Growing up in Mexico City there were certain things that we experienced with regularity. One of them was the Mormons. They always seemed to show up at our front door, usually right a dinnertime. Fortunately, we began to figure them out. It wasn’t hard, really. They had a distinguishing mark, something that set them apart. Anytime that you saw two guys riding bikes down your street wearing shirts and ties with backpacks on their back you could be certain they were Mormons.
But this got me thinking: what if there was something that noticeable about Christians? I don’t mean some outfit or accessory that warned people we were coming. But, what if people could distinguish true, genuine believers from the rest of the Christian population? Even more so, what if Christians were so counter-cultural in some aspect of their lives that it was clear and evident whom they were and what they stood for?
Francis Schaeffer delivers a power-packed essay that argues for this very concept. It is a small booklet titled The Mark of the Christian
, easy to read in 45 minutes. However, it is revolutionary. It’s one I am trying to re-read every year to 6 months. His line of logic is simple, richly Biblical, and deeply practical. The mark of the Christian is…drumroll…LOVE. You’re probably thinking “DUH!”
Building his arguments from John 13 and John 17 Schaeffer argues:
“The point is that it is possible to be a Christian without showing the mark, but if we expect non-Christians to know that we are Christians, we must show the mark.”
It will be virtually impossible for the world to distinguish our faith in Christ apart from it being represented to them through our love for them and for one another. John echoes the words of Christ in his first letter when he states:
“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.”
To know Christ will be evidenced in our love for one another.
However, the beauty of what Schaeffer does in this little book is not in its theological argument. All Christians everywhere agree that we are to love. Clearly Jesus commanded it when he told us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” This has never been in question. The rubber meets the road when we begin to truly discuss what the daily, moment-by-moment implications are for this. What does Christian love and unity look like in the midst of doctrinal disagreement? What about when one party perceives another to be promoting heresy? How should, say, Baptists interact with Catholics, if I dare suggest that? How should Calvinists interact with Arminians? Or what about in matters of practice? Women in ministry? Those who espouse the attractional model for their church disagreeing with those who prefer a more organic model? Contemporary or traditional? These are all polarizing topics.
What does Christian love and unity look like when you believe in some non-essential so strongly that you cannot fathom someone disagreeing?
Politics is another one of those taboo topics. Many conservative Christians have seldom met a democrat they liked. Fewer still have met one in their church! Many Christians who are democrats are repulsed by the close-mindedness of republican Christians. How are we to speak with one another and treat one another when such seemingly foundational truths are immediately in question? The problem that many Christians have had is that they have valued the ideal for which they are arguing more than they have valued love. It is a problem of priorities.
Later on Schaeffer adds:
“Here [in John 17:21] Jesus is stating something else which is more cutting, much more profound: We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians.”
Where many of us have fallen off the wagon is that we have interpreted Christian unity as organizational unity. If we all agree on practice and doctrine then we are united. Consequently, many of us are ill prepared to adequately and lovingly respond in the midst of great differences. It is problematic that we have been trained all of our lives in ministry for doctrinal correctness. Being able to sniff out the beginning of any heretical statement or thought, we crush it. We’ve been taught that the gravest dangers facing churches are false teaching and heresy. Few seminarians consider that the greatest danger facing churches may be their lack of love and unity. It’s easier to vilify and crush a bad strand of doctrine than it is to lovingly welcome in those who may espouse it.
Schaeffer continues by discussing when Christians disagree:
“We rush in, being very, very pleased, it would seem at times, to find other men’s mistakes. We build ourselves up by tearing other men down. This can never show a real oneness among Christians. The world must observe that, when we must differ with each other as true Christians, we do it not because we love the smell of blood, the smell of the arena, the smell of the bullfight, but because we must for God’s sake. If there are tears when we must speak, then something beautiful can be observed.”
These sentences landed on my ego like a bag of bricks. I pride myself in being right, often. If you are wrong around me, you’ll know it. And how often have I don’t this very thing, searching for the nuance that will allow my opinion to rise to the top. Few tears are shed, few hugs exchanged, and few moments in prayerful unity together. As one friend has told me before “being right is not a spiritual gift.” I don’t know that there is a magic cure for this egocentric disease. All I know is that the Spirit of God must grant me a greater sensitivity to my relational foibles. I’m writing all of this for two reasons:
First, I hope that our (Jenny and my) entire community of believers that surrounds us will be able to evaluate our quality love. Not merely do we all carry around a little flag that says “I love people,” but the true moment-by-moment actionable love. Does our concern lie in justifying ourselves, elevating ourselves, being right and letting everyone know it? Or, can we vehemently disagree and walk away in true Christian affection and true Christian unity? More than that, are we graciously extending ourselves for the benefit of others?
Second, this is also a missiological principle for which Jenny and I need your prayers. In crossing cultures we will find many things that are different. Christian love demands our patience, gentleness, and grace as we adjust. In particular, we may be working alongside of individuals with doctrinal differences. The mission of Christ, and the love and unity exhibited between us is a far greater goal than doctrinal cohesion. Being doctrinally cohesive is irrelevant to the watching world. Knowing that love supersedes all other values is truly attractive.
Let me simply ask, then, are you making Christian love? Do you bear the mark of a Christian?
1. Schaeffer, Francis, The Mark of the Christian, Downers Grove: IVP, 1970.