Being the pastor of an interdenominational church affords me ample opportunity to ponder what unites and divides Christians. Unfortunately, as some of you know, the "divide" column far outweighs the "unite" column.
While this issue is always important to consider with regard to how churches and denominations live out their mission (especially considering John 17:20-23), it is also important for our daily lives.
Speaking from the perspective of a Protestant (in particular, a Baptist), I often find when discussion of Christian unity arises, the conversation quickly turns to the subject of belief.
In one sense, this is perfectly logical, since when Christians divide it is often along the fault line of people disagreeing over a specific doctrine or interpretation of scripture. As critical as our doctrines and beliefs are, however, the Christian faith is not solely about what we believe, it is also about how we practice our faith.
Faith is a belief that is lived out. Thus, the prophet Micah tells us we are to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly before our God (Micah 6:8). Notice we are to do, love and walk. We are not asked to only believe in love, justice and humility, but to practice it.
Faith, from this perspective, is not a choice between belief and practice, but rather a life where the two live in dynamic tension. Faith is a gift that is graciously offered to us, a gift that asks for our belief and is only actualized within our lives when we practice it (James 2:14-26). This tension can be described by using a metaphor from the apostle Paul — we can talk about a fruity faith.
In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul encourages the Christians to live out their faith in such way that it bears fruit. So the apostle calls them to focus on and nurture the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
In essence, he is telling them (and us) if we are to be followers of Jesus, this is the "fruit" that is meant to be growing in our lives. I recognize that this may sound like an incredibly high standard to follow.
I cannot begin to recount the times when I lose my patience, when I am anything but peaceful, etc. We must remember, though, this is not about what we can do but rather what the Lord can do through us by the power of the Holy Spirit when we step forward in faith.
While we Christians have often argued over the what is the right belief or the right way to read scripture, scripture is always asking us what is the fruit of our belief. Do we place more importance on what we believe rather than how we live out those beliefs?
Our faith is meant to be "fruity" and if we do not find the those fruits growing in our lives and in our churches, then we are called to examine our lives and change our ways.
We live in a world where there are ever-increasing instances of incivility, conflict, and a lack of peace. What might it mean for us as Christians to counter that by living out our lives in such way that we bear the visible fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control?
May we tend to the fruits of the Spirit so we may be drawn closer together as Christ’s body and our world may know the fruit of God’s goodness.
“On Faith” is a weekly column in the News-Chronicle written by area religious leaders.