Ever found yourself in an argument that you later realized wasn’t worth it? I have. I can’t shut my mouth sometimes. If somebody says something that pushes my buttons, my initial reaction can be fierce and divisive. As a Christian—and as a pastor—I struggle with this. I find myself at odds with lots of people claiming to know, share and preach the “truth” as they so fervently label their message. I put truth in quotations not to negate truth, but because people spend so much time pretending that they can know all and way too little time in reflection on themselves and on the world around them.
Truth is comfortable. If we can objectively know something to be true, we feel safe and often times proud. It’s a great feeling, isn’t it? The feeling that we have a handle on things—the feeling that we can champion God’s causes today because He has allowed us to know exactly what He meant when He had some of His followers write these letters and stories on pieces of papyrus so that these communities of faithful Christians could gain wisdom and work together for God’s purposes in their near-eastern, shame driven, semi-cast, multi-languaged and multi-ethnic culture. It’s a miracle that all we have to do is read our preferred translation of the Bible, and we can gain 100 percent insight into the mind and heart of God and that, because we are Christians, we don’t even need to reflect on how our own culture, language, cast system and worldview might affect the way that we understand scripture. If you missed the sarcasm, I apologize. I tried. It isn’t my intent to be a cynic. Cynicism, though funny, is rarely constructive. What I really want is to challenge the ideas so many of us believe to be true and have a new conversation about truth.
I love and have faith in truth, but I can’t and won’t say that I always understand everything that Jesus or the authors of the Bible are trying to share. I know myself too well to make those assertions. So what is truth? The Bible isn’t so cryptic that truth is hidden from us, the readers. We can garner and learn great and beautiful truths about many wonderful aspects of God and of faith through this wonderful book. It’s the truth that we are united in Christ and, even though there are more disagreements amongst Christians than any of us would care to name, most of them aren’t worth the dissention that comes from the ensuing war these disagreements bring.
Unity in Christ is a beautiful idea—a beautiful truth. But once you start preaching unity, people start drawing lines in the sand and making up excuses as to why some people should not be considered part of God’s Church. There are some instances in Church history where drawing a line in the sand, so to speak, has been necessary. Paul does a bit of line drawing himself when he tells Timothy to teach people who tell mythological stories and who get caught up on genealogies—two common practices of the day. Our own Bible is full of genealogies, so Paul wasn’t saying that these things were bad, he was saying they become fruitless and divisive if people are not encouraged to move on from these things. He goes on to say that wasting your time focusing on things that are distracting and relatively unimportant is a poor stewardship. We do the same thing today. Many of us get caught up in championing causes and theologies to the detriment of God’s work; we’re all guilty. And it’s a sin. Jesus pleaded that we seek unity, not just correctness.
So, what is true? It’s Christ in God and us in Christ. It is the union of souls, and bodies, and lives, and cultures, and theologies, and communities. It is the laying down of our own lives, ideas and agendas so that Christ might rule. It’s when people stop pointing fingers and begin reflecting on how they might change that we will understand Christ’s truth, that we will understand that it isn’t about our idle myths, or our endless genealogies, or our definitions of sovereignty, or our translations of the Bible, or how we practice evangelism, or how big our church is, or what style of music we play, or how much we know. Truth is how much we let Christ define and change us.