Navigating Your Child's Education: Grades 9-12

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'Fighting' for Unity in the Faith in an Age of Division

Jun 6, 2019 9:25 AM

A scan of a news feed or glance at today’s headlines quickly reveals one of our society’s most profound issues: division. It seems that everywhere we turn, there is increasing hostility and disunion. We as a nation are increasingly polarized by our gender, race, sexual orientation, political views, socio-economic status, and religious convictions. Sadly, the Church is not immune to society’s divisive, even combative influence.

At various times the Lord reveals unique things to us from the Scriptures.  Not unique in that no one has ever seen them, but unique in that they are particularly timely and pressing given the concerns or dynamics of the present.  It seems that everywhere I look in the Scriptures I am seeing God’s concern that His people be united.  We talk about unity a great deal, but if we’re (I’m!) being honest, by unity I usually mean that others should simply acknowledge that they are wrong when we disagree, see things my way, and then be quiet from there, doing what I want them to do.  But the unique message about unity that I’m seeing everywhere in the New Testament is, of course, counter to that sort of arrogance that we typically draw upon.

In Mark 3, when Jesus was accused of being possessed of the Devil, he utters the famous phrase that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” It would seem that a primary objective for Satan would be the division of God’s people.  If God’s people are divided, the house is weakened.  It’s great to take comfort in knowing that while things may seem bleak, the Church will never ultimately be overcome, no matter how divided we may seem (Matthew 16:13-20).  But that being said, division is real, it weakens the body, and it most certainly can make the good news of the Gospel seem bitter to those that experience the division of our sinful flesh rather than the unity of the Spirit.

I’ve come across several places in recent reading of the Scriptures, particularly in the New Testament, that have led me to the conclusion that division was just as big a problem for the early Christians as it is for many of us today, and Jesus and his apostles spent a great deal of time and energy teaching others about the importance of setting aside personal agendas for the sake of the unity of believers. 

A Posture of Deference

In a companion passage to “The Sermon on the Mount,” Luke 6 records the lesser-studied “Sermon on the Plain.”  Much is the same as Matthew, but there also seems to be a different emphasis for a different audience in Luke’s abbreviated summary of Jesus’ Galilean teaching.  Luke isn’t concerned with correcting their thinking about the Law, but instead, he records teachings of Jesus that place a heavy burden on the follower of Christ to lay down their preferences for the sake of their neighbor.  This deference extends even to those that we may call enemies.  Luke records Jesus’ teaching about judgment, condemning an attitude of superiority that we might have because we view our sin as somehow less reproachful than the sin of our neighbors.

But as we look around, I’m afraid that all too often we see others as obstacles that get in our way.  We often define “our way” as “Jesus’ way,” whether we’ve ever consulted Him on it or not.  We assume that if He were among us, He would endorse our posture, our politics, our agendas.  We assume that He would embrace our sometimes mercenary approaches that use people to gain the upper hand in culture wars.  The Sermon on the Plain ought to shake us awake to the reality that our present cultural battle is insignificant compared to the eternity of our neighbor’s soul.  As C.S. Lewis concluded in his sermon, “The Weight of Glory,”

There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations–these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit–immortal horrors or everlasting splendors… And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner – no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment…. your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.  If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ [is really hiding] * – the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden. [* translated from Latin]

Whether we are educators, students, or parents, all believers are called to see our neighbors differently.  Rather than ceding to the world’s forms of conflict, power, and hostility, we are called to seek the best for our neighbors, even when our neighbor may have angered us.  We must approach one another with patience and grace.  We must welcome those who are different from us, even those that we may believe are responsible for our harm, for these are the enemies that Jesus calls us to love.

