By Steve Wyatt
If you’re a tenured Christ follower—with the scars to prove it—you’ll find the following statements difficult to accept but impossible to deny:
• Believers discuss love more than we display love.
• We love the Father but beat up his kids.
• We shout that God so loves the world—though we followers remain way more discerning.
• Jesus built bridges to include people, but we erect walls designed to exclude people.
• Jesus lifted people up, yet we enjoy tearing people down.
And the watching world shakes its head. They read about a church torn apart or someone’s ill treatment at the hands of some angry church mob—and they make another entry into the journal of rank church hypocrisy.
Remember the pagan who was sent to the catacombs to spy on early Christians? Having seen them in worship and in action, he submitted this six-word report: “Behold how they love one another!” It wasn’t the music or preaching or doctrines that enraptured him—it was their undeniable, inescapable, absolutely overwhelming love!
If the average church were spied on today, what would he say about us? Behold, how they hurt one another? or judge one another? maybe look down on one another? Would he watch us skirmish and bicker and debate and without ever telling us, simply write us off in disgust?
Looking Down on the Littles
The divisive attitudes prevalent in many churches cut through the very chambers of God’s love-saturated heart. I can’t imagine any greater grief for him than when those who are called by his name beat up on each other.
Flying in the face of such attitudes are the words of Jesus, who said: “Don’t look down on . . . these little ones” (Matthew 18:10, New Living Translation).
“Little ones” refers to more than just those little in age. It also includes those who are young in the faith. Even more broadly, it references all who belong to God’s family—since everyone who is in Christ is still a child. Don’t look down on God’s kids. None of them. Not even one. Don’t cause them to stumble. Stop thumbing your nose at them.
This verse uses the Greek term, kataphroneo. It means, “to look down at as inferior. To treat with contempt as though worthless.”
And though it’s our culture’s norm to kataphroneo us—it’s downright despicable when we do it to each other.
I Was a Restoration Rug Rat
I was born and raised in the Restoration Movement. And I love it. I loved it back when we were considered outliers by others who loved the same Jesus we love. And I still love it during a time when our leaders are the best of the best and our current practices are considered best practices.
But mostly I love the roots of our movement and the reason for its unintended founding. Our tribe launched with a desire to propagate the unity of all believers by restoring the pristine teachings of the New Testament—apart from creeds, tradition, and any other tinkering of humanity.
In those pioneer days, our churches swept across America like wildfire. But as time passed—and the leadership mantel was transferred to succeeding generations—our unity movement grew very sectarian and divided. We even began teaching that other believers in other groups probably weren’t even saved; only us. And the walls kept riser higher and the gap wider.
We became so prideful—and divisive—that I was actually taught to believe that there was no criminal more wicked, more vile, or more heinous than the Baptist preacher down the street. Way worse than murderers, thieves, and whoremongers!
I’ve long since repented of that mess. I don’t believe plenty of stuff I used to believe. And though there are doctrines of the faith for which I will die to defend, I’ve come to realize there aren’t very many that rise to the level of a dividing wall between Heaven and earth, good and evil, light and darkness.
There are some—just not many.
Blame for us All
I’m nearly 60 years old yet am like a child as I ponder the depth and breadth of Jesus’ church. Weaned in isolation, I came to believe that 2,000 years of church had produced our movement and little more. That we were all the kingdom there was. I’ve repented of that mindset—and have spent several years building bridges where once I built walls. I’m just one measly peon, but I’m trying to make restitution for the sins of my past.
What have I learned in the last 25 years of bridge-building? It’s not easy.
Years ago I had lunch with a man who said the only way he’d collaborate in ministry with me was if I publicly renounced my background. Really? There’s a better chance I’ll become a Popsicle salesman to the inhabitants of Hell before I’d renounce the heritage that brought me to Jesus!
But his comment was my second awakening—because the pride and divisiveness I had grown to hate among my own tribe was just as malignant in other tribes too. Till then, I had tried to own all the fault. I even told my dad, also a preacher, that it was all our fault. But then I got a peek on the other side and realized: There’s enough blame for all of us!
There’s too much pride in the body of Christ—and it must not be. Which is why my personal mission is to call believers into doctrinal humility. I’m not prescribing a Christianity without conviction. Or that we willy-nilly cast all disagreements aside and sing “Kumbaya,” eating birdseed and waiting for Jesus.
It’s just this: If passionate, Christ-loving people disagree over an issue that godly believers with an equally high view of Scripture have debated for generations . . . ? If you don’t approach that disagreement with at least some shred of doubt or with the notion that you may, in fact, not be right or recognize that your finite mind is too small to fully capture the mind of God on any issue of doctrine, much less all of them—then you are in danger of being eaten by pride. Even worse, of being totally void of love. And if unchecked, you’ll damage the body with your self-righteous disgust—as if you alone have captured the full revelation of God.
What’s this got to do with love? Only just everything.
Our unity movement launched with a simple credo—variously attributed, but a message that’s never been in dispute: In essentials, unity; in opinions, liberty; in all things, love.
Great way to start, huh? Yet our “unity movement” has visibly split several times.
We are, in many ways, the drunk whom Tolstoy described. Tolstoy said that a drunk can weave from one side of the road to next, fall in a ditch and get up, vomit over himself and be an absolutely detestable sight, but none of that detracts from the fact that he might just be on the right road.
In my experience, the church of Jesus is way more like that drunk than a holy army with soldiers marching in lock step down the center of the boulevard! But this bumpy road we’re weaving down is leading us to Heaven.
At least we’re on it.
Then again, other folks are on it too. Maybe they are a bunch of compromising, confused, and inconsistent pilgrims—which makes them a lot like me. But at least they’re on the road. And the same Father who accepts and saves them—despite their inaccuracies—is the Father who accepts and saves me—in spite of mine.
Because He Loves Us
If you’ve been weaned in isolation, just writing this stuff can make you shiver. Partly because the road to lavish love is a road chock-full of land mines and barbed wire with sharpshooters lurking in murky spaces.
But I’m thrilled with the breathtaking breadth of Jesus’ church. It was a radical discovery several years ago when I first realized that the church of Jesus is way more than our isolated tribe. And even now, this way-more crowded road than I ever dreamed still intoxicates me.
• The church has killed people in the name of God’s love.
• We’ve trashed each other with more passion than we’ve ever trashed the devil.
• We’ve aligned behind stupid ideas and misguided leaders.
• But we’re on the road—weaving but still following the path.
To me everything else is commentary but this: Jesus came to us because he loves us. He redeemed us through his blood because he loves us. He conquered the grave because he loves us. He’s coming to retrieve us because he loves us.
In fact, he’s come for all of us who long for his appearing. Including those, like it or not, who don’t happen to agree with me.
Steve Wyatt is a minister and freelance writer in Anthem, Arizona.