Working with more than 200 churches, God has placed me in a role where I hear the polar extremes of nearly every contemporary issue.
I hear pastors sparring with each other over fine points of theology that have been debated for 2,000 years. Somehow, we think we have definitively settled the debate with our feeble little insights.
Now, I hear us positioning over the COVID-19 response and the reopening of our economy and our churches. Some are arguing churches should have never closed (religious liberty) or that the whole thing has been exaggerated for political purposes. Others are arguing for caution for the health of the vulnerable and respect for our governing officials (Romans 12).
I tend to be a bridge builder, one who often finds himself in the “via media,” the middle way between two poles. I look to one position and say to myself, “He’s got a point.” And then I look to the other side and say the same thing. Many times, when things get overly heated, I shake my head and say, “What is the point?”
It often amazes me that even small things can separate brothers and sisters because of our human sinfulness. No wonder our Lord — and the New Testament — challenges us to love one another and reminds us that “love covers a multitude of sin” (1 Peter 4:8). Frequently the sin is not in the issue at hand. Frequently the sin is the loveless, arrogant attitude that insists that we are right.
Christianity is not about our rights. In fact, almost the opposite is true. Christ gave up His rights (Philippians 2) and died on a cross of love for you and for me. Paul instructs us that love gives up rights for others (1 Corinthians 13), and that we should sacrifice our rights for our brother (1 Corinthians 8).
Our adversary, the devil, will use anything to separate the people of God. Unfortunately, because of our human arrogance and our willingness to turn ant hills into mountains, we quickly escalate from differing opinions to vilification. We make tertiary issues into primary issues. We fight over tiddlywinks while the world goes to hell.
In these days, there are going to be differences of opinion regarding the reopening of our churches for public worship. Prayerfully extend grace to your brothers and sisters who may see things differently than you do. Go the extra mile to make your church family comfortable by abiding by the collective wisdom of your leaders. If you feel uncomfortable with the decisions your leaders make, stay home a little longer. If you are at risk due to health issues, please be safe and wait. Out of love, your brothers and sisters will understand.
Please wear the mask, or whatever else you must do, for your brother, and don’t grumble about the sacrifice you are making. Jesus never grumbled about what He did for you.
Leo Endel is executive director of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention.