What to do when talking about faith is scary or difficult

8 Aug

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

Have you ever been made fun of for your faith?  It can feel awful, making you want to crawl into the closest hole and hide.  That feeling of shame is often so powerful that it gets stuck inside us, and we fear talking about our faith ever again.  What should we do about this?

Instead of responding negatively, Peter says in 1 Peter 3:15 we should, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.”  This is crucial.

I was convicted about this idea this week.  I would say I try to set apart Christ as Lord, but it hit me, how often do I talk about Jesus?  We talk about what is important to us. We’re excited about it. I’m in week 11 of 18 training for a marathon, so I have been talking about running a lot lately.  Mostly it is complaining about being tired, hungry and sore all the time.  Here’s what convicted me: I say Jesus is way more important to me than running, yet I rarely talk about him.  How about you?

Peter says in verse 15 that we should always be ready to talk about Jesus.  “Always be ready to give an answer to those who ask you to give a reason for the hope you have.”  When you have set apart Christ as Lord, when you are in close relationship with him, thoughts about Jesus will be filling your heart and mind, and you’ll be ready to talk about the hope you have in him.

Will people ask about this hope, though?  Peter says we should be ready when people ask us to give the reason for the hope we have.

Peter is not just saying we need to wait around and be quiet until people ask that specific question.  He is talking more broadly.  He is talking about being prepared to share the good news of Jesus at any time.  That would apply in many different situations.

Also, I love that Peter talks about the hope we have.  Peter’s is a wonderfully positive model for how we should talk about Jesus.  Think about it: we believe in good news!  “For God so loved the world!”  And because Jesus gave his life on the cross for the sin of the world, and then rose again to new life, God wants all to have that same new life, both now on earth and in heaven, when we choose to believe in him and follow him.  That is hope!

How about you? How did you come to know that hope?  One practical beginning step is simply to tell your story.  Get the details down.  Write them out or type them.  Or maybe you prefer talking.  Meet up with a trusted friend or spouse and share the story with them.  A great way to “always be ready” is to first become familiar with your story of hope in Jesus, and writing it or talking it out with a friend can really help.

Then look for ways and places to share it.  Always be ready.  Of course Peter is not talking about blurting it out in every single conversation or encounter you get into.  But we do need to be ready.  As I said before, in a culture where hardly anyone will ever ask, being ready can mean actively looking for ways that our story of hope will fit into a conversation.  When Jesus is Lord of your life and you have an active, thriving relationship with him, conversation about him will naturally and joyfully flow out on a regular basis.

Are we doing this?

For those of us at Faith Church, our denomination’s name is Evangelical CongregationalEvangelical is a word that has taken on a very political difficult meaning over the years, and that’s why we removed it from our church sign last year.  But historically, evangelical means “to proclaim good news.”  That is a huge part of the mission that God has given to us.  We are people who proclaim the good news about the hope we have in Jesus.  That is what Peter is talking about here.

We Christians are people who believe the good news about Jesus, and then have chosen to follow his way for life.  We have hope of new life!  So again I ask, are we talking about the hope we have?

At at recent meeting, I asked a small group of people from my church what they thought about how people in our church family are doing sharing the hope we have on an individual basis in our community.  The general consensus was that we could do a better job.

Of course, there are roadblocks that deter many of us from telling our stories of hope.  Fear of wanting to say the wrong thing, fear of wanting people to get the wrong impression, fear of ridicule, fear of being unprepared

But Peter says in verse 14, “Do not fear!”

I am convinced in my own life, that I need to be more vocal.  I would say that I am ready to share the words.  But if I am ready and never actually share the words, what does that say about me?  I will admit to fear.

Do you need to be more intentional and proactive in telling the story of the hope you have in Jesus?

Are Christians in America being oppressed?

7 Aug

This week we are studying 1 Peter 3:13-17.  As you turn there, remember that the backdrop of this letter is that the Christians were being persecuted for their faith.

