All of you have apps on your phone. A couple of my apps are these silly addictive games. No I never got into Candy Crush (thank God!). Instead I fell into the Clash of Clans craze a few years ago, and all the related games of kingdoms, wars, alliances, and the like. Most days I want to throw my phone out the car window because of this.
Often I am forming my own city, or a whole kingdom. Usually there is a chance that when I am not logged in someone might “attack” my city (which I think btw is how they get you hooked so quickly and easily!). It used to drive me nuts. Now I just don’t care.
Well as you might suspect, one aspects of these games is forming alliances. And one of the things I have realized in the midst of this is that allegiances are often hard.
Now you all know me. My allegiances — to my Christian faith, to the Packers, to OU, to the Thunder, to all my alma maters, and to this country — these are easy for me. These are a given. But it is quite another thing to remain faithful to a new alliance that has just formed in my little game, when I question everyone’s motives. I have seen them cheat and steal and wonder why this time should be any different.
Both New Testament readings today deal with allegiances today. Jesus goes to battle, being tempted in the wilderness. Paul takes on the church in Corinth and their divisions of loyalty.
“What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
The newness of Christianity might have been in the minds of the people. Will this all survive? Who are we? What are we doing?
Paul equates the struggles of the church not simply to “disagreement” or differing opinions. Today we chalk up problems in the church this way – as “disagreements” or “individualism” or “personal preference.” Not Paul. He declares this to be a matter of wisdom. “For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’”
Each and every time I encounter Paul’s writings I am amazed at how pertinent they are to our times as well. The Church is still struggling with proclaiming Christ crucified and understanding how to deal with divisions in the church. What we learn from Paul most is “how to argue.” He is brilliant at it. He seems to win every intellectual argument he makes.
The other part of this is that he keeps talking. He stays in community – in covenant with those with whom he disagrees. He remains faithful to the allegiance he made, because he knows it was not to an individual church, but to CHRIST.
What I like about the Presbyterian Church is that we pride ourselves on this. We follow Christ. We also believe as part of our polity that we MUST keep talking. We value the minority opinion in any debate. To outsiders it may seem like just fight after fight after fight. “Haven’t you settled that gay marriage thing yet?” No, we haven’t. Heck, we haven’t settled that women’s ordination thing yet. I still hear an occasional rumbling about that.
This is because we are a church that encourages diversity of opinion. We even value it! And why? Because this is how we sense the Spirit of God at work. In our differences we are able to listen to God and allow the Spirit to work – to speak to us in new and fresh ways. If we were to silence the minority, we wouldn’t be able to listen to God as successfully and fully.
Remaining faithful to that kind of pledge is quite another thing. Working out the voice of God takes patience and understanding. It takes years of listening. We are a church that is “reformed, and always reforming,” structured in a way that change is possible, in case God decides we need to do things a bit differently to respond to a changing world.
So fights are good? Sometimes. If done well! Perhaps we can take a lesson from Paul, and keep talking in appropriate and healthy ways.