A House Divided
by Matthew Ryan Gonzalez
“Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.” (Matthew 12:25).
As I spent time with members of the congregation where I serve, I was struck by our conversation. They spoke about struggles they had finding comfort in our community. They mentioned how it sometimes seemed as if smaller groups existed in the church and they had not yet found their niche. They also described how gossip and related conversation was prevalent in every church, even our own. I listened intently, partially shocked by the truth, yet even more shocked by the reality that I was not the only one who noticed.
It was a complete gut-punch to know that it was not a secret that sinful behavior exists among the people of God, especially among those whom I was shepherding. And yet, the revealing conversations were uplifting in nature. The members of our congregation spoke of their desire to change the culture, to create honest conversation about repentance and reconciliation, and to recognize how we must seek to be a living witness to the work of Jesus in and through us if we ever hoped to impact our local neighborhood and beyond.
I’m sure many Christians have had a similar experience, recognizing that sinful behavior is not a secret from God, nor a secret from those who are experiencing and participating in such behavior. It is almost as if we forget the clarity of God’s Word, that we are all sinners in need of redemption that is only offered in God’s saving grace. Is this the “crux” of the Gospel? OF COURSE! The “crux” – cross in Latin – itself is the heart of the Gospel, for Jesus redeems our sin at that very moment, putting to death all of our sinful thoughts, actions, and behaviors and raising us up as a new creation in Him.
Still, this is often forgotten when we are in the midst of challenging conversations, noticing how often we fail to remain united in the work of Jesus and instead seeking gratification for ourselves, even if it means the exclusion or dismissal of our sisters and brothers in the faith, or even our neighbors with whom we desire to share the faith. We hold fast to our ideals and seek out proverbial echo chambers to compliment us, rejecting those who would challenge us to grow, learn, and seek a different – albeit, better and more faithful – way of thinking holistically about whatever it is to which we hold fast.
How do I know this so well? It is a sin of which I am certainly guilty, especially when it comes to matters of the wider church. I often find myself holding fast to ideas which I feel must be held and looking at those who would oppose my ideas as frustrating and foolish. Could I be so wrong and their ideas be correct? Certainly, this may be the case. At the same time, the opposite could be true and the need to hold fast to one’s convictions is vital to keeping the faith with which we’ve been gifted and entrusted. Yet, I find myself approaching this with a repentant heart because I know that the approach with which I consider these conversations continues to need faithful growth so that I would not see those with differing ideas as “opposition,” but rather as a contribution to growth, learning, and a holistic approach that considers healthy conflict a gift rather than a curse.
Within the life of our congregation, this means that I must lead with detailed intention, seeking to live as we are called in scripture: “… Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:19-21). Even when I believe that I am making the faithful choices for our congregation or seeking to lead people towards a faithful decision within their own lives—or in our life as the body of Christ—I must first listen and take seriously the concerns and needs of those with whose care I have been entrusted. Then I consider how I would best speak the truth in the love that God first offers to me, a sinner in need of redemption. That is the constant reminder – the “crux” – which offers forgiveness and redemption to me, that I might be faithful in offering the same to those in need. If I hope that our church members would follow the example of Jesus, I must first desire to do the same and pray fervently that my failures would not stand in the way of their faith.
Obviously, this does not simply need to be addressed within each congregation of God’s people, but it must be addressed throughout the body of Christ, especially as we desire to set the example for those with whom we hope to offer the promises of God that we have first received. This means that within our church body, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, we must begin to take a serious look at how often our actions reveal direct opposition to God’s Word – how we are slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to anger. Too often we live in opposition with pride and are unwilling to admit the damaging approach which we bring to those within our church body, especially if we feel passionately about something we feel is misunderstood by those challenging our thoughts or actions.
The issue, though, is not necessarily who is correct or incorrect. In the freedom of the Gospel that is gifted to us, there is room for healthy variation of how the Good News is shared and the Lord is praised for all of His good gifts. Many times, context and the uniqueness of each Gospel opportunity determines one’s approach. The true issue, however, is when one believes that their approach is the only correct and possible way to share the Gospel. Though no difference exists within the substance of what is being shared, a pride-based issue arises and causes conflict that demands conformity, though often disguised as a “call for unity.” This sinful pride, however, leaves no room for learning or growth, but rather seems to imply that a perfected method has been achieved. Sadly, anyone who believes that their methodology and approach is perfect immediately refutes the truth of God’s Word, forgetting the actuality that “none is righteous, no, not one,” as we are reminded in the Psalms and St. Paul’s letter to Rome. The greatest damage in this mindset and belief is that it creates the “house divided” which Jesus condemns. Though this may not be the intention, it is the reality and allowing it to go unnoticed simply leads to the gut punch that we are setting an awful example for those outside of the faith. Satan tempts too many to believe that the church is a place where hypocrites flourish and faithful imitators of Christ no longer exist.
Is there a faithful approach, then? God’s Word speaks clearly to this, not only in the book of James, but also in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). This means that our approach, even when our position is justified, must be one of humility and detailed intention to consider the differing view as more significant. The differing view must be of greater interest to us, even when we desire to encourage repentance because we perceive that which is outside of God’s design and desire to be found in this different approach. Our humility is vital to being able to lovingly understand the emotions, thoughts, hurts, and needs of those with whom we differ. Once that happens, then we can thoughtfully share our approach, hoping we are met with the same humility and love. Still, no matter the reaction of the other person, we must maintain our humility and care, knowing that our desire to be imitators of Christ cannot be superseded by any prideful desire.
This is not easy. This will not be easy. It is, however, necessary. The only way we can expect for the Gospel to flourish is if we remain faithful to the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us. If we reject the Word, we reject the Spirit and we reject the work of God by desiring to have our own ways, thoughts, and deeds rise above His. Thankfully, that is not the way that we are called to be and to remain as such is unfaithful. Thankfully, God does not encourage us to remain as a house divided, but instead to find freedom in unity in Him. Thankfully, He offers repentance and reconciliation, forgiveness and redemption to all people—even us. For Jesus says from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). May we seek His forgiveness, dwell in His mercy, and share the same with our brothers and sisters, united in and being imitators of Him to all.