Summary: A look at the purpose of the church
September 15, 2013
Every sailor could agree on one fact. Had it not been for the captain, they never would have survived. The storm came suddenly, and in a matter of moments hulls were broken, decks were awash, and sailors were floundering. But as quickly as the storm arose, so came the captain, maneuvering his large vessel between the waves and rescuing one sailor after another. Before they knew it, they were deposited safely on an island, listening to the instructions of the captain, who said, "There are more still at sea. You stay here until I return. Build a tall fire using the trees of the island to keep yourselves warm and to send a beacon for those who need safety." The sailors were happy and quick to oblige, and they built the large fire. Then they waited and waited and waited.
The longer they waited the more their gratitude passed. Their thankfulness turned into restlessness, and appreciation for the captain changed into aggravation with one another. No one could remember when the arguments started, but it had something to do with the captain's instructions. Did he say to use only trees for the fire or mostly trees for the fire? As they began to discuss it, they couldn't agree.
Some said, "Surely he meant trees only. He said build a fire made out of trees." Others said, "A little brush and some grass and leaves won't hurt. He'll understand. Mostly trees won't hurt." Conversation led to opinion, and opinion led to discussion. Discussion led to dispute, and dispute led to debate. Soon debate led to division, and there were two fires on the island. There was the trees-only fire and the trees-mostly fire.
Peace returned to the island for a short time, until a dispute broke out in the trees-only camp. One day, someone said, "I'm sure he wants us to use cypress trees only in the fire, because, he gestured to some cypress trees as he spoke." Another one said, "But he was standing closer to an elm tree." Still another said, "The predominant tree on the island is oak. They should be oak trees in our fire." Conversation led to opinion, and opinion led to discussion. Discussion led to dispute, and dispute led to division. Soon the trees-only camp splintered into three other camps: elm-only, cypress-only, and oak-only.
Things didn't go much better on the southern end of the island where the trees mostly camp was. They didn't have trouble with the contents of the fire, but they had conversation and conflict over the height of the fire. The captain had left instructions to build a tall fire. How tall is tall? One person's definition of tall and another's might not be the same, so new fires were started, each of differing heights. Soon, the island was filled with small fires rather than one large fire. The captain, who had been watching this from the ocean, shook his head in despair.
Were it not so true, the story would be bizarre. We don’t need to spend too much time in any organization, including the church, to realize we’ve got lots of fires on the island, too. Some of these fires are necessary and good, because to reach the world you have to go into the world.
Sending sailors to start new fires in areas where there are none is right and good. But some of the fires we see are there as a result of division. This isn’t a new problem. Even before the crucifixion of Christ, disciples were arguing about who was in and who was out.
Our tendency to cluster and our inclination to divide can be costly. Disunity distracts the believer and discourages the seeker. Our job description is simple: to build a fire so high that anyone lost can see it, so warm that anyone cold can be warmed by it. But when we argue about the nature and the contents and the height of the fire, we become distracted.
Disunity is distracting! Who wants to come out of the storm at sea to step into the storm on the island? Not to mention that our disunity discredits Jesus, because unity is His idea. On the night before His death, He prayed, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you.
22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,
23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
Our disunity takes away from Jesus’ credibility. Picture a salesman selling vitamins, he has posters all around portraying what you would look like if you took his vitamins and followed his diet. You’d have a great chiseled body. But, when you looked at the salesman, he looked the opposite of his posters. So, you walk away either believing the vitamins don’t work, or he didn’t believe in them to take them. Either way, you’re not encouraged to buy the vitamins.