My doctoral mentor once told me to walk through life and ministry with “a convictional core and a magnanimous spirit.” The last few weeks, two things have happened to remind me of the wisdom of this particular advice:
(1) I heard a panel of leaders from the very conservative orbit of churches I grew up in explain why they separate from the slightly less conservative orbit of churches I now am a part of. It was the finest splitting of hairs on secondary issues. Naturally, I was disappointed.
(2) Shortly thereafter I found myself explaining this to a friend in an uncharitable and impatient way. I didn’t present these men or their positions fairly–all black and white and no nuance. As I thought of it afterwards, naturally, I was disappointed!
It’s easy for us Christians to operate with a sectarian mindset, always looking for what’s wrong with our Christian brothers and sisters. When we do so we hinder our witness, disrupt our Spirit-given unity, and harm the body of Christ and ourselves. Eventually, we find ourselves in an ever-shrinking group of critics, lost in the echo-chamber of our own critique.
We need to couple a convictional core with a magnanimous spirit.
D.A. Carson notes:
“The doctrinal critic may agree that another person is a brother in Christ, has been significantly used of the Lord, is thoughtful and sincere in his submission to Scripture; but because the critic focuses on the one area of doctrine in which the two disagree, this other brother may be painted publicly in hues of gray and black. That Christians are to demonstrate observable love (John 13:34f; 17:20-23) is lost while the critic “defends the truth.”
Genuine believers have more in common than they recognize when, with a sectarian mentality, they focus attention and energy on points of difference, largely to reinforce what they construe as their own raison d’etre ["reason for existence"]. If I wholeheartedly embrace only those fellow Christians who see things exactly the way I do, I will never embrace anyone, except, perhaps, a handful of weak-minded followers.”
So how do you handle disagreements with other Christians without resorting to sectarianism? I try to keep this in the forefront of my mind when relating to Christians with whom I disagree: We have more in common than we ever will things that separate us, because we share Christ. United to Christ, we are part of the same family, brothers and sisters with the same Father. So there is a deep, organic, unbreakable union between believers that comes through the indwelling of the Spirit and union with Christ.
This then propels us to pursue peace, seek understanding, and stoke the fire of brotherly love towards other Christians. With God’s help, we don’t operate fundamentally from a sectarian mindset (what’s wrong with this church, what disagreements do we have with this group, what must separate us from our spiritual family, etc), but from a spiritual mindset (fellow believers are part of the same family, branches of the same vine, members of the same body, etc).
Union with Christ flowing into brotherly love is the antidote to a sectarian spirit.