Saturday, November 29, 2008

Conflict and Consensus

A time for war and a time for peace…

                        Ecclesiastes 3.8

Whoa There, Christian Soldiers!

After retiring to Florida, my parents joined a nearby megachurch with everything they wanted: dynamic worship, solid preaching, opportunities to serve, terrific people, etc. When next I visited and attended service with them, I saw all they liked about the church. But before I got settled in my seat, I also saw something seriously disturbing. With no formal call to worship, the church sailed into a song I’d never heard. The music, loud like The Who and influenced by U2, sounded cool until I caught the lyrics clamoring to rise up against Satan’s armies and take back the land. I said to my father, “This is a war song! These people are angry!”

Later, we discussed it. It seems I’d been off Fundamentalism’s grid so long I missed its promotion from underdog to warrior. Despite their measured tone, my parents were emphatic in their conviction believers are engaged in epic warfare. This wasn’t Christian soldiers marching as to war. It was actual war. “You taught me the point is winning souls, not skirmishes,” I said. They replied, “The world’s out of control. Until sin is defeated, souls will be lost.” I countered, “Christ already defeated sin. You’re fighting an imaginary war!” Besides, the Bible says, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12.14; KJV) I asked them to explain this how combative stance revealed Christ’s love to the world. Mom changed the subject.

Know Your Enemy

God’s Word confirms a state of war exists between good and evil. But with increasing regularity, wide swaths of believers have misidentified the enemy. There’s no excuse for this, as Paul names our adversaries outright in Ephesians 6.12. They’re not flesh and blood, he says, but “rulers, authorities, and powers of this dark world and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” So why have Christians declared war on each other? If the world is out of control, shouldn’t we unite against spiritual wickedness run amok? Shouldn’t we call for peace within our walls? The discord weakening the church happens when you don’t know your enemy. We’re consuming all our time and energy on doctrinal conflicts when we’d be better served by building consensus—agreeing to disagree, if need be—to join the real battle with a solidified resolve.

Twice Defeated

Religious infighting leaves us twice defeated. It hands victory to the enemy and creates conflict between God and us. Isaiah 1 gives us a vivid picture of this. It shows God’s people and Him in a virtual standoff. They’ve abandoned His truth for their ideas and pounded each other into bloody pulp. “From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil,” Isaiah says. Blinded by arrogance and enslaved by tradition, they keep going through the motions, completely oblivious to how far they’ve strayed from their meaning. Finally, Isaiah steps aside so God can tell them how angry He is for Himself. “Your sacrifices—what are they to me?” He asks. “Who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? I cannot bear your evil assemblies. They have become a burden to me.” He tells them to shut down their controversies, cease their pious displays, and return to basics: “Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” Having got their attention, God lowers His voice. “Come now, let us reason together,” He says, offering to purify them of their sins. “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.”

We’re no better now than Israel was then. We’re engaged in too many imaginary battles on too many fronts while our real adversaries have a field day and our basic responsibilities go untended. It’s time to reason together—with one another and our God. He offers two options: resolve our conflicts and prosper or become casualties of war. It’s time to reach consensus. Because we live in wartime, it’s urgent we make time for peace.

"From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness--only wounds and welts." Isaiah 1.6

(Tomorrow: Arise)


johnmichael said...

This is another great post.
I think many times because something is said/sung in church, we often mistake it for the word of God. All we have to do is take time to listen to the message (which you did) and discern whether it really is His word, or man's interpretation.

Tim said...

Hey, John! Greetings from not-so-sunny (but beautiful anyway) Spain.

Your point is well taken and right in line with 1 John 4.1´s admonition ti "test the spirits and see if they´re of God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world."

Because faith runs on hope without visible evidence, it opens a wide door for charlatans, manipulators, and self-serving "false prophets" to take advantage of our trust. (This last week´s 30th anniversary of Jonestown is a tragic case in point.) We have to be exceedingly careful about not letting someone´s charisma, passion, or provocation lure us into justifying his/her error. If it doesn´t promote unity and growth of the Body of Christ, it´s not something we need to support--or, for that matter, even consider.

Thanks again for your comment.


Davis said...

A beautiful post on a sad subject. A we pray at mass "As Our Lord Jesus Christ said to his apostles 'Peace I leave you, my own peace I give unto you' regard not our sins but the faith of your Church and grant us peace in our day."

May God grant us peace in our day.

FranIAm said...

The war has already been won... Oh this really moved me.

I am short on time but I just had to comment on the themes you bring up here- this post is a real gift.

FranIAm said...

P.S. - Spain? My favorite country in Europe. Vaya con Dios mi hermano!

Tim said...

Davis, "Peace in our day." I´m adding that to my daily prayers--and challenging myself to believe I will live to see it. Thank for you that. And thanks, as always, for adding your incisive, always appreciated insights here.

Yes, Fran, the war has already been won and that´s what frustrates me most about all these internecine conflicts! We´ve been given a banner of victory under which to take the field together, as one body united--and we can´t get out of our heads long enough to stop worrying about who´s good enough to carry the banner! It´s foolishness of the first order...

PS: This is our first time in Spain--how wonderful it is! (And as the world´s most committed Francophiles, it´s not an easy admission to make.) Yesterday--Sunday--we attended mass at the big Cathedral in Barcelona´s old town: it was enormously moving and quite the spectacle. When we came out of service, the vendors had set up in the plaza and we were surrounded by exquisite table-top creche figures and other ornaments. It was like we went into church on a regular Sunday and walked out in the height of the holidays--it was magical!

Peace, joy, and love to you both, Davis and Fran, and everyone else!