You might remember three months ago when we started this series, I talked about the situation that these Christians found themselves in.  They were being persecuted.  So when Peter says in verse 13, “who is going to harm you?” he knows there is a real possibility that not only had his Christian friends already been persecuted, but more could be on the way.  It was not a widespread persecution like the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews.  It was much smaller.  But the Emperor in Rome, a kinda crazy guy name Nero, did sanction some persecution of Christians.  It is likely that both main leaders of the church, Peter and Paul, were killed by Nero.

Most of the persecution these Christians were facing, though was small, as I said, and in their own towns and cities.  So what Peter is saying here is that if they are eager to do good, it is less likely that they will be persecuted.  That is common sense.

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  Very few people.  That is a principle that is true today.  If you are a loving, kind person, people may disagree with your decision to follow Christ, but it is unlikely that they will harm you.

But it is not a promise.  Jews during the Nazi Holocaust, even if they were amazingly good, were being rounded up and exterminated.  In many places throughout history, and still today, there is persecution simply because of ethnicity, nationality, gender, politics, religion.  Even if people are good, they can still be persecuted simply because of the color of their skin, or because of their beliefs.

Does this apply to us Christians in America? Are we American Christians persecuted for our faith?

On the books, because the USA has freedom of religion, persecution and discrimination based on religion is illegal.  If persecution would happen, there is legal recourse that we can take. Just because it is illegal, though, doesn’t mean persecution doesn’t happen.

Does persecution for being a Christian happen in the USA?  The simple answer is “I don’t know.”  I don’t have comprehensive knowledge of everything that happens in the USA.  No one does.  So my guess is that persecution, in some form, does happen.  By that I mean that there are probably times when Christians in America are persecuted for their faith.  Possibly even physical, bodily, painful persecution.  But my suspicion is that it is extremely rare, as Christianity is by far the majority religion in every single state, and that persecution is against the law.

Also I think it is important to note that there is not any systemic, government-sponsored persecution in a physical bodily way against Christians or any other religion.  Sometimes, though, we Christians can act like there is a conspiracy against us, like the picture at the top of this post suggests.  But it is simply not true.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is wrong for American Christians to act like or think or declare that we are oppressed in the United States, when there are millions of Christians around the world, living in countries where it is actually illegal to be a Christian, and where they daily face physical bodily persecution.

As you can see on the picture, most persecution against Christians takes place in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The newest issue of Persecution magazine came out recently.  I urge you to check it out and learn about what is happening around the world.  Just reading that could make you extremely grateful for the freedom of religion that we have in the USA.  And it could encourage you to pray for Christians around the world who are, right now, being persecuted.

So what persecution do we face in the USA?  We do, from time to time, face ridicule from those who disagree with us. What that means is that we are affected by our Christianity.  As we should be though, right?

We Christians hold to the way of Jesus, and even in free society, there will be people who think believing in God is ridiculous.  They might have all kinds of ways to make fun of us, belittle us, or marginalize us.  We should not be surprised when this happens.  Think about what happened to Jesus.

Photo by Christop Schmid on Unsplash

One author I found said, “We can’t stop people from shooting us down, but we can stop giving them ammunition.  When we respond with anger, bitterness, revenge, we give people ammunition to tear us down.”

Is it persecution when a company takes a stand on an issue and people who disagree with the company’s stand decide to boycott? Should the company say they are being persecuted?  Or should they just say “We took a stand for what we believe is right, and we knew that not everyone would agree, and maybe we’ll lose a lot of income.  But we’re willing to accept those consequences.”

If people treat us illegally, of course we have legal means to pursue getting justice, because in our country there is freedom of religion. But Christians have another way to respond when we are simply insulted or made fun of.

Peter is saying in verses 13-15 that when we are mistreated, we can absorb it, because Jesus is our Lord.  We don’t have to be afraid.  Furthermore we can know that when we are mistreated, Peter shockingly says in verse 14, we are blessed.  Jesus taught that to Peter.  In Matthew 5, Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”

So instead of responding negatively to criticism or insult, look how Peter says we should respond in verse 15, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.”  This is crucial. And tomorrow we’ll talk about how to set apart Christ as Lord.

