Once, years ago, I delivered a paper to a study club which was part of the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. At the time (Ecclesiastes got it right about history not changing much) there was considerable conflict between the liberal and conservative dimensions of the United Methodist Church.
The times change. The issues shift. The divisions remain.
My paper had to do with the possibility that the various dimensions of the church, liberal and conservative, male and female, Greek and Jew, are called to gather around the Lord Jesus Christ as the one body of Christ. I based the paper on I Cor. 12 and said that the different gifts of the church–preaching, counseling, music, etc.– should extend as well to theological diversity. I argued that we should not abandon our theological or political positions but could maintain our integrity and still be one in Christ.
And act like we were one in Christ.
I was told that I was “a fine young minister” and “had a good heart.” I was then gently but firmly instructed by senior colleagues, who surely knew far better than I, concerning the realities of church dynamics. They said I was “so naïve.”
They were right. But is naiveté really a bad thing?
There was an event during the war which took place in America between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865 that can teach us. Northern and Confederate soldiers were faced off against each other; each side was so sure it was right that it was willing to kill those on the other side. But sometimes human beings know there is a higher, unifying factor in our lives than the things that divide us. The fighting in this instance was fierce, but the Minnie balls and canon fodder was passing over a field of blackberries.
The soldiers were hungry. They couldn’t see well enough to kill each other at night.
And so they began to whistle. Both sides began to signal each other from their hungry bellies across those ripe, luscious blackberries. And after a few courageous souls ventured forth from both sides, the armies of Yankee and Rebel soldiers gathered to eat. And laugh, and whisper where they were from and how their families fared. Then it was time to return to the battle lines.
But for a few moments, they gathered around a blackberry patch. And during those moments, they lived above the fray.
But they were so naïve.
Could it be that God calls us to naiveté in Jesus Christ? Could it be that He would not have us sacrifice our integrity but would have us sacrifice our pride? Could it be important to God, yes to God, that when those who do not follow Christ see us that they would not sneer in derision when we echo the words of God and say, “The greatest of these is love” (I Cor. 13:13), or when we speak the words of Jesus when He said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35)? Could it be that we need again to listen to the Word which warns us, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Gal. 5:15).
Or is it just too far fetched to think we could actually disagree vigorously with each other and still gather around the altar that feeds us all with the broken body and shed blood of Jesus?
Jesus prayed, just before giving His life for us, “…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you” (John 17:21).
Was Jesus, also, naïve?