As my wife and I wrap up a month-long trip throughout the Middle East and South Asia, I wanted to share a few thoughts that have been on my heart for some time … and have only been deepened on this trip meeting Christ-followers from all types of backgrounds, denominations, churches and cultures.
One of my deepest passions is to see the larger body of Christ expressing and demonstrating genuine love, support and encouragement for one another.
One of the ways this is demonstrated is by local churches genuinely loving, respecting and encouraging other churches throughout their community. Including churches that may not be in their particular “tribe” (or denomination / affiliation).
I’m continuing to read Anne Ortlund’s Up with Worship. It’s been a surprisingly convicting book. Ortlund “writes tight.” She squeezes a great deal of insight and heart provocation in short space. I’ve been pricked–helpfully pricked!–in nearly each of the chapters so far.
Take, for example, these words describing the Ortlund’s ministry over the decades:
Ray and I have ministered for more than thirty years in four pastorates. (Is it wrong for a wife to state it like that? I’ve had a subordinate role, but I’ve been there!) We’ve been in an old country church, a young suburban one, a downtown city one, and one that’s new, experimental, and “beachy.” We’ve been in mainline denominations and independent fellowships. We’ve worked with budgets of thirty thousand to millions of dollars, and with congregations ranging in size from one hundred to thirty-four hundred members. We’ve pastored formal and informal churches, traditional and untraditional. We’ve loved them all.
During the last twenty years, God has also commissioned us to an umbrella ministry of conferences to churches, pastors, missionaries, and denominations all over the world. Under the auspices of Renewal Ministries, we’ve spoken to several of the largest Southern Baptist churches in the world; to Episcopal churches with chants and incense; to Mennonite groups in their bonnets and plain clothes; to Free Methodists and United Methodists and “G.A.R.B.s” and Presbyterians; to charismatic churches and anti-charismatic. Ray has preached in lace beside an enormous crucifix in Lutheran Germany; he’s shed his wolf-skin long enough to preach beside a potbellied stove to seven hundred Eskimos. He’s served shorter pastorates in Kabul, Afghanistan, and suburban London.
I was reading along enjoying the tour, imagining lace in Germany and Eskimos in wolf-skin. I was recalling my friendships across denominational lines and theological lines. I was reminiscing about the churches I’ve had the privilege of being a member of and the churches I’ve had the privilege of serving. Then she concluded the section with this:
We’ve loved them all and wished they loved each other!
Yes; I’ve loved all the churches I’ve known and the friends I have in other “camps.” But the second part–”and wished they loved each other!”–struck me like lightning. It wasn’t her main point, but it pointed mainly at my heart.
I’ve loved every church I’ve ever had the privilege of being a part of. But I can’t say I’ve wished they loved each other. Oh, I’ve wished churches could get along, stop fighting, speak kindly of one another, assume the best, engage their differences respectfully or even stay in their corners if they couldn’t find a better way of coexisting. But my ambitions and desires have fallen woefully short of longing that all God’s churches might love one another. I certainly haven’t thought of that as part of my worship of God. Ortlund exposed a gaping cataract in my heart.
Then I heard the Savior say: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Seems this “one another” might be thought of on both the individual and the corporate levels.
Do you long for the Lord’s churches to love one another?
“What! At peace with the Father, and at war with His Children? It cannot be.” (John Flavel)