Weekly Meditation: 19th February 2017

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

Psalm 119:33-40  

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

Matthew 5:38-48  

It is a great pity when the Church is perceived as divided, especially in the face of common enemies such as secularism, persecution, poverty and fear for the future. Christians have a wonderful message to share, but most of their energy seems to be directed at disputes among themselves that separate them from each other, or at side-issues such as women bishops and the right to wear crosses. Such issues make the church seem anachronistic or divided from the society it is called to evangelise.                                                               

Perhaps we should stop praying for unity, and start praying about disunity. It is disunity that side-tracks the Church from its main commission (see Matthew 28:19-20); it causes enmity between Christians, and it provides a wedge for the cults and sects to drive into our ranks and divide us further.

A Mormon once asked me gleefully what was the difference between Brighton Road Baptist Church and Trafalgar Road Baptist Church. No doubt he wanted me to air some radical schism between the two churches. However, I told him that the only difference was that Trafalgar Road Baptist Church was in Trafalgar Road, and Brighton Road Baptist Church was in Brighton Road. That sort of incidental difference should be the only difference between churches that worship the same Lord. I was dismayed, then, a few months later when I overheard a fellow-Christian, at a church-run parent and toddler group, proudly explaining to one of the mothers exactly what the differences were between the two churches, and how – of course – the one she attended was far superio

It is good that there are different styles of worship, because people express themselves differently, but denominationalism and differences in belief should be unthinkable.  Whatever is wrong with us? We can’t even sing from the same hymnbook. I wish we would stop using words like ‘Methodism’ and ‘The Anglican Communion’ because they foster pride. I wish we would stop referring to churches as ‘spirit-filled’ or ‘charismatic’ because that infers that the others are not. It would also be good if churches stopped using names like ‘The King’s Church’, or ‘The Christian Centre’ – how elitist can you get?

The real answer, though, is to listen to the scriptures. When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church they were experiencing disunity, and his letter was – in part – to address that problem.  This week’s reading (and last week’s) focus on unity. In 1 Corinthians 3:11 Paul warns his readers to build only on Christ as their foundation, not to set their own perceived wisdom above that of God (3:19), and to stop boasting about the denomination to which they belong (Paul or Cephas or Apollos) for they all belong to Christ (3:21-23).

Psalm 119:33-40 is a lesson in following God’s commandments closely - ‘with all our heart’ (v 34). The psalmist resolves to ‘find delight’ in obeying God, and not to seek ‘selfish gain’ (v 35-36); he ‘longs for [God’s] precepts’ (v 40).  In Leviticus we find what is probably the best-known verse in the Bible – ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. It is in a section about being ‘holy because [God] is holy’ (19:1-2) and it focuses on our responsibilities towards others including charity to widows and strangers (19:9-10), being honest, fair and compassionate (19:13), treating the disabled with respect (19:14) and slandering no one(19:16).

Actions such as these unify Christians, whatever church they belong to, and in Matthew’s gospel, we have the teaching of Jesus who sets even higher standards.  Jesus commands his disciples not to retaliate (5:38-39), to give and to serve freely (5:40-42), to love even their enemies (5:43-47), to ‘be perfect’ (5:48). Perhaps by working to fulfil all these requirements, we Christians will forget our differences – or the differences might not seem so important any more.  Perhaps we can unite our skills and determination to make a difference in the world instead. 

Susan Thorne