Recognizing the Church: Love and Disagreement
But what happens when we disagree?
Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34-35). If it sounds like Jesus is being repetitive, that's on purpose. Jesus repeats "...love one another..." three times in two verses which is sorta his way of putting up three exclamation marks. You can't miss it. The church is recognizable as the church when we love one another. And love does not depend on agreement. Jesus said,
"love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven... If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."Jesus' peculiar phrase, "be perfect...as your heavenly Father is perfect," signals that love is perfected when its object is most foreign to it. God's love is most deeply expressed, not when people love God and things are going well, but when God is crucified by the very people God continues to love. Nobody is more foreign to you than the one who crucifies you, and love is perfected when it persists in crucifixion. Thomas Merton once wrote, "Love is free; it does not depend on the desirability of its object, but loves for love's sake." If love is the marker of the church and love is perfected when its object is foreign to it, then the church is most recognizable as the church when it disagrees well.
I am NOT saying that the church needs to disagree more. It would actually be good if we could find a few more things to agree on. But it is by the way we disagree, when we disagree, that we will be recognizable as the church of Jesus Christ. Usually when we disagree among ourselves (or especially with others) self-preservation becomes our priority. Support, encouragement, and partnership go out the window and we either isolate or attack. Those who are foreign to us, rather than becoming the object of love, become the object of our aggression. Throughout history, the church has done this.
So we need to continue to get better at agreeing with each other, but more importantly, we need to get better at disagreeing with each other. We need to learn to support, to encourage, to partner with (when possible) and to love those who are foreign to us... within the church and without. If we want to be the church of Jesus Christ, we need to disagree well.