A story about what happens after people die

6 Aug

Photo by Ashim d’Silva on Unsplash

What happens after a person dies?  My uncle recently sent me this story, author unknown, that tries to answer that question.

On the outskirts of a small town, there was a big old pecan tree just inside the cemetery fence. One day, two boys filled up a bucketful of nuts and sat down by the tree, out of sight, and began dividing the nuts.

‘One for you, one for me, one for you, one for me,’ said one boy.  Several dropped and rolled down toward the fence.

Another boy came riding along the road on his bicycle. As he passed, he thought he heard voices from inside the cemetery, so he slowed down to investigate. Sure enough, he heard, ‘One for you, one for me, one for you, one for me…’

He just knew what it was. He jumped back on his bike and rode off. Just around the bend he met an old man with a cane, hobbling along.

‘Come here quick,’ said the boy, ‘you won’t believe what I heard! Satan and the Lord are down at the cemetery dividing up the souls!’

The man said, ‘Beat it kid, can’t you see it’s hard for me to walk?’ When the boy insisted though, the man hobbled slowly to the cemetery.

Standing by the fence they heard, ‘One for you, one for me.  One for you, one for me.’

The old man whispered, ‘Boy, you’ve been tellin’ me the truth.  Let’s see if we can see the Lord!

Shaking with fear, they peered through the fence, yet were still unable to see anything. The old man and the boy gripped the wrought iron bars of the fence tighter and tighter as they tried to get a glimpse of the Lord.

At last they heard, ‘One for you, one for me. That’s all.  Now let’s go get those nuts by the fence and we’ll be done.’

They say the old man had the lead for a good half-mile before the kid on the bike passed him.

That boy and the old man had a very interesting view of God and what happens after people die!

While we might take issue with their theology, we can agree with them that something does after to people after they die.  We believe that there is an eternal destiny for all.

Therefore, a significant element of the mission of God’s Kingdom has been that Christians tell the story of hope that we have because of what Jesus has done for us.  We don’t have to look at life beyond the grave with fear because we have hope in Christ.  Additionally, Jesus said that the hope we have in him matters before we die.  We believe that becoming a disciple, a follower of Jesus, gives us hope for eternal life after death, and gives us hope for best possible way to live now.  We believe that God is preparing a place for us in heaven, and he is seeking to transform society now!  Eternal life in heaven, abundant life on earth.  That’s how we summarize this amazing Kingdom of God.

As Peter continues teaching the Christians in the Roman Empire around the year 65 AD, he now teaches them about how to live out this mission of God’s Kingdom among people who might be antagonistic or atheistic, agnostic or apathetic.

So please read 1 Peter 3:13-17.  This week we’re going to see how Peter instructs Christians to talk about this hope they have.

How to be a peacemaker (shocking lessons from an “insane” person!)

3 Aug

Image result for seek peace and pursue it

All week long, we’ve been looking at 1 Peter 3:8-12 where Peter teaches a very difficult thing to do: when people insult you, ask God to bless them.

Is Peter saying you can never defend yourself?  I would submit that Peter would answer, “No. You can defend yourself. But there is a right way and a right wrong to defend yourself.”

First of all, if you are abused, report it and get safe.  We live in a country where there is legal recourse to deal with abuse.  That is a very good thing.  Not all countries throughout history have been like this.  There are certainly Christians living in places around the world even today where they are physically abused, maybe sexually and emotionally too, and they have no recourse.  Imagine how difficult it must be for them to hear Peter’s words.  They might not be able to get safe.  They too, however, can bless those who persecute them.

Thankfully, ours is a country where abuse and persecution are not tolerated.  But I think here in his letter Peter is primarily thinking about how interpersonal relations in a church family can get ugly.  Meanness.  Unkindness. Gossip. In those cases he is not saying, “Do not stick up for yourself.”

