One of my greatest blessings is to see my three boys interact with each other and the world around them. I could sit for hours just watching the different personalities, communication styles and emotions they have and how that forms how they do life.
One of my boys is so neat and tidy he will not play after school until all his clothes are neatly folded, whilst his two brothers leave a trail of clothes from the front door to the bedroom. Another son has to be physically restrained to stop him eating apples and pears whilst his brothers, let me put it this way, are not as vigorously supportive of the fruit eating requirements.
Each one has a diversity and uniqueness that cannot be explained. However within this diversity lies an undeniable unity on certain issues. They join in united song to petition the hard taskmaster that would require them to go to bed, they collaborate passionately to advocate the purchase of McDonalds and mercilessly engage in bathroom warfare that includes water, flatulence and laughter. (They are boys after all)
It is in the times of watching the unity, which is strengthened and refined by their diversity, that I cannot help but reflect on how the same is true for the Church. As the universal church we are represented by so many expressions of life in the Way that it is sometimes difficult to define who is who. Catholics, Anglicans, Pentecostals and the numerous other denominations separate into homogenous groups of people with similar passions, gifts, personalities, theological understandings and worship practices.
As Baptists, we seem to bring all those groups together into one denomination, one beautiful reflection of the diversity of heaven and often a melting pot of potential conflict and division. That diversity makes the unity that the Association of Baptist Churches have at the moment even more exceptional.
Revive was a high point in the expression of this unity with churches from all back grounds joining together in corporate worship and community. Flowing on from this was the Christlike tone and spirit of the recent mid year assembly. This assembly saw a large number of churches working together to elect the New Assembly Council, a council made up of people across the length and breadth of our diversity. The list could go on.
Paul in Philippians exhorts us to ‘live a life worthy of the Gospel’ not individually but within the context of community. ‘Standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side’ Paul continues and then reveals that he is expecting this to be done in times of struggle ‘not frightened in anything by your opponents’. This struggle however is not against each other in the broader church. It is not reformed verses non-reformed, not contemporary verses conservative, not even simple church verses complex church. In fact Paul addresses this in the second chapter of Philippians and says ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves’
This passage challenges us to put aside the things we hold as important or even biblical and focus on the person rather than their position. To deal with the outward struggles that unite us rather than the internal disagreements that divide us and at all times never think that our view is more valid or important than anyone else’s view.
Like all families, there are times when a disagreement leads to strife and conflict. It is wrong, unbiblical and unchristian to see those disagreements as divisive. The diversity in our approach to theology, worship, justice, leadership and mission coupled with our diversity of age, personality and ethnicity, when approached in love, is our greatest uniting strength.
When I watch my boys fight and argue it is always with sadness, but I am always blessed by the grace, forgiveness and love that is shown as they unite again as brothers. How nice it would be for the world to look at the Association of Baptist Churches of NSW & ACT and say I know they are disciples of Jesus because of the way they love one another! That is our challenge and it starts with you.