At a funeral luncheon last Tuesday, a good friend and former professor (one of my parishioners) and I were sharing some memorable student bloopers from our teaching years.
One of my favorites, from a veteran, shared how he was thinking “about the war in church.” I made a marginal comment – “It must have been a very fractious congregation!” Sad to say, such congregations exist. I think such wars usually stem from rather strong personalities who want to run things their way, who want to make things a contest of power and control. Large egos are usually involved.
One of this Sunday’s Revised Common Lectionary readings (Ephesians 4.1-16) directly applies to such matters. Paul is writing from prison, for he begins “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord.”
I suspect sitting in a cell may have given Paul plenty of time to think and some unique insights into what is truly important.
He then exhorts the Christian community: “I … beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4.1-3; NRSV).
Rather than exercising the power of our egos to the point of having war in church, Paul would have us exercise humility, gentleness, and patience.
He would have us bear with one another, tolerate each other’s idiosyncrasies, that we might maintain our unity in the Spirit of God in peace.
Paul says as Christians we are all part of the same body and Spirit (“one body and Spirit”), that in our calling we share in “one hope … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4.4-6; NRSV). Paul further reminds us that each of us has received God’s grace. Might it behoove us to extend grace to others?
If we think about it, most wars in the church are over rather trivial matters. If you really want to start a war, just decide you will paint something a different color.
Before I entered the priesthood, and being new to the Episcopal Church, I painted the entrance door to an Episcopal church in Michigan a rich brown color – Episcopal church doors have a long tradition of being red to symbolize a place where one may seek shelter under the blood of Christ. After the hue and cry, I covered my “sin” with a bright coat of red. We let the vestry minutes reflect the doors had been “primed” with a lovely shade of brown! Peace was restored!
Of course, not all things are so trivial, but all too many of our church wars involve trivialities and oversized egos. (P.S. I do not recommend tacking this on your church bulletin board!)