One of the things the world is feeling is division. We feel the increasing pressure to divide by politics, by the pandemic and its protocals, and by a plethora of ideologies. In such a world the tension is palpable and emotionally exhausting. That’s the harsh reality in which we live. But the good news is that the Church has an opportunity to shine brightly and show the world another way. One of the remarkable things about the gospel is that it has the power to bring down the walls that divide us. Paul writes about this in Ephesians 2,
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.(Eph 2:11–18)
Between the time of Abraham’s call in Genesis 12 and the resurrection of Christ, there was a great wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles (the Greek word for “Nations”). That separation had been accomplished by God himself when he took Abraham’s descendants as his treasured possession. They were set apart (the meaning of the word, holy). Aside from the Canaanites specifically set aside for judgment (which is another discussion), Israel wasn’t meant to live in hostility with her neighbors. They were meant to be the means by which the gentiles were brought to the Lord. By the 1st Century, instead of a city on a hill that drew the gentiles to her, she was a hotbed of hostility of many kinds. The divisions in the 1st century weren’t limited to religious beliefs, though that was part of it. The Jews were divided even among themselves. There were Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots, and Essenes. While they had theological differences, their differences largely stood out in their political ideologies. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
When Jesus came, those divisions changed. Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots came together—without abandoning some of their different perspectives on government. Paul was a Pharisee. Peter, James, and John were likely Zealots. Matthew was a Roman sympathizer serving as a tax collector (though that changed). We find Paul arguing before the Sadducees and likely winning some to Christ. There is evidence of Christian faith in the communities where the Dead Sea scrolls were found, which was likely maintained by the Essenes. What brought them together? It was the reality of Jesus Christ and the power of the gospel. This was their greatest essential and upon that, they built their relationships and their work. They could still debate non-essential matters and come away with differences of perspective. That was okay because their foundation was the same.
As a church, we are built upon the foundation of Christ and the writings of the Apostles. We too must remember that the gospel is our essential. As long as we are standing upon this rock for our sense of worth and “rightness”, then we can risk discussion and debate about other important matters because we can approach those discussions with humility. In other words, it’s okay to be wrong on non-essential matters.
We are very tempted to move those non-essentials to essential as we think about people dying around us from the virus, the vaccine, the lack of treatment, or bad treatment. We get passionate about wanting to diminish what we view as unnecessary deaths. But at the end of the day, the gospel is victory over death and the coronation of a good and just King that grants access to the tree of life and the healing of the nations. Ultimately, it is God alone who has recorded in his book the day of every birth and the day of every death. Passion for justice and healing and flourishing are good things. But that is all they are—good things. They are not ultimate things. The ultimate “thing” is the gospel. As we remember that as a church, and show that our unity around the gospel is stronger than our feelings about these important, but ultimately non-essential matters, we shine like the city on a hill we are meant to be.
So discuss the important things and be passionate! But don’t let your passion drive you away from the bond the gospel forms between you and other passionate people. It is okay to be wrong on non-essential matters because our future and our hope are not dependent upon those things. And we can cast our anxieties to the Lord when it looks like things are spinning out of control because we worship a God that is sovereign.