I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…all of you should be in agreement and there should be no divisions among you! – The apostle Paul to the congregation in 1st century Corinth (1 Cor. 1:10)
As I write, my congregation in San Francisco is about a month into the book of 1st Corinthians, a remarkable Pauline text that just seems ripe for such a time as this. I believe there are many ways this will bear true, but let me begin with this one: the apostle Paul is vexed about a divided Church in a divided world.
The divided part we get, right? And we know all too well that our national divisions ran deep long before inauguration day. Not that the new administration’s proclivities aren’t having far-reaching affect, but the seismic tremors we’re feeling with increased regularity are reverberating from the social fault-lines (political, racial, economic, or otherwise) that were already reaching their breaking points. For instance, having a non-white face on our representative democracy for two terms may have hinted of progress, yet the resurgent movement to re-establish that black lives matter exposed the more ominous reality.
Such divisions, of course, are sadly no less operative in American Christendom, particularly given our seemingly obsessive need to align our religious beliefs in service of our political party. A dear missionary friend of ours, recently home for the holidays, shared about the need to place a jar on the family dinner table that read, “One dollar for every minute you bring up the elections. And no dessert!” Such anecdotes about domestic measures to preempt holy wars at home have abounded.
Which is why I believe our eyes glaze over whenever we read Paul’s admonition that “there should be no divisions among you.” Like the Corinthians, we have made our bed with countless schisms, torn along fissures of which the proverbial Washington “aisle” is but one. Our various ecclesial traditions (e.g. Orthodox, Catholic, Reformed, Anabaptist, Pentecostal) and sub-labels (e.g. seeker-friendly, relevant, missional, emergent, post-liberal, progressive, inclusive, traditional, spirit-filled) set us against each other when we proudly tout our particular brand of church.
Much closer to home, however, is the way we acclimate to divisiveness within our congregations. Some tensions are more out there, for example, our differing worship preferences, parenting styles, spending habits, devotional practices, sexual ideologies, or generational cliques. Others are less obvious, but far more insidious, for instance, the rifts of unresolved conflicts, deep-rooted bitterness, unforgiven sins, and issues with “the leadership” that have long been left unaddressed. Such suppressed maladies, while perhaps allowing for a semblance of “unity,” conspire to render a congregation spiritually-compromised and missionally-innocuous.
Might the beginning of our renewal as the Church, in such a time as this, simply be that rather than blowing Paul off as quaint or naive, we repent from our cynicism and believe that – in Christ – no divisions among us is actually possible?
– Craig Wong