He is saying that there is a difference between aggression and assertiveness.  We do not need to attack back.  It will only make things worse if you attack back.

I once heard Ravi Zacharias say: “When you throw mud at others, you not only get your hands dirty, but you lose a lot ground in the process.”  When people are evil to us, or insult us, we are not to get revenge.  Instead, as I said yesterday, if they insult you, eulogize ’em!

Peter supports his argument with a quote from the Old Testament.  Psalm 34:12-16 to be exact. Psalm 34 is a fascinating psalm written by the great poet, warrior, king of Israel David. And it has a wonderful backstory.  The subtitle of Psalm 34 tells us that David wrote this psalm as he was reflecting on a really difficult situation in his life.  At the time he was a fugitive, on the run from his father-in-law King Saul who wanted to kill David.  In 1 Samuel 21 we read that David made the surprising decision, after retrieving Goliath’s sword (the same Philistine Goliath from Gath whom David had killed years earlier), to go to enemy Philistine territory, and of all places the city of Gath.  Can you tell that David was under a lot of pressure and maybe not thinking straight?  He arrives at Gath, and the Philistine leaders there are very suspicious.  In their eyes David was the most well-known Philistine killer.  Not only had he killed their hometown hero Goliath, but in the years following, he had commanded Israelite armies that had killed thousands of other Philistines.  Now he is in their town, hoping for asylum?  David sees their reactions, their doubt, their fear, and he starts thinking “Uh-oh…did I just make a horrible decision coming here?” This would be the Philistines perfect opportunity to get their revenge on David. So what does he do?  He acts insane, to the point of allowing drool to dribble down his beard!  I encourage you to read the account for yourself.  It’s quite a vivid episode in David’s life.  Find out how the Philistines reacted to his insanity ploy!

That is what David was thinking about when he wrote Psalm 34.  The whole psalm is amazing and deserves lots of attention and further study, but Peter only quotes verses 12-16, so that will be my focus here.

I’ll start in Psalm 34 verse 11, “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” I see David in Psalm 34 as older man, wanting to pass on wisdom to his grandkids.  Telling them the story of the time he pretended to be crazy, and then saying these words.  And what does he say?

He starts with: “Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days…”

You probably don’t have to look hard to find people who love life and desire to see good days. So for those who want that, what do you have to do?  David has some specific instructions.

He says, “keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”

Four things that line right up with Peter’s teaching, and can be summed with: control your mouth!  That means not speaking any evil or lies, no matter what has been done to you.  Then do good.  Turn from evil.  Finally, seek peace. Actually pursue it.

David is not just saying, “be a peaceful person;” he is saying the we should be actively pursuing peace.  Seek it out, make it happen. When you pursue something, you strive for it, and it often takes intense effort.

David, therefore, is not just reactive; he is teaching a proactive seeking of peace.  When our seminary president, Tony Blair, spoke at Faith Church a few years ago, he made a comment I’ll never forget, “mature Christians deflate drama.”  Peace-seekers reduce drama.  And that can be hard work, but it is necessary work in the life of a church, family, workplace, or neighborhood.

This does not mean you agree with people all the time.  It means that you handle things in such a way that drama is reduced.  This goes back to verse 9 and choosing not to react back, or fight back against someone who has been evil to you or insulted you.

Finally look at verse 12, where David personifies the Lord.  God is spirit.  He doesn’t have a body.  It’s hard to know how to depict God.  When I illustrated this part of the sermon, I chose a lion for the slide because there are times in the Bible when God is described as lion.  He’s not a lion.  But look at how David uses human body parts to teach us about the Lord.

Eyes – on the righteous

Ears – attentive to their prayer

Face – against those who do evil

What a comfort!  No matter what is going on in our lives, our God knows, our God hears, and our God defends.  That means we can take hope in the Lord and do good, loving those in the church family, even when people are unkind to us.  He knows, he is on the side of the righteous!

If they insult you, eulogize them!  Guess what I learned this week?  I should love eulogies!  I should be eulogizing all the time!

