Usually, when people disagree with me outside of church, they just tell me I’m stupid or crazy or am making a colossally bad decision, or they call me names. They don’t usually add that my faith in God is insubstantial, or that I must not be able to read the Bible, or that I’m going to hell. To get that kind of action from people who disagree with me, I have to go to church.
That is, disagreements at church can have mighty high stakes. People can, and will, tell you that your eternal soul is hanging in the balance when you are trying to make up your mind about which side of some difference of opinion to stand on.
And what’s worse, people are probably right about that.
At least, I believe people are right to think that what we do, and what we say, as Christians, matters. Matters to God. Matters as doing Jesus’s commandments. Matters as public witness to Christ [since we are ambassadors for Christ, entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation 2 Corinthians 5:19-20]. Matters as testimony to what we believe, as giving an account of the hope that is in us, as having been transformed by the renewing of our minds, into that mind that was in Christ Jesus, etc etc. Matters.
And what’s even worse, discernment about which side of that difference of opinion is the most Christian one to be on may be difficult. In fact, since there’s a difference of opinion going on, it must be. Because if it were easy, there wouldn’t be a difference of opinion in the first place.
It may actually be the case that no one knows “the” answer.
It may even actually be the case that there is no “the” answer. That is, there may not be a “one size fits all” answer. There may be more than one possible, reasonable, correct, trusting and faithful Christian answer.
On the other hand, there MIGHT be a “the” answer.
Probably anyone these days can see that in 1850, in Wherever, USA, there was a “the” answer about whether to keep slavery legal. Even though most Americans denied that, and treated the problem like it was complicated. Most people in those days thought the Abolitionists were lunatics. It’s a lot easier for us to see they were the only ones who got it right.
Probably anyone now can see that in 1938, in Germany, there was a “the” answer about whether to support the very idea of a German Christian Church. Again, even though most of the folks who thought that one was a no-brainer turned out to be homicidally wrong.
Just to name a couple of church-ly differences of opinion where history seems to have made the right side really obvious.
[Too bad the Protestant Reformation doesn’t seem to be one of those yet. The questions in the life of the church on which there has been an obvious one-size-fits-all answer, even after the fact, have been few and far between. And Christians have fought bitterly over every single one of them, from what I can tell from my limited reading of church history.]
So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that Christians can fight over face masks.
A couple of weeks ago, after days of submersion in trying not to miss every online teaching deadline [hah], I took a break by … getting online, and checking my blog feed.
The FIRST TWO POSTS I read were Christians calling other Christians faithless unbelievers who obviously can’t read the Bible or love Jesus because look at what they’ve decided about having church indoors with singing and wearing face masks to buy groceries.
Unfortunately for my peace of mind, those two Christian authors were advocating diametrically opposed courses of action.
Evidently, whatever I personally decide to do, some faithful Christian will think I’m exhibiting the opposite of the kingdom of heaven to the world, and won’t hesitate to tell me so.
Which, when I come to think about it, is pretty much business as usual for the Church.
Because what we do and say and think matters, and because we know that, and because we are all in the same big Christian boat, wearing the same big “Hello, I’m Christian” nametag, we would all like to be on the same page in the hymnal, either caringly and prudently singing in our living rooms along with the livestream shelter-in-place worship services, or fearlessly and faithfully singing at the top of our lungs in our re-opened sanctuaries, or whatever. If we want to be in that choir that people mean when they say someone is preaching to it, we want everyone to be wearing the same robe.
It’s always tempting to think it’s those other guys, whoever they are, who didn’t get the memo about concert attire.
It certainly feels better than remembering that in most cases it’s not totally obvious what “The” Christian course of action is in a complex discernment situation. Especially when the main ingredient in discernment is time. Especially when we have to practice that discernment in a world that deliberately disrupts the conditions for right thought and confronts every course of right action with a hostage situation. [Remember the Holy Innocents.] Especially when we dearly want to get it right, and still reflexively look to one another for reassurance that we have.
So even though I wish we Christians could learn to stop accusing other Christians of faithlessness and bad will when their discernment differs from ours, and would get better at maintaining the spirit of unity in the bond of peace, and could more often rise to the standard of loving our “enemies,” especially the ones inside the Body of Christ – which sometimes seems to have an autoimmune disorder – I don’t see why this time would be different from all the other times.