Let’s replace division with unity, exclusion with embrace, animosity with love, and enmity with prayer. (Colossians 1:1–14)

Feb 27, 2017 | Blog | 0 comments

Our world is plagued by deep divisions—racial and political and social and other. If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, you see people express such misunderstandings and animosities every day. Sadly, the church too often mirrors and repeats these divisions. But Jesus calls the church to replace division and animosity with renewed life together and in the world—a life of love, peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, thanksgiving, and prayer.

The church must replace division with unity, exclusion with embrace, accusations with thanksgiving, animosity with love, fear with hope, and enmity with prayer.

The non-partisan Pew Research Center released research this week that showed the deep divisions in American society. These divisions run along racial, age, political, and religious lines. They lead to misunderstandings and hostility.

Passions run red hot over political and social and racial issues. People feel strongly about the President and his policies, and the nation is deeply polarized.

The Pew report looked at views on the President’s executive order to stop refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days, and to stop people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. on a visa for 90 days.

White Americans are divided over the policies (49% approve and 50% disapprove), while most African Americans (84%) and Hispanics (79%) reject these policies. White evangelicals tend to support the policies (76%) compared with only 38% of the broader American public. Most Catholics (62%) and those unaffiliated with religion (74%) reject the President’s policies. 76% of Americans aged 18–29 reject these policies, while older Americans are divided on the issue. Of those who say they are Republican leaning, 81% approve of these policies, while Democrat leaning voters overwhelmingly reject the policies (89%).

For those who’ve been watching traditional and social media, it’s clear that these divisions run deep and are red hot. As an Australian, I see something similar within Australian society.

What’s concerning is the way this division has affected the Christian church. Instead of discussing the policies calmly and empathetically and respectfully, many Christians have resorted to name-calling, accusations, anger, and division.

Not only are the divisions in society replicated in the church, but the animosity toward the “other” is also repeated.

Paul wrote the letter of Colossians to a church that was focused on differences rather than on Jesus Christ.

They had begun to put their energies into an outside philosophy and its ways of seeing and engaging with the world. They had allowed themselves to get caught up in internal debates, disunity, and division. And they were in grave danger of taking their eyes of Christ, and of failing to see and give thanks for the work that Christ had done in their sisters and brothers.

Instead of emphasizing Christ’s supremacy—and his call to be the church and to be disciples—the Colossians had begun to look a lot like the surrounding culture. They had taken their eyes of Christ and the salvation that was theirs in him. Like their neighbors, they had begun to focus on rituals, spiritual personalities, mystical practices, additional spiritual agents, ascetic observances, and other lesser things than Christ and his salvation. And they had begun to allow disagreements and division to shape their life together and in the world.

‪The challenge for the Colossians was the same as the challenge we face today. Our challenge isn’t relating (or being relevant) to our age. It’s seeing how much Christianity has become assimilated into the values and outlook of the surrounding culture, and then choosing to resist and to pursue another way.

In Colossians, Paul shows us another way. Instead of division and animosity, God calls us to unity in diversity. Instead of hatred and accusation, Jesus calls us to thanksgiving and prayer. Instead of focusing on the debates and philosophies of the surrounding culture, the Spirit calls us to focus on the supremacy of Christ and our salvation in him.

This isn’t to say that we don’t engage in politics and in social change. The church needs to debate the issues internally and in the public square—in respectful, humble, and unified ways. We need prophetic voices that name the racism, sexism, and worldliness that has crept in among us. And we need to move toward repentance and change.

The church must discuss public issues in humility, & move toward repentance & change. Click To Tweet

As I wrote in a recent post, what if post-Christendom, secularism, materialism, sexuality, immigrants, refugees, nationalism, and Islam aren’t things to be feared but are, instead, opportunities to truly be the church? What if these social changes are opportunities to embrace fuller discipleship, to reform our beliefs and practices, to dig deeper into the stories that shape us and our society, to see God’s presence within expressions of doubt and questioning, and to practice a distinct social ethic? What if these are opportunities to cultivate a distinct community with a distinct love and ethic and grace and holiness and reconciliation and hope and welcome? What if these are opportunities to discern how we’ve become thoroughly secularized, and to be the new humanity and new creation in Christ? What if these are opportunities to ask what really shapes our identities and desires, and to repent? What if these are opportunities to join with God in his mission, to live full and joyful lives, to listen to the hopes and longings of others, to embrace fresh confidence in the gospel, to open our hearts and homes and lands and families, and to invite the Spirit to convert his church?

Secularism, sexuality, immigrants & Islam aren't problems but a chance to be church. Click To Tweet

And what if the current acrimonious social and political climate is an opportunity to show the world the way of Christ—the way of humility, love, honor, and forgiveness?

Why does the church mirror the divisions and animosities and accusations of the surrounding culture? Isn’t it time we pursued and showed a different way?

Paul shows us a different way in Colossians 1:1–14. Although the Colossian have their flaws, he honors and values them. He gives thanks for them. He shows us the way of love, thanksgiving, and prayer.

Our world is plagued by deep divisions—racial and political and social and other. If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, you see people express such misunderstandings and animosities every day. Sadly, the church too often mirrors and repeats these divisions. But Jesus calls the church to replace division and animosity with renewed life together and in the world—a life of love, peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, thanksgiving, and prayer.

Let’s replace division with unity, exclusion with embrace, accusations with thanksgiving, animosity with love, fear with hope, and enmity with prayer.

Let’s replace division w unity, exclusion w embrace, animosity w love, & enmity w prayer. Click To Tweet

Let’s have the open and respectful (and even animated) discussions about the issues. And in doing so, let’s not lose sight of who we are as the church. Let’s continue to focus on the supremacy of Christ, and on the incredible things he is doing in and through our brothers and sisters, and on what he is doing in the world.

Along with Paul, let’s give thanks for one another, while praying this prayer for each other (given the current climate, we should pray this prayer passionately and often):

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace…

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

It’s time for the church to replace division with thanksgiving and prayer.

 

 

Graham Hill

Dr Graham Hill is the Founding Director of The GlobalChurch Project – www.theglobalchurchproject.com. He’s the author of “GlobalChurch: Reshaping Our Conversations, Renewing Our Mission, Revitalizing Our Churches” (IVP, 2016), and 3 other books.

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