In church, society, and all over the media we see so many differing opinions about Christianity and the Church: Opinions over its structure, its purpose, its growth and even its impact from people within the church and outside it.
So the question that I have been trying address myself is around this concept of Unity.
Despite talking about unity frequently in church circles, communities and even teams, how well do we actually walk in it?
If at the very centre of Christianity is grace, hope, forgiveness and loveâthen why is it that so often, the very reason why people don't come to church or want to hear about Jesus, is because of Christians themselves?
Our faith needs to encompass a relationship, not just religion
A religion is an organised collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and worldviews that relate to humanity to an order of existence.
A relationship is simply the way in which two or more people or things are connected, or the state of being connected.
In Matthew chapter 22, verses 37â40 [MSG] Jesus says,
"Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence". This is the most important, the first on the list. But there is a second to set alongside it: "Love others as well as you love yourself". These two commandments are pegs; everything in God's law and the Prophets hang from them."
So if Christianity hangs on the values above, and God loves us without prerequisites why do we place conditions on our love before extending it to others? Personally, I have felt very convicted about this.
It can be easy to lose sight of what's important, and spend our time debating doctrine, dogma and everything else in between instead of focusing on loving God and loving people.
In Philippians, Paul addresses the church in Philippi. In chapter 3, verses 2â6 [MSG], it says:
'Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they're interested in is appearancesâknife-happy circumcisers, I call them. The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ's praise as we do it. We couldn't carry this off by our own efforts, and we know itâeven though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials'.
As harsh as it sounds, simply put: Paul is warning the church to stay clear from religious busybodies and focus on what's important.
Similarly, we see that Jesus kept his harshest words for the religious bullies, the Pharisees, yet reached out to the adulterous woman, the shunned woman and the tax collector. Jesus definitely ruffled a few feathers by not sticking to 'the way it was done' judgement but modelling a relationship led with love.
Are you leading with love?
Some 2000 years later we too are faced with the same decision. Do we get caught up in what a Pentecostal singer is doing at an event where there are Catholics? Do we get caught up on how one church conducts communion or another that only has 20 minutes allocated for praise and worship at the start of the service? Or perhaps it's about whether certain people are allowed into church due to their sexual orientation, or whether they have tattoos?
In 2015 we have a decision to make:
Will we make sweeping judgemental statements, reducing people's worth to 140 characters? Will we give others grace to people even when we don't agree with their morals, lifestyles, principles, or perhaps even beliefs?
Are we willing, like Jesus, to love people with all their baggage (because, let's be honest, we all have baggage)? So maybe just maybe, they too may be able to get close enough to hear about Jesus.
Philippians chapter 3, verses 12â16 [MSG], puts it like this:
'I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me.
Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onwardâto Jesus.
I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back. So let's keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us'.
Our job is to love
God doesn't want people to serve him through a checklist of dos and don'ts, but to worship him wholeheartedly. This can only happen once we understand that our churches and lives aren't meant to be places where only the clean can come, but the very opposite. Places where everyone, Jew or Gentile, can come to feel embraced by the love of God; regardless of their background, history, status or appearance.
In John chapter 3, verse 17 (AMP), it says, 'For God did not send the Son into the world to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him'.
I think Billy Graham had it down pat as he once said, 'It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge and my job to love'.
Our world is changing and looks very different from only a decade ago. Do I agree with everyone's opinions? Of course notâI'm only human and it's impossible to agree with so many differing views.
Does this mean the gospel changes? No.
Does it mean the method of communication changes? Yes.
Jesus was the ultimate communicator, crossing all cultural boundaries, and is the only one we should all agree on. He came to love people (all people) with the same message of hope, grace and love, and Jesus changed his method of communication to suit each individual he approached.
I too want to do this the very best and only way I know how: to ask Jesus to grace me to love others, just the way he did.
Meenal Chandra is a Sydney based writer who desires a life of relationship over religion any day.
Meenal Chandra's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/meenal-chandra.html