When you’re united with someone in vision and practice, it’s easy to show respect and love. There is peace. Compliments and grace flow freely. But there is nothing uniquely Christian about showing admiration amidst agreement. Just watch a press conference after both parties in the House or Senate have worked together to pass some piece of legislation. The leaders of the parties will stand together at the podium, smiling and expressing how thankful they are for the cooperative effort.
But wait for the next day when another issue comes to the forefront. Wait for the disagreement and see the reactions. Those same politicians who were standing together are now ripping each other apart to the media. Blame is placed squarely at the other’s feet, and you get the sense that they hate one another.
Evangelicalism, with its theological and methodological diversity, is no stranger to these sorts of conflicts. Charismatic vs cessationist. Calvinist vs. non-Reformed. Megachurch vs. small church. Expositional preaching vs. topical preaching. The list could go on for days.
One of the current debates raging is racial reconciliation in the church, and there is no shortage of fiery rhetoric on either side of the spectrum. One camp accuses the other of racism and hardheartedness, while the opposing side hurls accusations of theological liberalism and reverse racism. In many ways, social media has become a favored battleground, with the tweets ripping across enemy lines and every YouTube video trying to land the death blow to the conflicting viewpoint.
It is in these very moments that the gospel comes to bear. The gospel of Jesus Christ speaks not only to our agreement in Christ, but it also guides how we disagree in Christ. Disagreeing with another brother or sister is not inherently wrong, nor is it off-limits to publicly call that brother or sister to account for their actions or views. Paul gives us a good example of this in Galatians 2 when he confronts Peter because of the latter’s hypocrisy.
A key missing element in many of these current interactions is a sense of union in Christ. It is when we view others primarily through the lens of their ideology rather than their identity in Christ that our arguing loses its gospel witness.
If I disagree with my biological brother on an important issue, my response to him will likely have a more loving tone than if I am debating a complete stranger who picked a fight with me on the street. Why? He is my brother. We share a familial bond that is rooted in love. This doesn’t mean we will always agree, but it does mean that even our disagreements will be guided by our love and care for one another.
The vast majority of debates on social media, particularly among my Baptist brothers and sisters, would have a much different tone if all of our communication was grounded in a we-are-unified-in-Christ mindset. A chief cause of this sub-Christian animosity is the depersonalized nature of social media, where I am attacking an avatar and a series of tweets, not a man or woman made in the image of God and bought by the precious blood of Christ.
Yes, there are issues worthy of serious debate and teachings that could have dangerous implications for the state of the Church. But a group of Christians who refuse to show the love of Christ are preaching a gospel that is just as false as any liberal formulation you can imagine. After all, Jesus told his disciples, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” I wonder how many nonbelievers could look at our interaction with other Christians and could tell that we have Spirit of Christ?
Our country is becoming more and more polarized along social and political lines. As Christians in an increasingly fractured culture, we have an opportunity to demonstrate a gospel that reigns amidst diversity and disagreement. My prayer is that we would get our rhetorical cues less from cable news and more from our cross-bearing, grace-giving Savior.