Tear Down the Walls of Division
This issue of the differences among us hit home for me a few days ago. I read of Amazing Grace, an independent Baptist Church in Canton, North Carolina, that is hosting a Bible burning on October 31. I know well that my brothers and sisters in Christ who attend Baptist churches love the Word of God. I share that deep love for the Bible. That’s why the story of this 14-member church got my attention.
It turns out that the congregation is one that adheres to the 1611 Kings James Version only. That’s not a problem for me as most of the scripture I know by heart I know in the words of that very version. And while I do not agree with those who see that translation as the only English version which carries the authority of God, I certainly understand their love of that translation.
But for that congregation’s pastor, Marc Grizzard, other translations such as the New International Version are “satanic” and “perversions” of the true Word of God. So his church will be burning other translations of the Bible on Halloween. They will also toss in the flames Christian books by authors they consider heretical. Their list of heretics includes the Revs. Billy Graham and Rick Warren. And their list of heretical music includes southern Gospel and contemporary Christian music.
I want to be clear that I defend the pastor’s right to hold to the 1611 King James Version and to not listen to or advise others to listen to contemporary Christian music. But I will admit to taking exception to his rounding up Bibles and Christian music, naming them satanic and casting them into the fire.
The main reason I care is that this sort of thing could give non-Christians the wrong idea. Those who have not yet come to faith in Jesus Christ could use this Bible burning, a decidedly fringe event in Christianity, as yet another way to show how we Christians are so deeply divided. And while I will acknowledge divisions within the one flock who is following Jesus, I also know that which joins us together is so much stronger than that which would divide us.
The same week in which I read of bonfire plans in North Carolina, I also met with a diverse group of Christian men. I am taking part in an upcoming Kairos weekend at D. Ray James Prison in Folkston. Kairos is an ecumenical program bringing together folks of a variety of denominations to work together to open the hearts of those in prison to the freeing and life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I have attended two Kairos team meetings so far and have been mightily blessed from better getting to know Christian men from a variety of churches. We are Baptist, Methodist, Church of God of Prophecy, Catholic, Episcopal, and more. There are certainly many practices of the Christian faith which could divide us. But we share a desire to follow Jesus who taught us that to visit someone in prison, is as if we are visiting Jesus himself (Matthew 25:36).
For a Kairos team, we set aside some practices of the faith which matter to us (such as communion and baptism) knowing that these are areas of disagreement. Instead, we trust that those important matters will follow. But first we come together to share that which completely unites us and that is sharing the love that Jesus first freely shared with us.
From nearly a decade of serving in Camden County, I know of the many ways in which churches work together. There is the inspiring Christmas for Camden Kids program and then other groups like Habitat for Humanity and Missions for Camden, all of which run because Christians of various denominations come together to make these important ministries happen.
There is a joke told about two Christian working together in disaster relief and coming to really enjoy one another’s company and to see Christ in each other. As they part, the one man says, “You know, I don’t know about the others in your denomination, but you are all right by me.” The second man replies, “I feel the same. So why don’t you keep worshipping God in your way and I will keep worshipping God in His way.”
The joke makes the point, that we even when we agree there will still be things which divide us. Yet, I think that is a gift to be received rather than a problem to be solved. After all, God created us as unique persons with a variety of abilities and interests. And so, there will naturally be a variety of ways in which people feel called to live into their common faith.
When we tear down the walls of division between our churches, we don’t have to give up on the particular beliefs or worship styles meaningful to us. We are all free to still worship in the ways we feel God has called us to worship. We also don’t have to give up on matters of doctrine we consider essential. Yet, we should acknowledge, the more walls of division we tear down, the more inviting Christianity becomes to those who remain outside the faith.
Jesus prayed for exactly this. One the night before he died, Jesus asked God the Father, to make us one. He prayed, “Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20).
The walls of division among Christians make it more difficult to non-Christians to come to believe in Jesus. And the more we tear down those walls and work together to share the love of God, the more the Kingdom of God is made a present reality.
The above is my religion column for today's issue of the Tribune & Georgian.
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor
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