My maternal grandfather was one of many who formed what has been called “The Greatest Generation.” A better-than-average athlete, with a particular love for baseball, he was one of the thousands of young boys who left the comforts of home and shipped out for foreign shores after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He said goodbye to his family and his job as a telephone lineman in western Kentucky to join the U. S. Marine Corps where he was assigned to fight in the Pacific Theater with the 2nd Marine Division in active combat during World War II. During his time in the Marines he learned the need for unified and coordinated movements, not only with other branches of the U. S. Armed Forces, but also with the military units of allied nations against their common enemy.
The World War II generation gave us lasting lessons on teamwork for a cause greater than oneself. They participated in a conflict which brought them and people like them from other nations, cultures, and walks of life together for a common good. The Second World War is considered the deadliest conflict in human history. By the war’s official end in 1945 nearly every country and territory in the world had participated in some way. This conflict, which directly involved more than 100 million people from more than 30 countries, literally aligned the participants on one of two sides—the Allies or the Axis.
In many ways this great conflict is an analogy of an even greater conflict—the cosmic conflict in the spiritual realm between God and Satan. There are only two sides to the conflict and all people will be aligned on one side of the other. Seems pretty clear cut, right? Yet, have you ever felt that in evangelical Christianity as a whole there seems to be more infighting rather than a laser focus on the true enemy of God?
I understand that there are plenty of differences in the evangelical world to prevent a close communion and I am not advocating an ecumenical “anything-goes-in-the-name-of-Christ” attitude. There is only one gospel and one “faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). Doctrines of first importance should be zealously embraced and boldly defended “with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). We should be on the lookout for false doctrine that rises from without and from within.
However, it would seem that quite a bit of energy and resources are used for fighting among professing followers of Christ—to the advantage of the true enemy. Imagine the immaturity and the short-sightedness of Allied troops choosing to bicker over tea vs. coffee or best uniform or comparing military strategies and philosophies. Rather than a victory for the winner of the intramural debate, the infighting would be a win for the common enemy of them both. Yet Christians turn their guns on other Christians who have a different musical preference, service schedule, dress code, Bible version, or doctrinal interpretation in tertiary issues, etc. Who wins in that? Not Christ.
I am not asking you to change your convictions; I’ll let God do that through the working of the Holy Spirit through His authoritative Word. But I am suggesting that Christians should give the same grace to other believers that they have been given by God; the same grace that they expect to receive from others. Grace for our brothers and sisters in Christ and no quarter for the true enemy. Although I cannot remember it being voiced, I certainly got the distinct impression growing up as an independent (non-convention) Baptist that anyone who had a different doctrinal interpretation or practical position than we did, was not to be associated with. Maybe I got the wrong impression, but the conclusion seemed to be that “if you don’t align with us exactly, then you are not with us.”
That perspective narrowed the field extremely as to who were our allies. I mean, if you are not an ally, what are you? An enemy, right? That assessment would include other churches in town and would extend even to family members. Which made family reunions with my “wicked” Southern Baptist and non-denominational cousins . . . interesting.
Not long after my grandfather left the Marine Corps, he married, worked a secular job, and became a deacon at his local church. He began to fill the pulpit in other churches and worked as a bi-vocational interim pastor for many years. For years he was a faithful pastor in his region and circles. At the end of his life as a retired pastor he was the chaplain of the local detention center, where he preached the Gospel and modeled the love of Christ to all of the inmates. He died behind the pulpit, preaching in a Wednesday night service in 1997. His pleas for Christian parents to bring up their children for the Lord’s service were his dying words that echoed in the auditorium where he took his last earthly breath. My grandfather touched many lives with his example of humble devotion to Christ and teamwork for the cause of Christ.
One of my grandfather’s cousins, a chaplain in the U. S. Navy during World War II, made quite a stir in conservative circles; not because of his name but because of his project. The son of missionaries in Brazil, Bob Bratcher produced a “dynamic equivalent” English paraphrase of the New Testament that was billed as “easy to read” and called Good News for Modern Man. He later chaired a team of scholars that produced a paraphrase of the Old Testament, which led to the printing of The Good News Bible in 1976.
Growing up as an independent Baptist, it was common to hear disparaging remarks about the “Not Inspired Version” and “The Bad News for Modern Man.” Yikes, my family member must be a heretic! I made sure to keep my distance at family reunions amid whispers of “there he is!”. Did it please God that I kept this fellow believer at arm’s length or that I criticized his life’s work of making the Bible understandable for others? He died in 2010, an active member of his local church in North Carolina and a constant help preparing the meals for their community outreach. To this day, I regret not having taken advantage of the access I had to this learned, spiritual, gracious and kind man who was totally devoted to Christ and who teamed with others for the cause of Christ and the gospel.
As I finish an expository preaching series through the book of Ephesians, I have been impacted by the obvious focus of unity in Christ throughout the epistle. The apostle Paul describes his hearers in Ephesians 2 as “fellowcitizens” in the kingdom of God (v. 19); he describes them as family members “of the household of God” (v. 19); he describes them as a “building fitly framed together” (v. 21). Later the analogy is that of the formation of a new man in Christ (4:24), with individual members forming the united body under the headship of Christ (5:23 cf. 1 Cor. 12:13-14).
So then, who are those that are united in Christ? Who are those that are described as fellow members of the kingdom of God, brothers and sisters in the family of God, building blocks in the temple of God and members of the body of Christ? Is it those that belong to a specific denominational structure that are united in Christ? Are they those that hold the same positions on religious practice? Are those who are united in Christ the people who come to the same doctrinal conclusions on everything?
Paul makes it clear that faith in Christ is what unites the believer to Christ and therefore unites other believers in the same kingdom, family, building, and body. I don’t have to agree with every other believer on everything just like they don’t have to agree with me. Family doesn’t have to agree on everything; but agreement isn’t the measure of family inclusion. Heaven will be filled with family members who didn’t agree on every point, but who are united in Christ and loved by the Father.
Can we not come together for the sake of the Gospel and the cause of exalting Christ among the nations? We should not be so concerned with whether God is aligned with our position but rather that we are aligned with His.
“Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth,” Rom 14:4.