Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NRSV)
(Jesus said) : “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20 (NRSV)
Welcoming others carries an element of being willing to help carry another’s load- and to forgive others’ faults. That’s not always easy, and sometimes we resist that call to help because we are already so bogged down by our own baggage and burdens. We also resist forgiveness because we feel as if we are “punishing” someone by holding a grudge. The mentality is, “So and so did _____, so he or she ‘deserves it’.” Sadly, the fact is that there is nothing heavier to carry than a grudge, and the reality is forgiving others significantly lightens our own load.
The Teacher of Ecclesiastes has a good point in the value of standing together with others. We are stronger together. A threefold cord is referring to a braid or braided rope- when multiple strands are woven together their strength is multiplied. The Ecclesiastes reference can also be taken as a foreshadowing of the revelation of the Trinity- God as Three in One.
There is strength in numbers.
It is easy for us as Americans to get patriotism and theology confused. While there is nothing essentially wrong with being a patriotic American, one’s patriotism should not conflict with or be confused with our primary identity as followers of Jesus. Being a good American isn’t necessarily the same as being a good Christian and vice versa.
As Americans we prize individualism and independence. To a degree both individualism and independence are positive traits, but when a healthy self-reliance turns into a know-it-all attitude, or independence turns to isolation, we make ourselves vulnerable. When predators hunt, they pick off the ones who are isolated from the herd. Those who have no connection to the rest of the community are more vulnerable to evil, to error, and to despair. Solitude at times for meditation, study and prayer, can be restorative for many of us, but even the most introverted among us still need to connect with the greater community and have dialogue with others.
In some American churches the idea persists that following Jesus is just a “me-n-Jesus” sort of thing rather than a community endeavor. However, God’s plan that humans were meant to be in relationship with each other and to be active participants in the world begins clear back in the creation accounts in Genesis. (See Genesis 2:18-25 )
Relationships with others are not easy, as we learn in Scripture. The first murder didn’t take long- from the creation account of Genesis 2, to Cain murdering Abel in Genesis 4. Jesus warned us of wars and rumors of wars in Matthew 24 which we see and hear evidence of every day.
Throughout the history of the church (meaning Christian churches in general) there has been much infighting, prejudice, injustices, hypocrisy and other un-Christlike behavior. No one tradition has been immune to the fact that Jesus followers are both saints and sinners at the same time. Forgiveness is one of the major precepts that Jesus taught, and forgiveness is necessary first and foremost in the church. We are forgiven, so it follows that we are called to forgive, and to see others through Jesus’ eyes.
The church is not a genealogical society, (because there is only one race: human,) and it is not a museum. The church is a living body, prone to mistakes and prone to weakness, but it is strengthened when its members stand together- keeping Christ at the center of all- even through disagreements and mistakes. God looks at the motive of our hearts more intently than He checks to see if our theology and doctrine is 100% correct. Blindly following a tradition without questioning its purpose or validity, or going off to follow One Guy In Charge, even if it is one’s self (or any person who isn’t Jesus) was never God’s plan.
How can we truly welcome others to our own church as well as to the greater community of Jesus followers? God calls us to relationship, but as we learn from Scripture and from life, relationships are hard work. In relationships we will feel pain. Relationships can get messy and complicated. We will be offended. We will offend. Yet by the grace of God, we are forgiven, and likewise called to forgive as Jesus forgives us.