How to handle difficult people: When they insult you, eulogize ’em!

2 Aug

I learned a shocking thing about eulogies, and in this post I’m going to reveal what I learned.

This week we are studying 1 Peter 3:8-12, and so far we have learned the Top 5 adjectives that Peter says should describe a church family.  Now he gets to some verbs, some actions that members of a church family should practice.

Look at Verse 9 and we see the verb “paying back”, or as the NIV says “repay”.  This can be positive or negative.  You have to look at the context.  A payback can be very positive, right? When you borrow money, you pay it back.  That is good.  Or when someone is kind to you, then you are kind back.  Or you might pay it forward.  You are sitting at the drive through and the person in front of you pays for your meal, so you pay for the meal of the person behind you.  Those are awesome paybacks.

Then there are other not so awesome paybacks.  And that is the verb, the action Peter is talking about.  But he puts a tiny little three letter word in front of it, the word “not”.  Do not repay.  Do not do the negative paybacks. At a recent youth group pool party, I witnessed tons of paybacks.  A person would be standing on the edge of the pool, and another person nearby would push them in!  Guess what would happen five minutes later?  Yeah, paybacks.  I think we got to the point where there paybacks for paybacks for paybacks.

The first things Peter mentions is paying back evil for evil.  Don’t do that, he says.  The second thing he mentions is paying back insult with insult. Don’t do that either.

The word Peter uses for “insult” means “highly insulting and slanderous.”  We are not sure if Peter is referring to the method or the message, or both.  It doesn’t matter.  Don’t do either one.  Don’t speak with an insulting tone, and don’t speak insulting messages.  He is saying “Don’t pay back an insulting comment with an insult of your own.”

This requires huge amounts of self-control and love.  We need it in church families just as much as we need it in any family, any friendship, and workplace, any neighborhood.  Christians show self-control when someone treats us bad.

How about you?  Do you have trouble with self-control?  Has your mouth gotten you in trouble?   The escalation of insulting one another is rampant in our society, and it can happen in the church too.  Drama increases! What should we do when people are mean to us?

As Peter continues in verse 9, he gives us the answer.  Guess what?  He says the answer is eulogy!  See the word “Blessing”? In Greek this is the word from which we get our English word “eulogy.”

I have done a lot of eulogies in funerals.  But Peter doesn’t have a funeral in mind here.  He is saying “Eulogize people when they insult you!”  Now, when you are insulted, you might be inwardly wishing it was that person’s funeral!  But no, Peter is saying, bless them.  Here is the definition of eulogy, the specific word that Peter uses.  This definition blew me away, when I thought about how Peter uses it in the context of a person who has just been insulted!  The definition is “to ask God to bestow divine favor on, with the implication that the verbal act itself constitutes a significant benefit[1]

That is amazing.  When they insult you, eulogize ‘em! And it doesn’t mean you wish them dead!  It means you ask for God to bless them.

What’s more, Peter supports his teaching by saying that we Christians are called to eulogize people who insult us, so that we might inherit a eulogy.

Think about that.  If we bless people who insult us, or who are evil to us, that means that we will inherit a blessing.  Again, remember the definition of this word blessing, eulogy, “to ask God to bestow divine favor on.”  Would you like God to bestow his favor on you?  If so, we are to be the kind of people who ask God to bestow his favor on those who insult us or who are evil to us!

So now whenever someone says something mean to you, just put on a smile and say “I am going to eulogize you right now.”  They’ll give you a weird look.  So maybe don’t do that…they might misunderstand and think that you want them dead, which could make things worse!

Instead, you might just need to not say anything.  You know yourself.  When you are attacked, you might have a really hard time reacting with kindness.  If so, maybe the victory for you is to just respond with a smile, and pray silently in your thoughts that God would shine his favor on them.

You’ll have to evaluate the emotional temperature of the situation.  It may be that the person is so upset that they are not in a place to hear anything, even blessing.

