"I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law."
Well, we've certainly seen the truth of this play out, time after time. We divide into denominations, into conservative and liberal, into different expressions of worship, into interpretations of scripture. We are divided by which testament and which books we favor, by where we believe our combined tithes and offerings should be spent, by who we vote for.
I don't think division is necessarily intrinsically bad. I do think that focusing on what divides us is (at best) unhelpful and (at worst) can create further division, resentment, fear, and anger.
The Church is not a filing cabinet: each little sect neatly tucked into its own folder, with Christianity collecting us all into more or less the same place. The Church is a tree, with Christ as the roots and trunk and us as the branches. Our divisions do not happen because we don't belong together, but simply because that is how we grow, because that is how we obtain light and water and how we provide shade and air.
And yes, we disagree. So what? Trace our disagreements backward, and you'll find they spring from the same source, from the same roots. We all have a common ground somewhere, a common starting point. It's okay to disagree, but we should stop trying to label or box off those who disagree with us. We are not a filing cabinet. We are a tree.
A collection of references here, all with a common theme:
Luke 14:12-14, 15:1-32, 18:9-14, 19:1-10
Jesus often ate with sinners and the "unclean". He went into their houses. He talked to them. He touched them and allowed them to touch Him. He healed them. He befriended them. He loved them.
The text never makes any apologies for the sins of Jesus' friends. Tax collectors are still tax collectors, prostitutes are prostitutes, lepers are lepers. No one tries to clean them up with PC language, saying that they are misguided or following a different path in life. They call sin sin.
But Jesus did not allow anyone's sin to get in the way of His love and His presence. He still ate with them, walked with them, loved them up close. He did not require anyone to change themselves in order to be near Him. He came near to them first, knowing that only love can inspire lasting change.
I think of people whose presence in some churches is discouraged. In most cases, no one will walk up to them outright and ask them to leave, but i have seen youth group gatherings where someone who used profanity was asked to either clean up their language or find somewhere else to be on Friday nights. I have seen people with piercings and tattoos given a quiet cold shoulder. I know that some same-sex couples have been asked not to worship in some churches. Single mothers, people no longer on their first marriage, people who smoke in the parking lots, people who wear shorts in the sanctuary: all are gently nudged away from the church. In most cases, no one is trying to be rude or mean, no one is trying to be judgmental or unfeeling. They genuinely think that they are helping that person, as well as protecting the body of Christ from hurtful intruders.
But you can't create conditions for salvation, because Jesus never did. He forgave sins first, and then asked them not to sin anymore. He healed first, and then asked them not to sin anymore. He shared meals, He walked with, He listened to first, and then asked them not to sin anymore. His salvation was unconditional. He loved first.
Always love first.