This week I have been attempting to make the case that a church should be purple. What is a purple church? In a purple church family, we believe and live the principle that all people are equally loved in Christ, and thus we are one in Christ. As we saw in the previous posts (here and here), a purple church does not have ethnic, social or gender divisions. All are one in Christ.
How, then, do we apply this principle to our contemporary situation? What is dividing the church across America? Many things, of course, but the one that seems most divisive, at least in the USA, is political ideology. There is red and there is blue. We often allow that political ideology to guide how view a great many things: racial justice, sexual ethics, economics, foreign policy, and on and on.
The church, then, to express oneness in Christ, that all are equally loved by God, should be neither red nor blue. It should be community, a family, where we can say, “There is neither red nor blue, but all are one in Christ. There is neither Republican nor Democrat, but all are one in Christ. There is neither conservative nor progressive, but all are one in Christ.” And what do you get when you mix red and blue? Purple. We are to be a purple church.
We are to be a church family where our focus, our passion, is the Kingdom of God. What that means is that you will find teaching in the Bible that will line up on different sides of the current American political aisle. No one side can claim they are the right one on all things. Instead, our focus remains squarely the Kingdom of God, as Jesus once taught, “Seek first his Kingdom.” (Matthew 6:33) Let us not focus on being “red” or being “blue”. Let our focus be one other phrase that Jesus taught his disciples: “By this all may know that you are my disciples: that you love one another” (John 13:34-35), even when we see things differently.
So what should we do when we see things differently?
I recently heard a podcast about sexual ethics. The speaker is a Christian, and they said that that if your church doesn’t agree with your view of sexual ethics, then you have three options: 1. Stay at the church, say nothing about your disagreement, just be quiet, don’t rock the boat, and if you choose that option then you are a coward and wrong. 2. Stay at the church, but express your disagreement and work to change the church. 3. Leave the church to find a church that agrees with you.
I find difficulties in each of those options. Let’s examine each one. In today’s post, we’ll look at the first and third options, and then in the next post, we talk about option #2, and I will propose an option of my own. Here goes:
Option #1 – Just stay quiet. I think it’s good and consistent with biblical teaching to learn to lovingly express ourselves, to share differing ideas and opinions. There are times, however, when it is good to be quiet and listen. Some people are simply too quick to speak. James 1:19 says, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” But even if we are slow to speak, there is still a time to speak. So I mostly agree with the podcaster that option #1 doesn’t fit with biblical teaching.
Option #3 – Leave. My wife and I are about to start our 20th year in pastoral ministry at Faith Church, and option 3, in our experience, is what most people do when they are struggling in their relationship with a church family. They just leave. They disagree with something, and rather than choose to stay and speak and work through a situation, they leave. This is in large part what is occurring in the sorting between red and blue in our culture. Red or conservative-leaning people are leaving churches they feel are blue or purple, and Blue or progressive-leaning people are leaving churches they feel are red or purple. I almost always disagree with this option. You might ask, “But doesn’t there come a time when a person should leave a church?” Yes. If heresy is being preached. If sin is not being dealt with. But, in my view, that is exceedingly rare.
What I have seen over the years, more often than not, is people leaving for petty reasons when their personal preferences aren’t being met. In leaving for personal preferences, like red or blue political ideology, they are practicing a consumer Christianity which is something that very few Christians in different countries even have the ability to do. It is a uniquely western Christian problem. Many Christians around the world do not have the option of that type of consumerism within their community. There is one church to go to and that’s it. They have to make it work.
Across most of the USA, however, in communities such as Lancaster County, PA, where I live, with our 800 churches, people can choose to equate their political ideology with biblical teaching, so that if a church doesn’t agree with their political views, they accuse that church of practicing heresy, and they leave. The red leaning people look for a red leaning church and blue leaning people look for a blue leaning church. It is astounding to me how quick people are to leave a church, and how often they leave without saying much about it.
What does Jesus say? Christ bids us come and die to ourselves, to give sacrificially of ourselves for his Kingdom. Does that mean you sacrifice your personal values? No, but that also does not mean that you only work for the Kingdom and worship alongside those who value the same things in the same exact way that you do. We are called to unity, not uniformity. In Christ, there is neither red nor blue.