On a recent trip, the man next to me at my airport gate was watching CNN. He turned to me and said, “There is a scary divide in our country. How can we ever be unified again with this kind of idiotic politics going on?”
He’s not alone in his thinking. I’ve heard other concerns recently about divisions:
“The wealth inequality will foment an uprising.”
“Racism is worsening instead of getting better.”
“We can’t keep blaming everything on immigrants.”
“There is no middle ground for conversation anymore, so it’s safer to say nothing.”
“Religious nuts are making things worse. Some are the most dangerous people on the planet.”
But not every person, like my fellow traveler, laments the cultural divide. There’s an undercurrent in society that actually savors the chaos, uncertainty, media noise, and fear-mongering.
How can we help people get to the far side of this fear-filled chasm?
The church—humbly, with all its faults—is the singular institution in human history to bridge these divisions.
Here are seven reasons why the church (both the church “gathered” on Sundays and “scattered” throughout the week) is best suited for this role:
- The church is called to model forgiveness and reconciliation, reflecting how we ourselves have been forgiven and reconciled to God through Jesus Christ (1:21-22). We will not heal the divisions between individuals and groups unless we first have reconciliation with God. Far too many people know nothing of forgiveness and mercy, which comes from no other source but God.
- The dignity of every individual, being made in the image of God (imago dei), shapes the church’s decisions about governing, economics, business models, and justice. This dignity exists in believers and not-yet believers, even our enemies (5:43-44). The worth of every individual is the bedrock of Western civilization because of the historic influence of Christianity. The church speaks to justice without needing modifiers (social justice, economic justice, political justice) because we are a community called together by the Author of all justice.
- Everyone in the church is a sinner saved by grace (2:8-9). Therefore, our faith and actions must be independent of wealth, class, gender, skin color, tribe, or nationality (Gal. 3:28). The ground is level at the foot of the cross of Christ and before the opened tomb. Our collective identity is in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).
- The church exists to exalt God and serve others, not ourselves. Each person is made for good work and, as Christians, we are to honor the use of the gifts we’ve been given and are stewards of the gospel message. We are not to abuse our gifts for our own self-promotion. The church relies upon the reliable guide of inspired scripture and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, which is a check against human pride and the damaging use of authority.
- The church supports the family, which is the fundamental unit of society, and the vulnerable. No solutions to divisions can come without protecting and nurturing families and the vulnerable. Godly transformed hearts and minds put the interests of others first (2:4), especially the widow, orphan, prisoner, and the poor.
- The church does not seek to supplant the role of government or the market. The church occupies its space in the human fabric, influencing the culture like salt (5:13) without demanding control of other spheres of power. The church does not deny the importance of tribal and national identities, yet in Christ, offers the citizenship of heaven (Phil. 3:20).
- The church is global and also operates effectively at the local level. The church is demonstrably adaptable through centuries of technical, economic, and social changes. It operates on timeless principles under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The gospel message is universal and effective for all people in all times and in all cultures.
No economic or political organization has the design and capability to heal divisions. In fact, many other organizations by their nature thrive on divisions and separations.
Since the church is truly the best institution for bridging the divisions that plague us and keep us from peace, what can each of us do?
First, serve your local congregation. There is only one church, the bride of Christ (Rev. 19:7), but there are many congregations. God has equipped you to participate in this work of reconciliation with your gifts.
Second, pray that the church will have a powerful influence in all spheres of culture on decision-makers and leaders in every realm. Look up and ahead, focusing on God’s mighty power to impact leadership (Prov. 21:1), rather than on our human weakness. Know that you can have an impact by serving others where God has placed you.
Third, act on every opportunity to point people to Jesus. God invites us to participate in sharing the gospel and has prepared many hearts to receive him (John 4:35). The grace of God is endless and, therefore, we have endless room in the church.
God invites us to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20). Please pray with me that the conversations in our communities will soon be full of praise to God for acting through his people to heal every division and hurt.
Editor’s note: Loving your neighbor in need is the foundation of reconciliation, but how do you do that well? Check out Love Your Neighbor: Restoring Dignity, Breaking the Cycle of Poverty.
Help more people learn how they can be an agent of reconciliation through their work! Support IFWE today.