Dionne Gravesande notes the growing competitive streak that churches have with each other, and calls for it to be counteracted by a spirit of love, graciousness and greater cooperation.
What do Cliff Richards, Tina Turner and the Church have in common? The single, ‘What’s love got to do with it?’ It was originally written for Cliff Richard, but was rejected by his team, however Tina Turner made it her most successful hit song. Meanwhile, the notion of ‘love’, and how we encounter each other in the light of love, has everything to do with how we live out our lives. After all, we believe God is love (1 John 4:8), and it’s still one of my favourite Bible verse about love. In fact, under closer examination, the entire passage found in 1 John 4:7-21 speaks of God’s loving nature.
Scripture speaks of different types of love, for example philia love, which means close friendship or brotherly love in Greek. We also read of storge, which is family love, the bond among mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, and within the Church there’s the reference to agapé love, which is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love, the highest of the types of love found in the Scriptures. If, then, the Christian faith is driven by love, why is it we experience so much competition rather than cooperation amongst the churches?
Academic, Perry Buffington, gave me food for thought. He asked, “Which works better: competition or co-operation? The answer, without equivocation, is cooperation. Although most people are surprised by this, scientists have repeatedly verified it in hundreds of studies over the last 200 years. Yet big business, the educational system, the healthcare community and most parents continue to encourage competition, almost totally neglecting the power of cooperation.” Unfortunately, churches seem to be part of the list.
It seems none of these groups realises that persistent competition decreases human achievement. And, if competition brings out the ‘beast’ in us, then research demonstrates that cooperation surely brings out the ‘best’ in us. This finding has been verified in virtually every occupation, skill or behaviour tested. If there is a disconnect between our preaching love and cooperation versus our behaviours and competitiveness, then the witness of our churches is weakened and, in turn, our effectiveness is lessened. This is definitely not what the collective body of the Church wants or needs. As much as God is love, God is also Spirit. If we, being Spirit-led people, listen and move in tune with the Spirit, what is God saying to the churches today? Scripture cites ‘God is not the Author of confusion, but of peace.’ When we are led by the Spirit, we will not be confused. Instead, we will have direction and move forward in peace.
So, how do we seek peace with others? It’s always easier to be dismissive of people you disagree with, rather than trying to find some common ground and attempting to engage productively with them. I, myself, have learned a lot about this over the last few months, but it seems that those, whom Jesus refers to as the peacemakers, so often appear to be in short supply, particularly at it relates to issues such as inter-church relationships.
I think love and unity are both a goal of the Church and a gift of the Spirit. Primarily, it is the saving work of Christ that unites us. Secondarily, it is the essential doctrines that define orthodoxy. We have, as a common heritage, the blood of Christ that has been shed for the forgiveness of our sins. True Christians serve the true and living God, and we know Jesus in a personal and intimate way (1 Corinthians 1:9). We have been redeemed by God Himself. Furthermore, we have the Bible, which tells us the essentials of the faith, and deviating from these essentials means to be outside the camp of Christ. It is the essential doctrines that we must know and unite in.
Why, then, for all practical purposes, do we elevate the non-essentials to the place of essentials? Could it be that immaturity and pride in various Christians have crept into our midst? Should we not sacrifice our ‘perfect’ opinion on a biblical matter for being gracious to another brother or sister in Christ? Of course we should, but when that doesn’t happen, we have denominational splits. I cannot see how such a huge fragmentation in the Christian Church in denominations and sects glorifies God.
We need to press the pause button for a moment and examine ourselves. We need to look at our churches and one at another, and decide that we will stand on the essential doctrines of the faith and that we will be united against the enemy lest, in our distractions, we succumb to the thief in the night! Those of us, who are united by the blood of Christ, are not each other’s enemies, whether we be Pentecostal or Baptist or Reformist. It may be difficult for many of us to look lovingly into the eyes of those of a different denomination, without thinking in our hearts that they are wrong about this doctrine or that doctrine, but we need to be reminded that there is neither a Pentecostal nor a Baptist nor a Reformist on the throne of God. All of us, I am sure, will have our theologies corrected when we stand before the throne of God.
Therefore, we need to seek to work together to further the Kingdom of God.
Dionne Gravesande is Head of Church and Young People’s Relationships at Christian Aid