For one of my college soccer games, we were playing another Christian college.  I played defense and my main job that game was to cover one-on-one an offensive guy from the other team.  So we battled a lot throughout the course of the game, and this guy had some attitude.

There we are, players from two Christians schools playing a level of soccer that was maybe the quality of good public high schools.  Not world cup.  Not professional.  Not even close.  And this guy on the other team was fired up, pulling at my jersey, talking nasty to me, and I’m thinking to myself, “You have got to be kidding me.”  Now I will admit that it was not a proper eulogy or blessing, and my attitude definitely had a dose of snarkiness, but at one point I looked at him and said, “Jesus loves you, man.” It was a Christian soccer player attempt at repaying an insult with a blessing.  The funny thing is that it seemed to hit home. 

After the game, he actually came up to me, shook hands and thanked me, saying that it totally convicted him!  I was shocked.  Glad, but shocked.  Embarrassed because my motivations weren’t totally pure, but still amazed that God used that.  When we played that team the next year, that guy came right up to me with a big smile, remembering the previous years’ interaction and he was like a totally different guy.  It was wild.

When they insult you, eulogize ‘em.

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 441. Print.

The Top 5 adjectives that should describe a church family (do you know them?)

1 Aug

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Get out a pen and paper, or open up a note-taking app.  What are the first five adjectives that come to mind if you were trying to answer the question: “What are the five top adjectives that should describe a church family?”

This week we are studying 1 Peter 3:8-12 where Peter teaches how a church family should interact with one another.  Yesterday we saw the first of five adjectives that Peter says should define a church: harmonious.  A church should be unified.  Today we going to look at the remaining four adjectives, and I think you’ll see that they all very much relate to or support the idea of being harmonious.

The second adjective is Sympathetic.  Sympathy is when you have common feelings or emotions with someone.  Hear the unity in that?

Third is Brotherly Love.  This is the Greek word philadelphia again, just like we saw in 1:22, “love for your brothers.” Same word.  This is vital for unity.  Love is the basis for unity.

Next is Compassionate.  The passion part of this word is not about erotic passion.  The word Peter is using is about painful passion.  We English speakers almost never use the word passion like that, except in one week of the year.  You know which week?  Holy Week.  It is also called Passion Week, and churches do Passion Plays, and what passion are they talking about?  Jesus’ passion, his suffering!  Jesus’ arrest, beating, crucifixion and death are his passion, his pain, his suffering.  And that is what the word compassion is getting at.  It means to “suffer with someone.”  We normally think of compassion as when we see someone hurting and we go, “Awwww…it will be okay,” or some platitude like that.  But true compassion is to enter into the pain with that person.  That is a whole deeper level of kindness and relationship that we can see totally spurs on unity!

Finally, Be Humble.  That one is huge.  Humility, teachability is critical for unity in the church family.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  In a church family, we must simply be humble.  Pride and arrogance will destroy our relationships.  When I did my missionary internship between my junior and senior years in college, I spent three months in Guyana, South America.  There were probably 15-20 different missionaries working together in the same general area.  My host family were really awesome, and they taught me so much about ministry.  One thing they taught me was humility.  One night the wife was telling me about how they had been having significant relationship problems with one of the missionaries.  This other missionary was being extremely difficult about a policy and making false accusations against my host family.  They prayed hard about how to respond, because they knew they had not done what they were accused of.  You know what my missionary host family told me they decided to do?  “It is better to take one for the team and preserve unity, than it is to be right.”  Wow.  That’s humility.

Those are the five adjectives Peter says should describe a church family: harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly love, compassion and humility.  So how many did you get?  And more importantly, are there any that you need to work on?  Who can you talk with in your church family about improving on that characteristic?

But Peter is not done.  He finally gets to some verbs. We’ll start looking at them tomorrow!

How a church family can disagree but still be harmonious

31 Jul

Photo by Rawpixel on Unsplash

Is your church family harmonious?  How much should a church family agree with one another?  Is it okay if there is disagreement in a church family?

