Back in 2007 I worked at a medium sized evangelical church, and also went to a smaller, radical community church in an intellectual college town. At first I felt spiritually bi-polar, not to rip on a mental illness, I just felt like I was getting a different teaching at each place, and each one was making me suspicious towards the other. I was trying to figure out the whole time, as I would spend Sunday morning at the evangelical church, and Sunday night at the smaller bohemian church, which one was right and which one was wrong? I was younger in my spirituality, so I went to extremes in my analysis.
My dichotomous thought process could be described as follows:
Were the medium sized evangelical church people lukewarm? Some people that went there tithed a lot, used a lot of Christian “lingo”, and came to church every Sunday. But some spent their lives saving to buy the latest luxury car and biggest house. Some made fun of gay people and liberals. Some generally didn’t have many friends outside of the church and immediate family. Some appeared judgmental and prideful to the outside world.
Was the bohemian small church community heretical? Some of them bought into dangerous, experimental theology. Some of them swore a lot in the name of Jesus. Some called themselves radical Christians but barely read their Bible. The Sunday talks/sermons spoke of helping the poor and changing the way the church is in America today- good things no doubt. There were plenty of liberals and people outside of the Christian Community that came there. But some self proclaimed followers of Jesus were getting hammered on weekends. Others were just getting into the radical stuff Jesus said and ignoring the rest of scripture. Some people were falsely interpreting what the scriptures said.
So I would go to the evangelical church, and learn a lot of good things about the Bible. Then I would go to the bohemian community church, and talk to people about the things I was wrestling with at the evangelical church. Sometimes the people at the bohemian community church would seem offended, and other times I’d find people that would be wrestling with the same things, and they’d often generally say “That’s what we really need here, Is some strong teaching in the Bible”. I think they had always felt that way, but just didn’t want to speak up and look stupid. I, on the other hand, didn’t often know when to shut my mouth at that time. So I started to speak up about the things I was wrestling with to Scott the pastor and many other great people there.
I’d visit the bohemian community church, and then go back to work at the medium sized evangelical church all week. I’d have conversations with people about how I was wrestling with the scriptural ideas of helping the poor, selling more of my possessions, living simply, and reaching out and showing mercy and the love of God to people outside of the Christian community. Sometimes people would be taken aback by my comments (especially those of a more extreme nature). As I’d have conversations with people of the congregation, I’d find that a lot of people felt the way I did, and were trying to live out what the scriptures were saying. They’d say (generally), “That’s what we really need here, more outreach to the poor and compassion for people outside of the Christian community”. So they agreed, but didn’t want to speak up and look strange. They just needed a voice in leadership to support their convictions, and for a time I was privileged to be that voice.
As the some of the skeptics at the evangelical church began to see that people of the congregation were really responding to these ideas, which were totally Biblical, they began to change their minds. Then we got a new head pastor who totally believed in helping the poor and instituting social justice ministry. So the rest of the staff really followed in suit. Like I said, that church is currently doing many great things. They bought mattresses for people in Section 8 Housing, made room in their budget to give to people in need, threw a Christmas dinner for a homeless shelter, and even championed a unified effort of churches to get together and do a Christmas show, and give ALL of the benefits to a Veteran’s Shelter! The small little community bohemian church even worked with them to put together the benefit for the Veterans.
So as you can see, in the end these two totally opposite churches worked together for the Kingdom. They left behind some of their theological differences, and recognized that they were both trying to follow the Jesus who came in the flesh and was fully God and fully Man, as revealed in the Scriptures. So they left obvious yet petty differences aside, and realized they were simply the broken Body of Christ. Amen to that!
So it is possible for seemingly opposing forces to join forces and make great impacts for Jesus in our world. We should never let our theological systems, or our prejudices get in the way of unity in the body of Christ. I think we can keep our theological convictions, and even work with people we disagree with. If we do it right, strongly rooted in God’s Word, we’ll be able to speak truth in love to anyone. If anyone is purposefully messed-up in their thinking, they won’t want anything to do with us because of the truth we speak! At least it will be they who work against unity. Yet as followers of Jesus the Messiah, we should always work FOR unity, and NEVER against it.