The confluence of a global pandemic, isolation, civil unrest, and election uncertainties in 2020 have created a rift among evangelical Christians unlike anything I have seen before. I would call it “unprecedented”, except that too many have become numb to that word in a year when we all float from one crisis to the next, like driftwood down rapids, with little room for reflection or discernment between—and few outcroppings to cling to.
I am convinced that, more than anything, the past year has been a test for God’s people. But it’s not only a test. If we fail, we will not survive the real approaching crisis.
We have been tossed to and fro, banging into boulders and, often, each other. The hydraulics have held us longer than we wanted to stay. But the battering and concussions and delays have distracted us from the real threat: there’s a cliff up ahead, and we’re all headed for it.
We have all witnessed the public proceedings of these rapids: the legal battles, the riots in our cities, the “cult of experts” and the “cult of personalities”. But bad news sells to a public with an insatiable appetite for drama; it has always been this way. More insidious is what is happening locally, across our communities, inside our churches, among families and between friends.
In our church there are members who will not attend if a mask is required. There are other members who will not attend if masks are not required. One views masks as a violation of individual liberty, others view the issue as respecting and protecting life. Both positions are correct, biblically. As one who has participated in leadership meetings over this issue every other week for the last nine months, I can assure you there are no easy solutions. We would have found them by now.
The question is not “who is right” or “who is wrong”, but this: can we still love each other when we vehemently disagree? This is our test.
I have not, as a rule, been passing this test. I have spent more time trying to understand—with much consternation—how so many vastly different conclusions can be reached from the same body of evidence. But Christ does not require us to reconcile our conclusions or hermeneutic interpretations. He requires us to love each other in spite of our differences.
Masks are a microcosm of a larger assault against—and between—God’s people. Whether illness, justice, liberty, or politics, these issues are dividing us at a time when we should be proving to the world that our love for “one another” trumps all.
A Time for War
The Battle of the Bulge was the “largest and bloodiest single battle fought by the United States in World War II and the third-deadliest campaign in American history.”1
The German offensive sought to split the Allied lines and capture the Belgian port of Antwerp being used to reinforce the Allies. Breaking the lines would also allow the Germans to surround four Allied armies and destroy them.
The Allies were caught unprepared. “The Germans achieved a total surprise attack . . . due to a combination of Allied overconfidence, preoccupation with Allied offensive plans, and poor aerial reconnaissance due to bad weather. American forces bore the brunt of the attack and incurred their highest casualties of any operation during the war.”
Within days, the Germans had surrounded Bastogne, which was being defended by the 101st Airborne. The German commander offered terms of surrender to his American counterpart who was not about to be deterred, though heavily outnumbered. Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe had his now famous reply typed up and sent to General von Lüttwitz:
The American response boosted morale and the 101st held the line until Gen. Patton arrived with the 4th Armored Division a few days later.
A More Excellent Way
We are in a war. It has been raging for thousands of years. There is an enemy, and it is not us.
As in war, our enemy pursues a deliberate strategy to defeat us, “seeking whom he may devour.” There are offensives and counteroffensives, ambushes, flanking maneuvers, encirclement, and frontal assaults. He will exploit any opportunity to divide, then conquer us. Pride is the weakness in our armor and our enemy knows how to exploit it—he’s been doing that since Adam.
The enemy has blown a mile-wide gap in our defenses. Several of them, in fact. We used to be unified around common principles—not all of us—but enough of us to make a stand. We are not operating as a unified front any longer. The longer we stay separated, and the further we drift apart, the easier it will be for the enemy to defeat us.
Resisting tyranny is noble. Protecting life is noble. But there is a more excellent way. Despite its fanciful applications today, when Paul talked about love in the New Testament, he was not officiating at a wedding ceremony. He was talking about unity in the church. “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor 13)
If it sounds strange to juxtapose love with war, that’s because we are not wrestling against flesh and blood; Love is the only implement which nullifies every strategy of the enemy. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. Against this weapon there is no defense.
Just as humility is the antidote to pride, love is the antidote to division.
It’s time to set the clanging cymbals down. It’s time to pick up our armaments and close ranks around the will of God.