Maturity Is Not Measured By Power

It is clear that the first-century church struggled with divisions.  Paul, in his letter to the Roman church, seems to be negotiating a pretty stark division, and in the last third of the letter, he turns his eye toward practical matters of living together in unity even when we don’t see eye to eye. In chapters 14 and 15, Paul zeroes in on particular disagreements in the church about food and holy days, and his conclusion is jarring when we consider it through the lens of what our flesh often draws us toward.  Simply put, Paul argues that even though you are “right” about an issue, the truly mature person (the strong) is the one who is willing to concede to the person who is wrong (weak).

I take great comfort in knowing that our twenty-first-century struggles really aren’t that different from their first-century struggles.  While the issues have changed, the underlying reality is that Christians have always disagreed about matters of conscience.  And Paul (inspired by God’s Spirit!) seems particularly disinterested in resolving the intellectual conflict.  What he spends his energy on is hammering away at two conclusions:

  1. We have no right to judge. Whether we are right about the issue or wrong about the issue (no matter the issue), judgment still belongs to the Lord.  Of course we make judgments about our behavior, and of course, we lovingly admonish and teach those who are saying ‘no’ to God, but we are never to objectify or make an enemy of those who disagree with us.
  2. We show our strength by our capacity to live at peace when we disagree. The world, the flesh, and the devil all try to persuade us that strength is defined by how many people I can bend to my will or way of thinking, but Paul argues for the exact opposite. He says that we patiently love those that disagree with us, and this is the mark of true strength.

New call-to-actionIt is very tempting to think about a Christian school no differently from any other social institution. It might be easy to think, “What works in the board room ought to be the posture in the parent-teacher conference.”  Without commentary on the pragmatism of that statement, I would encourage every believer to rethink the way that we handle our disagreements—not just disagreements about daily matters of school life, but also much larger social and cultural differences that are so evidently dividing people in our present time.  Strength is found when we are able to work and live peacefully with those who disagree with us, not when we can yell and power up and get our way.  Our mantra ought to be “Might makes wrong!”

We Are Stronger When We're Different

In Paul’s letters to the Ephesians, he makes an argument that we ought to actually go well beyond tolerance, so far as to celebrate the things that make us different.  In Ephesians 4, Paul establishes the Holy Trinity as the power that unites us, and then he explains that, very intentionally, God has made each of us different for the express purpose of helping the whole to be stronger.  It is the fact that none of us can do it all, know it all, nor is always right that makes the body of believers as strong as it can possibly be.  We find our greatest strength in embracing our weakness.

We are better when those that are different come together, unified around our shared belief in the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.  We are empowered to bring our uniqueness and giftings to the community in ways that others are unable to.  And the net result is that we don’t expect everyone to be like us, to think like us, and to agree on everything. Rather, we embrace and marvel at the reality that God has chosen to reveal Himself so uniquely in this outpost for the Gospel.

In discipling our children, we are called not to produce a monolithic set of robots, but we are compelled by the mission of the Trinity to draw out in each child what makes them a unique participant in the life of the Church.  This includes introducing them to forms of the Christian faith that are different from their own.  It shares as many sides as possible to arguments that genuine followers of Christ disagree on.  It encourages them to try new things and take risks. As influencers in their lives, we must invite attempts that are sure to fail because in every second and third attempt we recognize more and more of the amazing grace of a God and Savior who never tires of seeing His children learn to walk by faith, first stumbling as toddlers and eventually running fast and persevering to the end.

As parents that strive to raise our children well and in the ways of Jesus, we must embrace the call to deference, weakness, and diversity. These are the things that, sadly, are difficult to find elsewhere in our society today. May we be strengthened by our diversity and brought together in unity, “for Christ’s love compels us.”

Tom Burns
Written by Tom Burns

Tom is Director of Teaching and Learning at Worthington Christian School. He also serves as Teaching Pastor at Life Community Church in Hilliard, Ohio. He and his wife Christie are parents to four school-aged children and have many years of teaching and parenting experience. Before kids, Tom played baseball and golf; now he is relegated to either coaching or spectating while his kids have all the fun. He is particularly interested in the intersection of theology and learning, exploring how education​ forms the learner and the teacher more and more into the image of Christ.