Recently, I’ve become more and more aware of the differences that exist among those of us who identify as Believers. Some of us are instantly recognizable by the length of our hair, or the types of clothes we wear. Some of us believe in the Holy Trinity while some assert that Oneness is a more appropriate conceptualization of God’s nature. We have different ideas about modesty, salvation, miracles, tongues, music, politics, morality, hair, yoga – you name it, there are people who have differing opinions about it. As these differences become more evident with the advent of social media, it seems as though there’s been an increasing focus on what distinguishes us from other believers. Rulebooks are being updated to include all the things that one must do to be a true Believer (as described by the authors of such works). I think that it might be helpful, though, to identify some things that you don’t have to do in order to be part of the Body of Christ. So, I’ve compiled this short list:
1. Look the same as me.
The reality is that if I focus so much on what you look like that it distracts from our togetherness, I’m missing out on something special.
The first thing you should know that you don’t have to do in order to be a Christian is look like me. I don’t just mean the color of my skin (or, lack thereof), hair, or eyes. I mean that you don’t have to dress like me. You don’t have to subscribe to the same ideas about fashion or modesty as I do. We don’t have to feel the same way about piercings or tattoos or braided hair or jewelry. You get to make your own decisions about how to present yourself to the world – and, I don’t have to agree with your choices! You may carry convictions about things that I don’t feel convicted about. I shouldn’t feel obligated to move you away from those convictions. I may feel convicted about things that you don’t. That’s okay too! The reality is that if I focus so much on what you look like that it distracts from our togetherness, I’m missing out on something special. After all, didn’t the Lord say to Samuel, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”? (I Samuel 16:7b, NASB)
2. Be a part of the same denomination as me.
Let’s face it, denominations are a human construct that create barriers between people who may not see eye to eye on one particular topic, but who are otherwise like-minded. Unfortunately, in my younger days, I really did believe that if your church didn’t have the same letters as mine you were somehow less of a Christian than me. I didn’t socialize with Christians outside of my organization. I felt sorry for people who hadn’t come to see the “full truth” that the lucky insiders that I was a part of had come to understand. (Note: These were MY thoughts and MY feelings. I do not blame my church for these shortcomings – they were entirely my own.) Then, as I grew older, something crazy happened. I began to meet other Christians whose letters weren’t the same as mine. Building relationships with other Christians allowed me to see that our sameness was greater than our differences. What was it that Jesus said in John 13:35? “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you affiliate with a particular religious organization.” That doesn’t sound quite right, does it? That’s because the Scripture really reads, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” I’m denouncing the idea that the letters one carries can make them more or less of a Christian. You don’t have to be a part of the same organization as me to be a Christian – you don’t have to be a part of any organization at all.
3. Identify with same political party that I do.
This topic can be as controversial as any of the others on this list, maybe more so. So, I’m not going to spend a lot of time here. Suffice to say that you don’t have to vote the same way that I do to be a part of the Body. You don’t have to agree with my political ideologies. You don’t have to listen to the same news sources. You don’t have to think the same way I do about the hot button issues like tax reform or immigration reform or same-sex marriage or war or gun control. Disagreeing with me about any of these issues will not exclude you from the club. You can still be a Christian. We can still be brothers and sisters.
4. Interpret Scripture the same way I do.
Recently, I came across an article titled, “5 Things I Wish Christians Would Admit About the Bible”, by a guy named John Pavlovitz. It’s a really great article, and I encourage you to click the title above and give it a read. In this piece, John asserted that there is quite a bit of ambiguity in Scripture. Sometimes two people can read the same passage and come away with very different ideas about what it means or how to apply it practically in their lives. I mean, isn’t this why there are so many denominations? In the end, I can’t expect everyone to see things exactly the same way I do. We might apply the things we learn differently. I think that’s okay. Even the apostles had differences of opinion. The early church struggled with interpreting the Old Testament and determining how it applied to their newly-founded faith in Jesus. Paul seemed to understand this when he admonished his readers in Philippians 2:12 to “…work out your own salvation…”
5. Know exactly what you believe.
I’m going to admit something very personal: I do not always know what I believe. I question my faith – my faith in God, my faith in Scripture, my faith in an afterlife. Most days my faith in a Creator is quite strong. And, I believe that my faith in Jesus affords an avenue for relationship with my Creator. But, some days that’s all I have. Other days my faith is stronger. Some days I read Scripture, and I believe that I understand it adequately. Other days I read that same passage and struggle to make a connection. Some may say that I’ve been influenced by a post-modern idea of relativism. And, maybe that’s true. But, can we really claim to know more? Can any one of us say that we know that God exists? Or, that we’ve identified the right way to connect with Him? If so, that’s not faith – that’s knowledge, and those two things are different. Faith, at its very core, requires doubt. These two are not mutually exclusive, they’re symbiotic. Your doubts don’t exclude you from the Body. If your doubts are different than mine, they still won’t exclude you. Your doubts prove your faith, they don’t eliminate it.
6. Agree with me about this post.
If you haven’t gotten this by now, let me reiterate: you don’t have to agree with me to be a part of the Body of Christ. We can have differences of opinion. We can have different perspectives. Our ideas are often shaped by our experiences and it would be foolish to think that everyone will have the same experiences. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t want to let our differences get in the way of our togetherness. I don’t want our lack of uniformity to impede our unity. I want to be an encourager to my brothers and sisters. I want to see the good that people are doing, and be there to cheer them on. I think we can get a lot further, do a lot more good if we stop letting our differences define us. So, I’m done telling people that they’re not loving God the right way. I’m done expecting people to see things my way. I’m through with telling people (with my words or actions) that they’re not doing it right. Even if you don’t agree with everything I’ve said here, know that it won’t exclude you from the Body. Keep running the race, keep pressing toward the mark. Know that I’m cheering you on.