, Christ. While we may worship separately and enjoy different traditions and even disagree with one another about particular issues, we serve the same divine leader, Christ. Let us not elevate our human influencers to a status of Godlike perfection. We have freedom in Christ to interpret Scripture differently, and as long as we are preaching the Gospel, loving God and our neighbor, we are fulfilling the command of Christ.
3. Show Humility
Though our differences may seem insurmountable at times, we must remember to show humility and emphasize the common ground we share between those that disagree with us on secondary issues. Understand that perhaps scars from the past and personal struggles inform others’ stances. Understand that we are to love one another through the tensions we often find in the local church. Through all of it, we must remember to glorify Christ by showing love and understanding to one another.
Remember, brothers and sisters, the ever-convicting statement of Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The ground is level at the foot of the cross, and all of us, whether Church of Christ, Baptist, Calvinist, Arminian, or everything in-between, are equally in need of the love and grace of Jesus Christ.