(Jesus said:) “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 7:20-26 (NRSV)
I can say I’m probably not a likely poster child for ecumenism as I’m pretty set in my traditions, and I do believe correct theology is important. However, Jesus Himself asks that believers will be one united body of believers, which is a tall order.
Some Christian groups believe in separating themselves from the rest of the world. To a degree I can see the merit in that, but an extreme condition of separation can give rise to a superiority mentality, that we are the “clean, good, moral” people and everyone else is scummy or untouchable.
Other groups are so politically correct that their aim is not to “offend” anyone, so their brand of Christianity is so watered down that nobody gets told the hard truths and no one is challenged to take up their cross and follow Jesus. It’s easy to be a Christian if it’s all about social gatherings and pretty music.
The real deal is a lot more complicated than either pious separation and stringent morality rules or feel-good be nice to everyone platitudes. Both Dana Carvey as the Church Lady and “Buddy Christ” miss the mark.
Living the Christian life is messy. It’s real. Following Jesus means being willing to cross boundaries, to forgive when we’ve been hurt, and to open our hearts to those who the rest of the world has given up on. Even so, sometimes showing grace and love to other Christians is the most difficult thing to do- like siblings we in-fight and argue about matters of doctrine or practice that may be important, but usually aren’t essential. I can’t say I agree with some things that other traditions teach, or even some
positions held by some within the Lutheran tradition itself, but I can embrace a fellow believer. I can agree to love and pray for fellow Christians. On non-essential doctrine, (meaning pretty much anything outside the realm of the statement of faith in the Apostle’s Creed) I can agree to disagree.
There is right and wrong, joy and pain, love and discipline, and all of these things are part of the package. It is true that by God’s grace we have freedom, but it is also true that with freedom comes responsibility and accountability. We have to live with the Holy Spirit, Who speaks through our conscience, and at the end of days we will stand before Christ and He will be our Judge. When a child is baptized and the pastor says the words, “You are marked with the Cross of Christ forever,” or when a person is drawn to Christ through another means of grace, it means that person belongs to God- open not only to God’s salvation and blessing, but also to His discipline and His correction. A child of God will not live a perfect life and will not be sin-free, but a child of God will not be satisfied with life in the pig pen. He or she will long for the Father’s House. The thing is, we have no way of knowing who is a native of the pig pen, and who is a child of God taking a sojourn in the pig pen.
Therefore, the default for us should be to see everyone as children of God regardless of where they might be right now. Who knows if God is putting us in the same place He put Ananias?
The apostle Paul touches on the concept of accepting and living with believers who practice differently or who observe different traditions in Romans 14:
“Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”
So then, each of us will be accountable to God.” Romans 14:1-12 (NRSV)
I think we will be judged more thoroughly on how we loved than on whether or not we played by all the rules.