Yesterday we began looking at 1 Peter 3:8-12, and I said that Peter is talking to all Christians about how they should interact with one another in their church families.  He starts off with five adjectives that should describe us.  Today we look at the first one, and tomorrow we’ll see how the remaining four support the first.

Adjective #1.  Christians should be harmonious

The word Peter uses for “harmonious” means, “Pertaining to being of the same mind or having the same thoughts as someone else.”  So Peter could be translated here as saying, “all should be like-minded”. The dictionary I use says that the word Peter uses is a word picture of “having thoughts that follow the same path.[1]

Harmony is a musical word.  To make harmony, not everyone is singing the exact same tune.  In fact they are singing different tunes that work together.  But we know right away when harmony is poor, right?

Peter is not saying that everyone in a church family must think about everything exactly the same. That would be uniformity. Peter is not suggesting that we need to strive for uniformity in the church.  Peter is talking about unity, where we have the same goals, same mission, same heart, but we can still disagree about a great many things, in love.

What are some areas where we can disagree?  Politics and matters of ethics are areas where I think it is obvious that people in my Faith Church family disagree.  We have Republicans and we have Democrats.  We have those who are conservative and those who are moderate and those who are liberal.  We have people think that certain behaviors are okay, and people who think those same behaviors are wrong.  Those differences are completely normal, and even to be expected.

Though we have differences of opinions about many things, we are to be harmonious.

There are a few things that are non-negotiable, and the rest we can disagree in love. Have you heard the phrase:  “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”  I find it to be very helpful in providing a framework for how Christians in a church family can be harmonious.  Let’s look at all three levels.

In Essentials, Unity

What are the essentials in which we are to practice unity?

Historically, the Apostles’ Creed.  This is what Christians everywhere, from the very early days of the church, said out loud together to give voice to what is true Christian teaching:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell; The third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; The Holy catholic Church, the Communion of Saints; The Forgiveness of sins; The Resurrection of the body, And the Life everlasting. Amen.

I think it is best to keep as small as possible the theological statements that we feel are absolutely essential to be followers of Jesus.  The Creed is perhaps the best foundation.

In Non-Essentials, Liberty

What are some examples of the middle level, the non-essentials?  One could be differences in churches’ modes of baptism.  Or differences in how we practice communion.  These and many other doctrines express differences that distinguish between denominations.

I think the EC Church does a great job of asking its members to commit to a few distinctives rather than a big group.  The EC Church has 25 Articles of Faith and a really long statement on Christian Practice.  But to be a member of an EC Church, you don’t have to agree with that.  I find that very healthy.  What do you need to agree to, to become a member of an EC Church? This is what we ask:

The Discipline of the Evangelical Congregational Church outlines the qualifications for membership: (1) Believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; (2) Believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God; (3) Be committed to daily Christian growth; (4) Be committed to giving Jesus Christ your time, talent, and treasure; (5) Be supportive of our local church and the ministry of the Evangelical Congregational Church denomination; (6) Be faithful in attendance and participation; and (7) Be baptized as a Christian.

In All Things, Charity

Finally there is the third level, what we would call “in all things, charity” and this is where much disagreement takes place.  Should Christians gamble, drink, smoke, swear, watch R-rated movies, wear bikinis, and on and on? When I preached this, I illustrated this part of the sermon with a picture of a gambling table at a casino. I said, “As soon as you see that picture, some of you are thinking, ‘I can’t believe you put that picture there!  Gambling is a sin!  Are you trying to encourage gambling, Joel?’  And others of you are thinking, ‘There is nothing wrong with having a little fun at a casino on vacation.  Geez, the stock market is a worse gamble.’

There is so much we could talk about here.  Peter says, be harmonious.  Charity means “love.”  In all things, charity, means that we absolutely need to love those, especially those in the church family, with whom we disagree.  Check out this post (about bikinis!) for further thoughts on how Christians can disagree about ethical issues.

 

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 351. Print.