Posts tagged ‘Unity’

The National Anthem and the NFL

NFL: SEP 24 Browns at Colts

Credit: Time

I’m not sure I ever thought I’d see the day where more people would be talking about the National Anthem at the beginning of an NFL game than the score at the end of an NFL game.  But here we are.

What began as a one-man protest by Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, against, according to his own words, “a country that oppresses black people and people of color” has been spun up into an all-out culture war with as many rabbit trails as Scylla has heads.  One head continues to protest racial inequality.  Another head complains that a United States president would insert himself into an NFL personnel predicament to call for the firing of football players who kneel.  Still another head seethes over the thought that anyone would dare to disrespect a flag that is so closely tied to the men and women who have laid down their lives in service to our country.  The only thing these heads seem to share in common is that they’re all beet red with anger.

This can’t be good for us.  I agree with Ross Douthat who described this controversy as one in which “mutual misunderstanding reigns and a thousand grievances are stirred up without a single issue being clarified or potentially resolved.”  This is most certainly true.  This is a controversy that is ready-made to stoke the flames of a fight without providing a path to peace.  This is a controversy that encourages us to fester in a self-righteous indignation without having to listen to any side besides our own.  This is a controversy that excuses us from any duty to empathize so that we can hate a villain we refuse to humanize.

Bret Stephens, in a recent lecture, said that far too many of our positions on the public debates of our day “have become the moated castles from which we safeguard our feelings from hurt and our opinions from challenge. It is our ‘safe space.’ But it is a safe space of a uniquely pernicious kind – a safe space from thought, rather than a safe space for thought.”  So, we boo at those who dare to kneel and shame those who want to stand.

One of the things I appreciate about our National Anthem is that it can serve as a reminder of all the things we have to appreciate about our country – our freedom, our entrepreneurial spirit, and our commitment to be “the home of the brave” not only by confronting threats abroad, but also by honestly addressing where we have fallen short at home.  But now, as with so many other things, the National Anthem has become a flashpoint for division instead of a call to brotherhood.  We’ve taken our national motto’s pluribus and divorced it from its unum.  Now all we’re left with is e pluribus odium.

As Christians, we must never forget that even when our country is fracturing, Christ’s Church will not.  The unity that He gives is an example that, especially right now, our nation needs. And the unity that He promises is a hope that, especially right now, we can share.  Fractures can still be healed and many can still be one because of the One who died for many.

October 2, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Pointing Fingers

Pointing Face Boy Portrait Finger Hand Man

At the end of his epistles, the apostle Paul often includes a section of personal greetings to people in the congregation to whom he is writing.  At the end of Romans, for instance, Paul includes a lengthy list of greetings:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.  Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord’s people who are with them.  (Romans 16:1-15)

I would guess that, as you began to read through the list of names above, your eyes quickly skipped to the end of the paragraph.  After all, a list of names isn’t exactly riveting reading.  But take a moment to go back and note how Paul describes the people on his list.  He describes Phoebe as a faithful supporter of his ministry.  He lauds Priscilla and Aquila as ones who risked their lives for him.  He calls Andronicus and Junia “outstanding.”  He celebrates Persis his as “dear friend.” He fawns over Rufus’ mother as his surrogate mother.  Paul, it turns out, has a lot of good things to point to in lot of good people.

In both the church and in broader culture, we seem to be much more comfortable pointing at people in order to criticize them rather than pointing to people in order to celebrate them.  I am part of a church body that, sadly, can spend so much time pointing at people with whom we have theological disagreements that we can fail to point to people with whom we share a common faith, even if our confession of that faith differs at certain points.  In broader culture, one needs to look no further than our nation’s capital to see a whole political system that trafficks in pointing fingers at other people.  Republicans point at Democrats.  Democrats point at Republicans.  Sometimes, it seems as though the only ones people actually point to in Washington are themselves.

As Christians, we must never be scared to point at something that is wrong.  Wrongness, after all, needs to be corrected so it can give way to righteousness.  But let us never become so proficient in pointing at what is wrong that we forget to point to all that is good.  People in differing ecclesiastical factions still have plenty of good things to point to among each other.  People in opposing political parties still have plenty of good things to point to on the other side of the aisle.

