Thursday, 28 March 2013
Expositional Fragments - What to do with the bug on the windshield
There are many potential causes for the loss of Christian unity in the church. Some are legitimate. If a particular individual or group starts teaching false doctrine or preaching “another gospel” all faithful Christians have a biblical responsibility to separate from that. Another example would be if a person or group is caught in a sin, confronted after the biblical pattern, and yet refuses to repent and amend their ways, again, faithful congregations have the biblical duty to excommunicate such ones. So yes, there are legitimate causes for division in the church, but they are usually over issues where one party has identified itself, either through the fruit of their doctrine or conduct, as no longer being part of the church. They are not acting like the church is called to act or they are not believing and teaching what the church is called to believe and teach. “You will know a tree by its fruit,” we are told, so we hope that through such division the guilty party will come to see the error of their way and God will grant repentance, but we can’t read hearts or minds so we just obey Scripture when it tells us to “not associate with such a one” or where it says to let preachers of another gospel which is really no gospel at all “be accursed”. All that said, the unfortunate thing is that most division at the level of the local congregation is not from these types of disagreements but from things much less important. One thinks of the famous example of sanctuary carpet colour. One wishes the example were apocryphal, but I’m afraid it’s likely to be real and likely to have happened many times over. It just has the ring of sinners and local church politics about it.
Whenever Christian unity is broken, and it is not for the two legitimate reasons identified above, it is because something else has first been broken: focus. If the church loses its center, if the church forgets the glory of God, the cross of Christ, and the fellowship of the indwelling Spirit, that church will lose its unity. If we forget the gospel that unified us in the first place, pretty soon we will have nothing keeping us unified. Factions develop when the main thing ceases to be the main thing. We see this in the attitude in Corinth where certain members were aligning themselves behind certain teachers of the gospel rather than aligning themselves behind the gospel message which all of those men taught. And I think this is what we see in Philippi as well, where Paul calls on two women to agree with one another in the Lord. Note that he does not take either woman to task over either a point of doctrine or a matter of ethics. For whatever reason, some people in both Corinth and in Philippi had lost focus. Their eyes were no longer directed at Christ. Their vision had turned from the gospel to something else. They had lost their focus and this was resulting in a loss of unity and a development of factions.
Usually when driving, the person behind the wheel focuses on the road a long way out in front of the car. The whole point of driving a car, after all, is to drive it somewhere. The somewhere is dictated by the route that was chosen in order to arrive at the desired destination. But a church that has lost unity is like a driver who has stopped watching the road that stretches out to the horizon. Some petty issue has drawn the church’s focus away from the gospel, away from Christ, away from the work of the Triune God to redeem and rescue a fallen people and a cursed planet. It is like a big juicy bug has hit the windshield and everyone in the car starts debating over the best way to get it off the glass. One wants to stop the car and wipe it off. One wants to just use the windshield wipers and washer fluid. That will just smear it, a critic pipes up. Someone suggests rolling down the window and trying to reach it while the car is still in motion. A voice from the back seat suggests everyone just pray for rain. Someone else says it would be more authentic just to leave the bug right where it is. Pretty soon the occupants of the car slip into thinking the point of their car ride is to figure out what to do with the bug smear on the windshield. But that isn’t why anyone got into the car in the first place and it has very little to do with the destination they set out for, equipped with extra large drive-thru coffee and CCR’s greatest hits, at 6:30 yesterday morning.