Listen To Article
by Chris Jacobsen
Debra Rienstra is away today. We welcome guest blogger, Chris Jacobsen. Chris is lead pastor of Abundant Life Reformed Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He and his wife Sarah have three year old twins, who remind him daily of the amazing grace of God and the truth of the doctrine of total depravity.
While awaiting the start of the Republican presidential debate last Saturday, I was shocked to hear the news of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. What was more shocking to me (although my capacity for shock is diminished in an age where “shock and awe” is a tactic used by everyone) was that his death was very quickly politicized by the news media and by the candidates themselves. A mounting debate has begun on whether the current president should hold off on nominating someone to replace Scalia, or if that responsibility should go to whoever wins the presidential election in November. Seems like a story we’ll continue hearing about for a while.
In the midst of politicizing Scalia’s death, I came across this story from MSNBC. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had plenty of disagreements with Justice Scalia, called him one of her best friends. She also stated that while they “different in their interpretation of written texts,” they were also “one in reverence for the Constitution and the institution serve.” Justice Ginsburg also stated that when she wrote an opinion on behalf of the court, that opinion was usually strengthened by a dissent written by Scalia. It seems that her friendship with someone with whom she disagreed had a positive impact on her work, as well as on her life.
While I wish that our politicians would learn from the example of Justice Ginsburg, this post is not pointed toward Washington; it is aimed at those of us who call ourselves “Christian,” especially in the Reformed Church in America.
In today’s church, there are plenty of things for us to disagree about: human sexuality, use of human and financial resources, the inclusion of women in ordained leadership, Carver policy governance…the list really could go on and on. Some of these disagreements threaten to further fracture the unity of the church, with several RCA congregations already having left and several others threatening to leave. A fundamental question that we will need to answer, and answer soon, is whether there is room for disagreement in our fellowship. Can we hold one another close in an increasingly sociologically and theologically diverse Reformed church?
The Consistory of the church I serve as lead pastor has been studying the book of Acts. A few weeks ago we came across a startling verse: All the believers were one in heart and mind (Acts 4:32). The elders and deacons in my midst were both impressed and discouraged by this verse. We could celebrate the ideal of unity while at the same time recognizing our own disagreements. But upon further conversation, none of us considered our differences to be a weakness. In fact, we have come to the conclusion that the diversity that is represented around the Consistory table is a faithful reflection of who God is.
God is triune. The persons of the Trinity are eternally in community, three distinct persons, yet in perfect unity. And we are created in God’s image, which means that the diversity that we experience in our world is not a product of sin, but is a visible manifestation of who God has revealed Godself to be! Our diversity is something to be celebrated and cherished. I confess that I am often irritated by those who disagree with me, especially considering how often I am right (please note the tongue firmly placed in cheek here, friends). But rather than being annoyed by the disagreements, I ought to celebrate them, because when we are together we more clearly demonstrate the fullness of God’s presence.
If we are not able to stick together through our differences, we do great harm to ourselves and to our witness in the world. I need to remember—all of us do—that the cultivating of friendships with those who are different from us actually helps us to be more faithful to Christ. Usually that’ll mean a little dose of humility, which is a good thing to practice every now and then. It is the season of Lent, after all. So let’s take a page out of the Ginsburg/Scalia playbook and befriend someone across the proverbial aisle. When we do, we’ll experience that unity in the midst of diversity can only strengthen us, preparing us to participate in the work that God is doing even now. After all, our allegiance is not to our particular reading of scripture, nor is it to our own preconceived notions and opinions about our world and one another. Our primary allegiance is to the Triune God, who has created us to be different people, and has called us to be one, as God is one.