Friendly fire is an attack by a military force on non-enemy, their own, allied or neutral forces while attempting to attack the enemy, either by misidentifying the target as hostile or due to errors or inaccuracy.- Wikipedia
I made a promise to my readers to be real and authentic. The problem with that is you also leave yourself open and vulnerable to criticism and attack. And while serving as a parish pastor in many smaller declining congregations fighting change yet struggling to find the air to survive toughens one up, attacks and criticism still feel very personal. As I look deeper at the landscape of my beloved Missouri Synod, my soul is grieved. In my church body, we are going through a trying time, at that heart of one of our deep-rooted issues is trust. Our church leaders, our pastors, struggle to trust each other. There is a real fear about the ability to be open about the ministry challenges we face because there is a perception that brother clergy will pick up a blog post or see something on your church website that will cause you to draw friendly fire for your ministry choices. It took me a long time to decided to start a blog just for that reason. But my dear mother had a “Go big or Go home” approach to life, so I blame her.
Our numbers, like many mainline denominations, have been declining for the last twenty years or so. This decrease and feeling of hopelessness combined with frustration have led to internal conflicts. We have heated debates on the direction of the church, the mission of the church, and who has been entrusted to accomplish the task. Instead, of seeking answers together, we have allowed the chasm to grow wider.
The natural tendency when you are sick is to ignore all the signs. You pray that the pain in the body will just naturally go away. You may search the world-wide-web for others with similar symptoms until you find a favorable diagnosis. You hope the illness goes away, or you try radical new treatments to save the dying organization. Both sides of this pendulum are colliding with tremendous force in my church body. As I stand and look into the future, we need to find a way to reconnect. To get back the meaning of “church,” we are people “belonging to the Kyrios-Lord.”
We Need a Beer Summit
At fifty plus years old I have reached a point in my life where I have no taste for fighting anymore. God’s mission is too important. Those out of God’s grace are too important. The harvest we have been called to as the body of Christ is too vital. The doctrine our forefathers fought and in some cases died to defend is too critical.
The foundational text for this post comes from Jesus’ High Priestly prayer. Jesus, as He prepares His followers for His departure gives them this final rallying speech. Jesus understood the challenges the evil one would place on the church and its leaders. Neither side in our church body is evil, but Satan is using our differences to divide and distract us from our true calling. Jesus knew the tools and schemes Satan would employ on the church. So, Jesus points us to the best way to overcome Satan’s attack, fight back with the unity of being joined together to one faith (doctrine), one Lord (Jesus Christ) and one baptism (means of grace). Jesus prayed that the believers be united. Would it be grand if we stop shooting at our allies and fight against our common opponent, Satan, and his army? Maybe we should have a beer summit. Where you invite someone who is the polar opposite of you to sit and talk. I think we will find we have far more agreement than differences.
Jesus Prayers for Unity.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you 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. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:20-23
William Wallace, the leading character in the movie “Braveheart” chastised his fellow Scots for allowing minor issues, internal strife, and power struggles to stand in the way of their fight for independence from the English. “We have beaten the English, but they’re back because you won’t stand together.” I feel that is what is happening far too often in the church. The enemy, Satan, has been defeated. When Jesus Christ rose on Easter Sunday, the message was clear. “Satan, you are finished! Christ is victorious.” But with our internal fights and disagreements, we have turned the sweet taste of victory into the bitterness of defeat. Understand, I realize disagreement is a part of relationships, but what is not normal is the inability to move beyond the conflict and be unified. When there are issues that need correcting, the church needs to have those discussions. If we fail to teach the truth of God’s word we are doing the work of Christ a disservice. There also needs to be a desire at the end of the day to work together to do our shared mission.
In this High Priestly prayer notice how often the word “one” is used. “One” appears in verse 21, twice in 11 and 22. The unity of God’s church should reflect the unity of the Father and the Son. Verse 23 reveals to us the nature of this agreement: the Son is obedient to the Father, and the Father loves the Son (v 23). Paul describes us as many members, but one body (Rom 12:4-5, Col 3:15).
To be crystal clear, to be one is not the absence of opinions. Opinions are healthy. Disagreements are healthy. What is not healthy is creating an environment where we do not trust each other. Where we assume our brother is out to get us or destroy us and our ministry career. Unity is the lack of divisions. The church causes the greatest damage when it allows disagreement and disunity to grow in the body like an open sore. That open sore unchecked only festers and swells and spreads until it kills the body. Disunity weakens the effectiveness of the gospel. It scatters the flock. Disunity muffles the church’s witness in the world. The outside world looks at a church without unity and asks, “Who can believe their message?”
Let us not be divided, but united, to grow the church into what God would have it be. A pastor reminded me when I started in ministry, “there is nothing on earth like the local church when it is working right. It has the power to transform and changes lives.” Followers of the Lord Jesus Christ know that He is praying for you.
Jesus wants us to live as children of God. He promises to give us the strength to face whatever comes. Remember to pray for those around you and those far away. Bear in mind that we are to be salt and light to a bland and dark world. Bear in mind that Jesus is praying for us. Be like the tree of Psalm 1, “…their delight is in the law of the Lord…They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in due season.”
More reflection on the future of the church.