Perhaps it is time for us, like Paul, to make a list of good things and people to point to.  Pointing at people can quickly dissolve into arrogance as we pontificate on how someone else is wrong.  But pointing to people can keep us humble and give someone else a much-needed boost of confidence as we put the spotlight on what they are doing right.  Not only that, but pointing to others is supremely godly, for it mirrors the character of Jesus, who relentlessly pointed not to Himself, but to His Father.

So, who can you point to this week?  Who can you give a glowing review to?  Who can you celebrate on Facebook?  Who can you, even if you disagree with them on some things, rejoice in as a fellow-traveler in Christ?

Now is the time to begin a list of people to point to.  You just might be surprised at how quickly that list becomes really, really long.

July 3, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Inauguration of Donald J. Trump

inauguration

Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

It’s official.  As of last Friday, just after noon Eastern Standard Time, Donald J. Trump became the 45th President of the United States.

Though our nation has a new president, old partisan divides and rancor remain.  Representative John Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement, questioned the legitimacy of Mr. Trump’s election and promised to boycott his inauguration, which prompted a fiery response from the president via his Twitter account.  Project Veritas uncovered the aspirations of a radical protest organization to detonate a butyric acid bomb at the inaugural ball.  And then there were the protests just blocks away from the inauguration parade that erupted into riots.  Indeed, there is no shortage of division in our society.

At this watershed moment in American history, it is worth it to take a moment and remind ourselves how we, as Christians, are to conduct ourselves in a world full of violence, threats, political infighting, and social media rants.  So, as a new man settles into the world’s most powerful position, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Rulers come and rulers go.

Last week, a friend sent me a picture of the “Donald Trump Out of Office Countdown Wall Calendar.”  It extends to 2021.  Apparently, the calendar is not only counting down Mr. Trump’s term in office, but making a prediction about the next presidential election.  Whatever you may think of the new president, and regardless of whether or not you hope he is elected to another term, this wall calendar provides an important reminder:  Mr. Trump’s presidency will not last forever, just like all the presidencies before his did not last forever.  Indeed, it is always interesting to hear discussions of how “history is being made” every time a new president is elected and inaugurated.  We seem to know, even if only intuitively, that the present is only the present for a split second.  It quickly becomes history – a past that is no longer pressing.

If you are concerned about Mr. Trump’s presidency, then, remember:  it will not last forever.  And if you are ecstatic about Mr. Trump’s presidency, remember:  it will not last forever.   This is why the Psalmist instructs us not to put our “trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing” (Psalm 146:3-4).  The reign of any earthly ruler never lasts.  Every reign ends; every ruler dies – that is, except for One.

Rulers have limited authority.

No matter who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania avenue, a contingent of the electorate is always apoplectic, convinced that whoever happens to be president at the time will surely spell the end of American democracy, if not world order, as we know it.  The reality of a president’s – or any ruler’s – authority is much less impressive.  Scripture reminds us that every human authority is under God’s authority.  The prophet Daniel declares that God “deposes kings and raises up others” (Daniel 2:21).  The apostle Paul tells masters of slaves in the ancient world that One “who is both [your slave’s] Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him” (Ephesians 6:9).  No matter how much authority one person may have, no human authority can match God’s ultimate authority.

This should bring us peace and give us perspective.  Leaders, ultimately, do not control the world.  Instead, they simply steward, whether faithfully or poorly, whatever little corner of the world God has happened to give to them for a brief moment in time. It is never wise, therefore, to put too much faith in leaders we like or to have too much fear of leaders we don’t.  Their power is not ultimate power.

Rulers need our prayers.

