Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Divisiveness of Human Identity

Why do we humans section ourselves off as we do? I believe it is an identity issue. If Christ is not our identity, something or someone else will be.

Romans 16:17-19 talks about this:

“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of na├»ve people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.”

The Moody Commentary expounds on this verse:

“The Christians in Rome were to turn away from those who spread false teaching, from those who were enslaved to their own desires (vv.17-18). Their teaching caused dissensions (‘the division of a unified group into two or more discordant ones’) and hindrances (‘that which causes indignation and antagonism’). Paul was confident of their ongoing obedience to the truth (v.19)”

These verses make me take a sober look at denominationalism. What is denominationalism, if it isn’t the Body of Christ divided, as the commentary says, “into two or more discordant ones,” causing “indignation and antagonism”?

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1 and 3, warns of this very thing when he addresses his listeners--“those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours (notice the lack of division here) and with deep concern says:

“that there are quarrels among you” (11b) and “that each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?...For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13; 17).

“For when one says ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men?
What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants not the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:4-7).

What Paul is trying to nip in the bud is the setting of the precedent that Jesus’ followers will be loyal to humans and religious ideologies instead of to Christ and His Gospel.

This is why incorporating politics into Christian discussions and organized Christian gatherings may be diabolical: it can and does set Christians apart from one another and from the love of their non-Christian neighbors. This is not to say that we go along with whatever, or ignore our consciences or don’t have a governor, senator or president that we support through our vote.

Here’s what Jesus said in the context of being asked by the Pharisees and Herodians whether it was lawful to give a poll tax to Caesar, prefacing their question with “you are not partial to any” (Matthew 22:16b). Jesus, knowing full well they were trying to trick him into a predicament that would make themselves look good and He bad, asked them to bring Him a denarius and said:

“’Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said to him, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.’ And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away” (Matthew 22:20-22).

I believe they went away “amazed” because they could not entice Jesus to bite the juicy worm of a political debate. What an example Jesus sets for us! Jesus did not engage with them because he knew their motive for the discussion was “malice” (Matthew 22:18).

Each of us can also choose to respond as Jesus did, and follow Paul’s encouragement:

“But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.” Colossians 3:8-11

The minute that being a Republican, Democrat, Lutheran, PCUSA Presbyterian, Orthodox Presbyterian, Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist, Evangelical, Catholic and so on, is our identity, is the minute we commit the sin of dissension, jealousy and hindrance; of dividing the Body into one or more sects. The result is that what we see and focus on, in fact, what we stand firm on, is how we are different “from them.” It becomes our identity.

People will ask, “But how do you maintain right doctrine?” I, in turn ask, “Is right doctrine being maintained with manmade and corporate church dogma?”

What are the motivations for glorying in our being different from one another? What does that feed inside of us that standing firm in the Gospel of Christ does not? Superiority? Prideful self-esteem? Worldly acceptance? A critical spirit?

We are all equal in Christ’s estimation:

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:25-28

Is that what we don’t like? Is that the root of what divides us? That by being made equal in Christ, our fallen nature tells us we are no longer more special, more unique or more right than someone else?

If so, we haven’t absorbed the revealed mystery that is the Gospel: that Christ died for each one of us fallen individuals—each one loved equally by God (John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 1 Timothy 2:1-6).

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:1-3

copyright Barb Harwood

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