By Pastor Steve Fry
Nobody expected this. Year 2021 was supposed to be the year we put 2020 behind us. A fresh start. We glimpsed the end of masks and the election was, well if not settled, at least close to resolution.
Then the assault on the Capitol Building happened. Images of hostile takeover are now seared forever in our minds. America seemed to lose whatever innocence she had left, and the reality of unbridgeable rifts in our culture suffocated our souls.
The divisions have gone deep. I understand that. The social and moral stakes are high. Our very identity as a republic is up for grabs. The fractious debate is between the right to fight for our freedoms and our obligation to obey civil authorities. Simmering social injustices, the culture’s growing hostility toward a Judeo-Christian value system, and the cockfight that was our presidential race all underscore the very real struggle for our nation’s soul.
But that the body of Jesus would be as divided as it is? For those of us who cling to the gospel, our divisiveness as a Church has pierced our very sense of collective identity.
We who love Jesus, who worship Him and pray to The Father in His Name, have never seen this. And many of us have retreated to our various tribes who think and believe like we do. We are in danger of letting our divisions harden into insurmountable barricades.
How can we as a Church begin a process of healing? A couple of simple steps to start:
1. First, let’s make sure we’re worshiping God for the right reason.Worshiping together should unify us around a mutual desire to exalt Jesus. But I’ve been somewhat stunned to see worshipers this divided.
Perhaps this exposes a flaw in our understanding of worship. Seems to me that if we were worshiping Jesus, we would be drawn to Him. And being drawn to Him, we would find some unity in our common life in Christ that would elevate us above rancorous political debate.
So…maybe we haven’t been worshiping Jesus as much as we think. Maybe we need to reassess why we worship. And perhaps this might be a significant step toward healing.
I have often heard it said that we worship to encounter God’s Presence—that our worship attracts God’s Presence. It is true that as we worship, we become more aware of His Presence. But is this the primary reason we worship?
If worship is based on my encounter with God, then I eventually risk worshiping my encounter of His Presence, rather than Him. That’s like being in love with love. Like loving the experience of romance more than the person you’re committed to.
So what is the ultimate reason we worship? Because God is worthy (Rev 4:11). Not first to encounter Him, not to attract His Presence as if He were outside our gatherings waiting to walk in when He sees us worshiping sufficiently.
Worship is not first an experience; it’s a declaration of God’s “worth-ship.” Whether we feel His Presence in our worship today like we did last week is irrelevant. We worship because the Lord is worthy. Not to generate emotion (although we should prize passionate worship) or to create an attractive environment, or not to create a Christian “alternative” to the house jam in the hip part of town.
If our divisions in this season are as intense as they seem to be, could it be that our commonness in Christ is more fragile than we thought? And if Christ hasn’t loomed large enough for us to pursue the unity for which He prayed, then is He sufficiently large in our vision? And if He is not, have we truly been worshiping Him?
Perhaps one of the first steps toward healing a fractured Church is to worship God for Christ’s sake. Simply because He is worthy. If that were the reason we worshiped, we would more readily find each other in our common devotion to Christ, thus dialing back the tensions that have polarized us.
And if we’re drawn to Jesus, we’ll be moved by His desires. And this brings me to a second step.
2. Let’s be an answer to Christ’s prayer: “May they all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:21).
This was Jesus’ focus in the hours before the cross. Not mission. Not even evangelism. Unity. If we love Jesus, wouldn’t we want to fulfill His desires? Unity is not lowering our convictions to the lowest common denominator. It is the commitment to love one another even in our differences.
And it is our love for one another that validates our message.Remember, it was Jesus Himself who stated the ultimate argument for the gospel; It isn’t apologetics, or effective mission, or manifestations of His Presence. It is the unity of His followers. I am not saying that there are no issues we shouldn’t divide over. The Apostle Paul wrote some pretty stark letters to some pretty compromised churches in Revelation. But they are far fewer than we think.
The fact that our unity is the primary means of convincing the world that God is real and Christ is the way should stir us to maintainthat unity in the bond of peace.
Still, how does unity get practical? And how might we heal damaged relationships?
We have been walking through an enormous amount of trauma. When there is this much disruption, on a scale this large, we can experience more relational tensions than normal. And sometimes we cannot deal with all of the relational loose ends at once.
But Proverbs 10:12 gives a marvelous insight into how we can tend our emotions and allow time to let relationships heal: Love covers all offenses. Or as The Message puts it, Love pulls a quilt over the bickering.
When we experience more strained relationships than we know what to do with, it can be very emotionally taxing. We so want to please God that we want to make things right with people, but we don’t know how to tend all the fractured relational at once!
That’s when love can cover. We may not be able to reconcile with everyone quickly, but in the meantime, love covers!
Love covers relational tensions while unity and trust are rebuilt. We don’t have to pull away from anyone just because we know there are unresolved issues in the relationship. And because love covers, we don’t feel the pressure to resolve all of our relationships all at once, and we don’t have to be afraid that we’re going to feel guilty carrying the emotional weight of unresolved relationship tensions for the rest of our lives just to keep other people happy. That is human fear.
So, rest in the power of His love to cover you and cover your relationships in the meantime. Give the responsibility of the healing of relationships back to God.
How do we make sense of things? Rest in God’s promise to reveal truth. Jesus told us that truth would set us free (John 8:32). We may not know everything we want to know, but God will always reveal to us what we need to be free. Start trusting God to reveal the truth about things in His way and in His time by praising His character.
Don’t worry about feeling what’s right. Just say what’s right. Confess what the Scriptures say about God. He is just in all His ways and kind in all His doings.
“But if I don’t feel that way about God right now, I will feel like a hypocrite confessing that.” But praising God’s character when you don’t feel like it is not hypocrisy; it’s the courage not to let your emotions rule you. As you do, you will be able to see everything truthfully. It might take a little while. And you may not get divine perspective all at once.
But we can rest in God’s power and grace to help us understand the truth about any situation. Including these present crises.
Second Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” God has already given us everything that we need for life and godliness, and we get everything as we center ourselves on knowing God.
Everything includes national unrest; everything includes the shock of our moral drift as a country; everything includes prophetic words that don’t seem to come to pass. Everything means everything.
Now, if God promises that we can have life, joy, and peace and respond rightly no matter how traumatic the situation, then there is emotional strength for us in what we are facing at this moment.
We have emotional strength to love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. We may win a political argument. We may stoically endure pandemics. We may expend vast amounts of time and energy in the cause of right. But without love, we gain nothing (1 Cor 13:1-3). Someone paraphrased that passage this way: “I may have prophetic powers, have faith to move mountains, and give away all I have… but if I have not love, as far as God is concerned it’s as if all these accomplishments and sacrifices never happened.”
If we as a Church are to heal, we must re-center our worship on Christ. And how will we know that we’re centered on Christ? We will be awakened to a passion for unity.