“Yet if Americans suspect that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, or wonder if the epistles were female apostles, then maybe the solution is to fret less about doctrines and more about actions.” – Nicholas Kristof, NY Times
In our search for a new youth pastor, contacting seminaries and looking over resumes, I have been reminded how divided the church is by doctrine. Much of the division – like eschatology or atonement – is beyond everyday life (or the cares of average church members). Some of the divisions hit close to home – like homosexuality – and these divides can feel stark. But the separation between the left and right is less obvious when either side encounters an individual.
I am close with many ministers, conservative to liberal. If someone – anyone – arrived with a flat tire the ministers I know would respond not with doctrine, but with action – a Christian is called to help change the tire.
In this Nicholas Kristof’s NYTimes article is right. As the church we study doctrine and seek truth. But doctrine covers big swaths, it forms groups. And as Christians we stumble when we form groups. In the abstract of a group, dividing people by their choices or opinions or race or affiliation, they are no longer individuals. We feel justified in judging them. Even damning them.
But Jesus never dealt in the macro. He was always moving to the micro – moving to the individual. He hung out with prostitutes and drunks. He didn’t see their category – he saw a person. Among his disciples was a tax collector – a thieving part of an authoritarian regime. Another was a Zealot – today the government would call him a terrorist. The reach of Jesus extends beyond our imagination. And yet it fits into our understanding – if we drop the separation of groups, we can again see the people.
Jesus didn’t come to save political parties or governments or institutions. Though everything is impacted by knowing Him, He didn’t come to save opinions or lifestyles. He came to save people. To seek the one lost sheep. The one lost sheep that is found everywhere, because the lost sheep is everyone. Jesus came to sacrifice himself for that one.
When cornered with a big theological debate, “what is the greatest commandment?” Christ didn’t labor in the grand, but simplified. Love God. Love your neighbor. “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Christ drew all our doctrine and scripture into simple relationships of love. He commanded us to love the God we serve and the people we encounter. Rather than wonder if people agree or fit into your box – none of that matters or changes our command: Love your neighbor. So forget their label – homeless, drunk, gay, republican, bigot, rich, Baptist, obese, immigrant… Because Jesus sees and has called us to see only one label: loved.
This love – not our doctrine – is our witness to the world.