By Steven Clark Goad
Have you ever noticed how the kingdom of God is like the Gilligan’s
Island gang marooned all those years?
The Skipper’s fishing business, or sightseeing sideline, was like the net Jesus spoke of in Matthew 13:47: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.” Nets aren’t selective. They take on all comers. That day when the Minnow took on sightseers, their number could not have been more diverse. There was Mary Ann, Ginger, the professor, Mrs. Howell and her mega-rich hubby, Thurston. Then, of course, there was Gilligan and the Skipper.
All of these personas were thrown together in a setting where their diverse views were called upon in order to survive. None of them could have made it on their own. Like snowflakes—individually they are not intimidating, but when they hold hands they can stop traffic and shut down cities—that gaggle of would-be sailors clung together for the good of everybody.
This is a template of sorts for the body of Christ—the church.
The Tyranny of Opinions
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).
What some today within the body of Christ see as unity is nothing more than uniformity. Compromise is not unity. Yet opinions seem to be the enemy of harmony among siblings in Jesus.
First of all, let us agree here and now that holding an opinion is not sinful. We all have opinions. We all have our druthers. Opinions have been with us since the dawn of human history. They have sparked great discoveries and engendered the most heinous of passions. We are surrounded by every shade and shape of opinion imaginable. Some of these matters matter; some don’t. Often expressing opinions generates more heat than light.
However, these differences must not get in the way of enjoying the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. No opinion concerning spiritual matters must be considered outside the light of Holy Scripture. Unless our views are in harmony with the Word of God, they are nothing more than opinions. Beliefs that square with the Bible should never cause disruption in the fellowship of Jesus.
Jeanne Roland stated, “The feeble tremble before opinion; the foolish defy it; the wise judge it; the skillful direct it.” We need not fear opinions, for from them grow strong convictions. God’s truth will rise above all human opinion. We must not feel threatened by siblings in Christ who hold strong opinions.
The Issue of Issues
It was Jesus sitting in the living room with Mary who had to address her sister, Martha, with a fundamental truth: “Few things are needed—or indeed only one” (Luke 10:42). We can get so busy keeping the gospel afloat that we forget the basics. Martha was busy in the kitchen while God was visiting in person. Cooking can wait. Jesus can’t. Jesus is the center and core of our unity.
There will always be issues and doctrinal nuances that keep us debating unendingly. But Jesus is still there as the one thing that keeps our relationships united. We are united and always will be united on the person of Jesus and not on unanimity of opinion. Our accord is not one of university but of diversity. Red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in his sight.
Hurrah for Tolerance
Unity can never be enjoyed without a spirit of forbearance. Tolerance does not equal compromise. It involves restraint and open-mindedness. Patience with others is not a sign of weakness or timidity. When people act like Diotrephes (3 John 9, 10) and insist on their way or the highway, doctrines are thrown down like gauntlets with lines drawn in the sand. Calls for choosing sides are made and allegiances demanded. This is definitely not a formula for unity.
Every person should have a say, but nobody should insist on having his or her way. There are no new requirements for becoming a member of the family of God. Everyone in the body of Christ is as much a part of the fellowship of Jesus as anyone else.
“But since men are so solicitous about the true church, I would only ask them here, if it be not more agreeable to the Church of Christ to make the conditions of her communion consist in such things, and such things only, as the Holy Spirit has in the Holy Scriptures declared, in express words, to be necessary to salvation . . . than for men to impose their own inventions and interpretations upon others as if they were of Divine authority . . . such things as the Holy Scriptures do either not mention, or at least not expressly command?”—John Locke.
Jesus spoke of straining out gnats and swallowing camels (Matthew 23:24). I find editorial humor in that word image. I can almost see someone gulping down a leg of camel who has just been concerned with making sure no insect got into his wine. Dissent thrives when people with narrow minds and powers of persuasion enlist others to draw away believers to embrace some new ideas.
Peter doesn’t make a single effort to split a church or present his writings as “sound” and Paul’s as “unsound.” Peter may have acknowledged some of Paul’s writing as difficult to understand, but they were on the same team with the same gospel that unites us all. Harmonious accord will never be achieved by those who think defending the faith is a matter of challenging some fellow Christian to a debate.
Jesus prayed for unity among his disciples (John 17). He wanted their unity to be as intimate as that between him and the Father. And the purpose for it was “so that the world may believe” (v. 21). No wonder the world doesn’t believe. They see siblings in Jesus squabbling over the silliest of issues.
We often hear the echoing call not to move the ancient landmarks as we attempt to maintain the old paths. Instead of displaying the beautiful unity of the Spirit, our heritage has inadvertently done the opposite. This splintering of the body has to stop somewhere.
A Call to Unity
There are actions we can take to stop the discord and embrace that for which our Savior prayed so fervently in Gethsemane:
1. We can seriously pray for the same unity Jesus prayed for his disciples.
2. We must agree that Jesus is our key to unity.
3. We must admit that having an opinion is not a sin.
4. We can stop assuming our opinions are superior to those of others.
5. We must practice tolerance among those who differ with us on non-biblical matters.
6. We must realize that the moment we split over our opinions is the moment Satan wins. For he has then made brothers and sisters in Christ stop communicating.
7. Judgmental attitudes must cease among us.
8. Assuming the worst of others has to stop.
9. We must love the opportunity to study God’s Word.
10. We must admit that one thing is truly needed, as Jesus said, and do all in our power to promote that one thing.
Unity in Christ is surely worth it all.
Steven Clark Goad is a minister and freelance writer in Blythe, California.