My sister recently became a proud “dog mom”. Her furry “son” has already had the chance to meet many of his new family members, both two- and four-legged.
All humans involved have welcomed him. The dogs? Not so much.
Some tension is normal when introducing new dogs to each other, though there are steps that can be taken to minimize it. Even with time and patience, some dogs only ever learn to tolerate each other, and a few never can bear one another.
Our latest dog-introducing experience got me thinking: Dogs aren’t so different from people. Maybe we can learn some things from them.
And I’m not thinking only of people in general – though we’re a pretty tumultuous bunch. I’m thinking specifically of the group of people that make up the family of God: the Church.
You’d expect that, because all Christians love Jesus and are committed to following Him above all else, we’d always think, feel, and act the same way and automatically get along. But unfortunately (or fortunately?) that’s not the case.
So how do we respond to that tension? Where do conflict and diversity fit into the quest for Christian unity?
Here are some thoughts.
Family by (Re)birth
When a person becomes a Christian, s/he becomes a child of God. This means s/he also becomes a sister or brother to other Christians. In short, s/he is “reborn” into a family bound together and defined by their relationship with Christ.
And like the dogs mentioned earlier, none of us get to choose who our adoptive “siblings” are. Only God does. His prerequisites? Repentance from sin, faith in God’s work through Christ, and commitment to Christ as Lord.
Anyone who meets these prerequisites – regardless of who they are, where they come from, or what they’ve done in the past – gets in. Anyone.
They might be people we like. They might be people we don’t. They might be people who speak and think like us. They might be people we struggle to understand. They might be people we admire. They might be people we’d otherwise dismiss.
And that’s okay. Because God’s intention is not to make His people clones. Rather, He is working to make each person into a unique imitator of Christ and an indispensable member of His Church.
When we use our unique gifts and experiences to serve each other, worship God together, and share our Christian journeys, we become the unified “body of Christ” He intends the Church to be.
But Christ-likeness doesn’t happen overnight. One earthly thing we do have in common is that we’re all broken vessels of grace.
We all have limitations and weaknesses. And we all sin, even after becoming Christ-followers.
Our brokenness may look different, which can make it hard for us to understand and connect with each other. And sometimes we wrong each other and need to be restored. And sometimes we struggle in our journey and need help making it through.
Being a member of God’s family doesn’t mean we’re immune to sin, weakness, or pain. It doesn’t mean we’re free from the mess and tangles of life.
What it means is that we’re part of a group of broken, messy people redeemed by God’s grace and in the process of becoming more Christlike. People who know they’re broken but are committed to imitating Christ more and more. People who know they’re going to need all the grace they can get to reach that goal – and who know from Whom to seek that grace.
God’s plan is for us to come alongside each other in this shared hope and commitment, offering encouragement, accountability, empathy, and wisdom. Instead of letting our mutual fallenness divide us, we should let it inspire empathy and teach us patience.
In this way, we become channels for our Father’s grace to flow into each other’s lives – and we become more like Jesus, the master of compassion and restoration.
Being a Christian might not guarantee we always get along with each other. or make us exactly like our fellow Christians.
And that’s okay. Because the Church is not about us. We don’t define the Church (thankfully), nor are we the reason it exists.
The Church exists because God wants a loving, reciprocal relationship with humanity. And through Christ, He made that possible for anyone and everyone who puts their trust in Jesus.
We who make that decision to follow Jesus are a motley bunch, hailing from various backgrounds and cultures. We come with various personalities, strengths, weaknesses, habits, and thought processes.
If it weren’t for Christ, we probably wouldn’t have any cause for kinship or unity at all, beyond the bond of shared humanity. We wouldn’t be travelling this road together, with the same hope and goal in view.
Yet because of Him, we are.
As with the dogs mentioned earlier, the only reason we are in the same “house” and family is that we’ve been “adopted” by the same Parent. We’ve all experienced God’s grace through faith in Christ.
And ultimately, that is what will hold us together. Through tension and conflict, chaos and hardship. And joy.
So let’s keep seeking Jesus – together.