The last couple of years has seen huge rifts forming between Jesus-followers in the UK, especially online, where debates are raging about a number of topics.
Be they left versus right, or leave versus remain, political divides have caused many angry tirades on both sides. Recently, of course, issues around sexuality have created much heat and little light among the community.
There are good reasons for these disagreements, of course, and genuinely held beliefs on all sides of an argument elicit passion. However, if I might misquote Yoda: “passion can lead to anger, anger to hatred, hatred, to the dark side.”
You may say that these disagreements merely echo those in our wider society. You may be right, but I think that how we, as disciples of Jesus, discuss these issues is the most important way that we can be counter-cultural and, at the moment, the Christian community is failing at this, and failing badly.
Essentially, it’s my assertion that in all these debates, we’ve lost sight of an important command that Jesus gave.
In John 13:34-35 Jesus says: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Why is this command so important? Well, it is the only action that Jesus suggests will be a means of self-identification.
Will they know us by how much we read the Bible? No.
Will they know us by how passionately we sing songs? No.
Will they know us by where we go for an hour or so on a Sunday? No.
Will they know us by how well we put down someone who disagrees with us? Definitely no!
Jesus says they’ll know that we’re his followers because we have love for each other.
It’s an interesting thing that the 10 commandments from Exodus can all be affirmed as an individual, e.g. “I will honour my father and mother” or “I will not steal”, etc. However, “I will love one another” makes no sense. Jesus’ command must be kept by us as a community or we’re all messing up. Your obedience affects my ability to be obedient.
I’m now a priest in the Anglican Church, but I grew up largely outside the Church of England, and regularly heard people commenting that the Anglican Church was wishy-washy, or compromised. However, I think the Anglican priority of holding together a variety of traditions and theological persuasions in one denomination is admirable. I think at the core of this perceived weakness is actually a great commitment to this new command.
While you may think that the Church will stand or fall on how it reads the Bible, or how it manages changes in social norms, I think ultimately the way the Church can be a beacon for the wider world, and can keep the command of Jesus, is to show love for each other as we go about these discussions.