|Franz Franken, The Damned Being Cast Into Hell, c. 1605, courtesy Wikimedia Commons|
This is but one example. The modern church has many hot button, inflammatory issues: economic justice, ordination of homosexuals, the role of church in society, the list could go on. But to turn this list back on those who profess it, I ask, "what if the worst sin of all, is to accuse another Christian of heresy? What if the worse sin is to create God in our own image and so worship a golden calf, based on our view of what is right or wrong?" For, as Ann Lamott says, "You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do."
Consider the following quote:
"[The true spiritual disciple] shall also judge those who give rise to schisms, who are destitute of the love of God, and who look to their own special advantage rather than to the unity of the Church; and who for trifling reasons, or any kind of reason which occurs to them, cut in pieces and divide the great and glorious body of Christ, and so far as in them lies, [positively] destroy it, — men who prate of peace while they give rise to war, and do in truth strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel. For no reformation of so great importance can be effected by them, as will compensate for the mischief arising from their schism."
Guess when it was written? 2012? No! This quote is taken from Book IV, chapter 33 of Adversus Haereses, written by Irenaeus in approximately 130 A.D., responding to the issue that challenged the church of that time, gnosticism.
Schism. Is it really that bad? Well, yes, it is.
It wasn’t until I began working as a professional mediator and became more deeply rooted in the theory and practice of nonviolence that I came to see the willing rejection of forgiveness and reconciliation as the grievous sin that it is, arising so often out of the view that “me” and “my” are more important than an “other” or a “relationship”. When I came to realize that the entire Reformation arose from an unwillingness to reconcile -- on the part of both “sides”, I am not trying to place blame solely at the feet of Protestants for breaking away -- then it became so much less surprising to me that the protestant “family story” of leaving rather than pursuit of the path of peace has been followed to this day down into a factionalized and fractionalized church.
When Christians experience schism as the result of profound differences in belief and practice, the "sin" is not the considered moral viewpoint of a disagreeing Christian. Rather, the "sin" is rather is one of judgmentalism, idolatry, and of elevating one's own cultural viewpoint into the status of a golden calf.
On the other hand, there does need to be a middle path. When do we lay in front of a tank and let it run us over? Where do we take a stand, to proclaim what is and what is not in alignment with our belief or practice?
I think it can be healthier at times merely to part ways. But that does not make it right to demonize those with whom we disagree. Just as a hand and a foot need not carry out the same function in the body, we can each find our own role and place. Evangelicals, rather than claiming that everyone else is going to hell, need to tone it down. And if evangelicals are seen as individualist to a fault, non-evangelicals must likewise resist the urge to become communitarian and works-reliant to a fault.
Finally, just as intolerance is the one thing that must not be tolerated in a free society that wants to remain free, so also must non-evangelicals take a stand against diatribes and extremist language of the evangelicals. We must stop tolerating intolerance in the church. By creating schism, those who advocate extremist claims about other Believers are a real source of harm to the church, much more so than any particular response or position on any particular practical or theological issue that they could choose.
Isn't it ironic, that those who profess to be saving the church are the very ones who are destroying it?