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Thoughts On Unity

Dear Friends,

With the heavily publicized "Presidential Debate" being aired tonight, and the election looming large in the American psyche, I thought I would offer some wise counsel from church leaders (past and present) whose opinions and advice I respect and find very discerning - especially with an eye toward maintaining unity in the Body of Christ. For in the long run (and I know this will sound shocking to some) the unity of the Body of Christ on earth is far more important than who gets elected in five weeks. After all, few remember the arguments that raged between Governor Grover Cleveland the Democrat from New York, and Governor James Blaine the Republican from Maine, leading up to the 1884 election - though at that time they seemed so all-important to so many.

Satan's strategy is to distract, divide, and conquer, for as Jesus noted - every kingdom (nation-state), city, or household that is divided against itself, will not stand (Matt. 12:25). And although even the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, division in the ranks can weaken its influence immensely. We need to remember, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:25, "Christ loved the church and gave Himself up [in death] for her..." And as His people, it should be our goal to love the Church He loves.

This year has been trying to say the least! Few (none that I know of anyway) have sailed through it calmly and peacefully without falling prey to certain times of emotional, spiritual, or relational conflict and confusion. People have struggled with what to believe, how to feel, what position or "side" to take, how to deal with all the conflicting opinions and positions of friends, and how to respond graciously and respectfully to opinions we disagree with. That's why I offer the following "thoughts." I simply pass them on to you as advice I consider wise and godly to help keep you on track during these times when accusations are flying about like verbal bullets (and being fueled by much emotionally-charged rhetoric). I do not know what side of the divide you stand on, but regardless, I offer these thoughts to help guide you. Enjoy.

An entry from the Journal of John Wesley, the great British evangelist:
“October 6, 1774
I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them:
1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy.
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side."

Advice on how to pray during an election year by Kevin DeYoung:
"During an election season, pastors should pray that God would work through the political process to give us godly leaders who are marked by ability, prudence, honesty, courage, humility, and compassion."

A pastor's note to his church by Carson Troutman:
It’s no secret that over the past few months America has been divided. We all see it, and we all feel it. And for many of us; we feel tired, depressed and angry. There are a number of factors that might explain the heightened division in our country. However, one thing we can all agree on is that we seem to have a lot to fight over right now, and most people are choosing to hold these fights in the arena of politics. The three main issues at the heart of America’s current division (coronavirus, racial tensions and most obviously the presidential election) have all turned into major political battles.

Now as a pastor and leader of a church, I was always taught to tread carefully on political ground and champion my faith over my political positions. I do believe there is wisdom in that teaching, but at the same time political issues are important (some more than others) and as Christians we cannot totally disconnect them from our faith.

I’m a Christian and I’m an American, in that order. I’m first and foremost concerned with my faith, and I strive to let Jesus and the values of his kingdom shape the way I view my country and my involvement with her. On the flip side, it’s also crucial to consider how living in America impacts my faith and my church. America is divided and in some sense, it always will be, but this division is also tragically affecting the Church in America. As I write this post, my strongest desire is for Christians to seek unity and carry out the mission of the Church instead of fighting with one another.

In John 13, Jesus commands his disciples to love one another, then he goes on to proclaim that the world will know we are followers of Jesus by how well we love other followers of Jesus. I’m afraid that when the world looks at how Christians in America (in general) are engaging each other in politics, they are not looking at a good picture of what it means to follow Christ. As American Christians we can disagree with each other, we can vote differently, we can be frustrated with each other, but we must love each other. If politics impact our hearts and actions toward each other more than the clear teachings of Jesus, then where does our strongest allegiance really lie?

This is not a call for “political correctness.” Christian unity is not a Trojan horse I’m utilizing to convince everyone to drop their political convictions and just get along. As Christians, we should allow God and his Word to inform our political views. If a brother or sister in Christ is communicating or acting on a political view that is unbiblical, then we should challenge them with conviction. In the same way, when America promotes and participates in what is dishonoring to the Lord, then we need to stand against it. However, the way we make a stand for Jesus must be done in accordance with the character of Jesus. As the Apostle Paul states, we must, “speak the truth in love.”"

I could add many others, but let me simply say (as many seem to have forgotten it) that each individual Christian's conscience, and spiritual gifts, and maturity level, and understanding of the person of Jesus, and knowledge of the Gospel, and experience of grace, and openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and focus on the priority of love, and understanding of what Jesus means when He says "my kingdom is not of this world" - leads them to different positions and conclusions. It is unavoidable.

Some vote person, some vote party. Some are one issue voters, others are multiple issue voters. Some see only in black and white, while others see there are nuances in most every position. And the list could go on and on. Not everyone is where we are at, and we are not where others are at. It is inevitable in the Body of Christ where all are at different places in their growth pattern. If we do not understand or accept this, we will be part of the problem of disunity instead of the solution.

Yet my point is this: The unity and witness of the church is tantamount. People who were amazed at what they saw in the early church did not say, "See how they vote..." They said, "See how they love one another." I grew up singing, "They will know we are Christians by our love." I still believe that is true. "These three remain, faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love" (I Corinthians 13:13). Or as Paul says again in Galatians 5:6: "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love." Vote your conscience, but love your brothers and sisters in Jesus enough to let them do the same.

In His Grace, Pastor Jeff


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