When we no longer put too much faith in our leaders or have too much fear of them, this frees us up to pray for them according to Scripture’s admonition: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).  I find it especially striking that making it a common practice to pray for our leaders – no matter who they might be – is commanded by Paul not only because of the effects these prayers have on our leaders, but because of the effects these prayers have on us!  When we pray for our leaders, Paul says, this leads us to peaceful and quiet lives even when the world around us feels troubled, and godly and holy lives even when the world around us seems to be careening into moral rot.  When we pray for others, God strengthens us.

As Donald Trump assumes the responsibilities of the President of the United States, he needs our prayers.  So keep President Trump and his family in your prayers.  And while you’re at it, keep other leaders, be they on the national, statewide, or local levels, in your prayers as well.  As a practical admonition, perhaps consider writing a note to one of your public servants asking how you can pray for them.  Your note just might be a big blessing to them and encourage them to become a better leader.  And that’s something our nation can always use.

January 23, 2017 at 5:15 am 5 comments

When Disagreements Arise

LCMS Convention

Credit: LCMS / Michael Scheurmann

A week ago, the church body of which I am a part, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, held its triennial convention.  As with every denomination, mine has its share of disagreements and squabbles, many of which were on display at this convention.  At issue was everything from the way ecclesiastical supervision is practiced when a pastor is accused of teaching falsely to whether certain congregations can continue to be served in Word and Sacrament ministry by someone who is not an ordained pastor.

As I listened to these debates, I was reminded of how the earliest Lutherans dealt with differences among themselves and with other Christian bodies.

The Augsburg Confession is a statement of confessional standards for Lutherans worldwide.  In it, differences with the Roman Catholic Church, as well as with other nascent Protestant bodies, are outlined.  But before the drafters of the Augsburg Confession enumerated their differences with other Christians, they began with some points of agreement.  They opened their confession with a restatement of the three ecumenical creeds of the Church – the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.  This was intentional, for the confessors wanted all those who read the Augsburg Confession to understand that its drafters did not stand outside the historic Christian faith; they stood squarely and solidly in it.  From there, the confessors went on to elaborate on their agreement with the historic Christian teaching on the nature of God:

Our churches teach with common consent that the decree of the Council of Nicaea about the unity of the divine essence and the three persons is true.  It is to be believed without doubt.  God is one divine essence who is eternal, without a body, without parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness…Yet there are three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.[1]

The confessors began their confession of faith with a point on which all Christians could agree.  Indeed, when the Roman Catholic Church responded to the Augsburg Confession, for all the things over which they registered their disagreement, when it came to the Lutherans’ confession of the Trinity, the Catholics wrote simply, “This is to be accepted.”[2]

The confessors, of course, did not only speak of where they agreed with Rome.  They had plenty to say about where they disagreed.  But where they began, I believe, is informative for us as we seek to address disagreements among ourselves.  Celebrating our agreements first is often the best way to find resolutions to our disagreements later.

One of the things I have long appreciated about the American Evangelical movement of the last several decades is that it has been able to engage many different church bodies – from Lutherans to Methodists to Presbyterians to Baptists to non-denominational congregations – by appealing to what these bodies share in common while still being honest about where they differ.  The National Association of Evangelicals, for instance, espouses a Statement of Faith that has broad resonance with nearly any confessional, Christ-centered, Bible-based church body.  Its statement of faith includes a recognition of the Bible as God’s Word, the two natures in Christ, the return of Christ, and the necessity of the Spirit’s work in an individual’s salvation.  In crafting confessional statements like these, the Evangelical movement has been able to highlight and celebrate just how much Christians across the world hold in common.

My church body can sometimes – and sometimes unfairly – be known more for where it disagrees with itself rather than being known for what it confesses together with a unified voice.  We can sometimes be thought of more as sectarian than as confessional.  This is why when disagreements do arise among us and become hot, as they inevitably will, I pray that we would return to and remind ourselves of all that we hold in common, for there is a lot.  I also pray that, as Lutheran Christians, we would seek to find places where we can work together with other Christians on the basis of what we share even as we continue to rigorously and truthfully litigate our differences.  Indeed, one of the highlights of this past convention was an address from Ryan T. Anderson, a Catholic intellectual, on the challenges Christians face with regard to human sexuality and religious liberty.  It was a joy to see people from two theological traditions that are generally at odds with each other in Lutheranism and Catholicism come together to think through some of the important ethical and philosophical issues of our day.

