I should preface this post by saying that what follows is a Christian reflection addressed to fellow Christians. Not all who follow me on social media share these convictions–not even all Christians! With that disclaimer, feel free to read on, tell me what you think if you differ, or pass, as you are inclined. Whatever the case, may the peace and joy of the holiday be yours.
I write this on Christmas Eve at the end of the season of waiting for the coming of the King. I wait not only to celebrate his first coming but also long for his return. Advent reminds me that I live between the times, between the kingdom already come, and the fulfillment of that in the return of the King. My Advent readings of this year remind me of the longing of those who witness the world’s turmoil and our longing for the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) who will set all things right.
But it is not merely in the world that he will set things to rights. It will also be in the church, his Body, his Bride. What is troubling is that if the King were to return right now, he would find his American church in deep turmoil, and split by allegiances penultimate to the King–political powers and parties, ideologies of race, disparities of wealth and poverty, deep differences around questions of gender and sexual orientation. The Christianity Today editorial calling for the president’s removal from office and the opposing fierce reactions that have filled my social media this past week are only the latest evidence of how deeply divided the American church is, and from what I can tell, how undisturbed we are with this state of affairs.
I wonder if we reflected on this last night as we gathered in our different churches for various forms of Christmas Eve celebrations, or this morning for Christmas Day services. How many of us considered that, in the midst of our war of words, we were celebrating, in common, if not together, the same Prince of Peace? This is the King who said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35, NIV). It is little wonder to me that record numbers of Millenials are turning away from Christian churches when they see the disparity between the words we mouth, and the way we really treat each other, and how undisturbed we seem to be about the divisions among us, let alone in the world.
I, for one, am deeply troubled by all of this. One reason I have chose not to comment on the CT editorial is that online comment only furthers those divisions, in my mind. It is not that I am trying to sit on the fence. I’m more interested in tearing down those fences. I fear the judgment from the Lord whose return I long for if we persist in the things that divide us. Instead of a church split in its allegiances to earthly powers, I long for a church united by our common allegiance to the Prince of Peace who is our peace and has torn down every dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14). I’m troubled when the national political agenda of one party or another is more important to the followers of Jesus than his global agenda for the nations.
There are steps that I need to take personally that I would commend for (at least) your consideration:
- I want to be sure I am paying more attention to the Prince of Peace than to the human participants of our nation’s political drama. I’ve spoken far more about the latter than the former in the last years.
- I want to re-double my prayers for those who lead. The reason we are to do so, stated in 1 Timothy 2:2, is that we might lead peaceable and quiet lives. I believe there are spiritual powers at work in our national political drama that are fostering discord, both in the nation and in the church. Do we believe in seeking the One who is above all heavenly or earthly powers to act?
- I want to be sure that I am living in the story of the King rather than the stories spun in public media–whether on Twitter or Fox News or CNN. A test for me is whether I’m spending more time reading and meditating on and acting upon scripture than following the news and talking about it.
- I will pursue political conversations with other believers, even those who differ with me, where there is a prior commitment to relationship, to the seeking of truth and justice with humility, and to prayer for one another and for our nation and world. This means most of those conversations will not be online. If you really care what I think politically, and are willing to commit with me to these practices, I’m glad to find a way to talk.
- None of this means I will withdraw from seeking the common good in our society. What I want to do is to listen to God about where I should focus attention. I want to examine myself in whatever I pursue, that I seek peace, and as far as it is possible for me, to make friends, not enemies, even with those who disagree with me.
- Finally, I want to live a life defined by the Great Command and the Great Commission–one defined by love of God and neighbor, and a love of Christ and his gospel that in life and word commends the excellence of the Prince of Peace to others.
I wonder if our political allegiances, whatever they are, have become so important because we have lost a sense of the excellence of the Prince of Peace, who we celebrate this day. While not ignoring the world around me, I want to get caught up in the story of the Prince of Peace. I wonder what would happen if believers from disparate factions of the American church were also caught up in this story? What would happen if this were the leading topic of our discourse with each other? I doubt it would resolve all our differences, but at least we might be reminded of what is truly precious to us all, the “pearl of great price,” and, as we catch each others eyes, we might say, “so you love him, too.” And in that moment, we might have at least a taste of the Peaceable Kingdom to come.