If we want to unify the church, we don’t have to look further than Jesus. Jesus is our perfect model. He hung out with everybody. Obviously He hung out with sinners. And think about who the disciples were. They were the outcasts. They were the ones that were cast out by the rabbis. They were the ones that didn’t make the cut, so to speak. The B team. And they were Jesus’ companions.
But in addition to sinners and outcasts, Jesus hung out with the people who had status. He must have had enough pull that He could stand up in the Temple and preach, and people would listen to Him. He even hung out with the Pharisees, and He clearly had powerful disagreements with them! He didn’t necessarily say nice things to them, but He had dinner with them. He was okay with hanging out, and with talking. “I’ll go to your house to have dinner,” He said. “I’ll challenge your reasoning and your beliefs.”
He debated everybody! We wouldn’t even know what Jesus thought if He hadn’t debated everybody. I mean, He hung with people of all different persuasions, who held all kinds of views different to His, and I’m sure he even found a way to dialogue with the great philosophical thinkers of his day. Those stories aren’t in the Bible, but I think it happened. And when it did, He out-thought them. He could, obviously, since He is the source of all thoughts.
So He was it, man, our perfect model for engaging with people and talking to them, whether we agree with them or not. He was everything that we need to be. He did everything essential for us to do. And just because He talked with all different kinds of people, He did not give on moral ground. He wouldn’t give. Instead He would say, “No you’re wrong. And this is why.” And he always answered a question with another question, because He wanted people to think more deeply.
Now we have a situation where even the leaders and the thinkers don’t want to hang out and debate! They’ll write each other off before the conversation can even begin. “Oh,” they’ll say, “So you’re from the Catholic Church.” Or they’ll say, “You’re from the Episcopal Church, you’re from the Presbyterian Church, you’re Southern Baptist.” So what? So talk! Talk to each other. Have a conversation. Dialogue.
I’ve found real wisdom in books written by leaders from denominations other than my own. And I love it. I don’t go to a Presbyterian Church, but for me, Timothy Keller is one of the brightest thinkers of our day right now. You should read The Reason for God and think about his views of God and the contemporary challenges to Christianity. Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel is another very good book, and Manning is a Catholic priest.
We just have to put aside our insistence that only our denomination has the correct belief. That’s where we all begin initially. But we can’t fear the changes that come from dialogue with other Christians. Don’t be afraid to challenge someone. Don’t be afraid to say, “Time out. That might not be the right perspective.” And don’t be afraid to say, “My perspective is part of the right perspective, but it’s not the perspective.”
That’s really our issue. We can’t sit in dialogue, because we aren’t prepared to admit that our perspectives might only be partial. We always think that we have to have the perspective, and the other guy must be wrong. What if we all need to think together to have the perspective? I think that’s something you’re going to have to be okay with. You have to. It’s the only way, if we’re going to unify the church. See you Wednesday.