Why do I so adamantly pray that we would be known for our unity rather than for our division?  Because this, finally, is not a prayer that originated with me.  It originated with Jesus.  And to pray for anything less would be to crucify other Christians for their differences with us rather than to extol Christ crucified for us (1 Corinthians 1:10-13).  To pray for anything less would be to diminish, or even to deny, the amazing unity that Christ has given His Church.

Again, do not misunderstand me:  I am not saying that we should never tend to and seek to reconcile differences, but I am saying that we should be intentionally and continually thankful for where Christ has given us unity in spite of ourselves.  And He has given us plenty.

Let’s not neglect that gift.

__________________________

[1] Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Second Edition, Paul T. McCain, ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 31 (AC I 1-3).

[2] “The Confutation of the Augsburg Confession,” Sources and Contexts of the Book of Concord, Robert Kolb, James A. Nestingen, eds. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 107 (Confutation I).

July 25, 2016 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Of Quibbles and Quarrels

Boxing Match

Last week, I had the privilege of having dinner with a well-known Christian author.  I talked to him about his career, what inspired him to get into writing, and what he’s thinking about these days.  I also talked to him about his most popular book, which was published several years ago.  In it, he addresses some of the challenging questions the Church needs to answer as our society continues to drift into a morally post-Christian morass.  As we were talking about his book and the challenges he raises in it, he shared that he had received plenty of hate mail when his book was first published, accusing him of everything from heresy to being a tool of the devil himself.  I couldn’t help but grimace.  I myself do not agree with everything this author has written, but I hardly think of him as a heretic or a spawn of Satan.  I simply process some of the challenges the Church is facing a little differently than he does.

Sadly, the ways we address differences in our society have become increasingly polemicized as our ability to have civil, thoughtful, and helpful conversations has become progressively nominalized.  This is especially true in politics, as any comments section on a political article or political Facebook post will indicate.  But it is also true in other areas that span from philosophy to morality to theology.  We are no longer able to respond measuredly to someone with whom we disagree.

It is useful to remember that there is a difference between a quibble and a quarrel.  A quibble is a point of concern that needs to be addressed.  A quarrel is spawned by a dangerous and damaging falsity that demands a repudiation.  People who are willing to quibble, rather than quarrel, with us are important because they serve to sharpen our thinking and hone our worldview.  Solomon explains the value of quibbling with a metaphor: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).  Quibbling can, at times, seem to be little more than nitpicking.  But when it is received graciously, it can be invaluably helpful.

The problem is that too many people are too quick to take quibbles and turn them into quarrels.  Among some Christians, for instance, heresy is no longer defined by teachings that fly in the face of the ecumenical creeds, but by whether a person uses a version of the Bible that is not King James or by whether a person believes that it’s okay for a congregation to be even selectively purpose-driven.  In these instances, we would do well to remember the words the apostle Paul: “Avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless” (Titus 3:9).  In other words, don’t take quibbles and turn them into quarrels.

In the case of the author with whom I had dinner, most of the quarrels about his book centered around his critiques of the Church, in which he can seem to imply, at times, a decrease in the Church’s value.  Frankly, I too am concerned by any argument that would somehow diminish the Church.  The Church is, after all, the Bride of Christ.  I still don’t think, however, that this author is a spawn of Satan.  I also know, if the fruit of his career is any indication, that he loves the Church and seeks to serve the Church with everything in him, even as he critiques it.  Indeed, his love for the Church is probably why he critiques it.  So perhaps a robust discussion of the nuances of his ecclesiology is needed before we launch into accusations of heresy.

Ultimately, making a quarrel out of a quibble robs us of the opportunity sharpen each other because we’re too busy bludgeoning each other.  So if you aspire to serve the Lord, keep these words in mind:  “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful” (2 Timothy 2:24).

The next time you disagree with someone, there’s a verse to remember – and practice.

May 16, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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