- Daniel Mayfield
Pray for Their Grace
Two equal and opposite flaws are hard at work in Christendom--ecumenism and sectarianism.
In a nutshell, ecumenism seeks for unity despite doctrinal disparity. This means, churches host cross-denominational gatherings with the illusion of unity, though a great divide still exists--a divide in doctrine, faith practices, and Biblical conceptions. Keep in mind, when the ecumenical movement began, its proponents were actually working to hash out the reasons for denominational divide. The underlying and guiding notion was, essentially, "Let's come to the Bible to find unity." After a while, everybody threw their hands in the air and said, "Well, we still disagree, but Jesus prayed for unity; so let's just say we're unified, though in practice we won't be." This isn't true unity. Paul told the Philippians to share the "same mind" (2:2; see also 4:2 in the original Greek [τὸ αὐτὸ φρονεῖν, "to think the same"]). Having the same mind is imperative for unity.
Sectarianism, on the other hand, sees no value in conceptions and truths heralded by those in a building with a different name. It forgets that with Christ there is but one building--that which is founded on Jesus and his apostles (Ephesians 2:20-22). Sectarians often believe their group perfect. The extreme happens in cultic settings when members aren't allowed to read materials produced by other groups. There's at least a twofold flaw here: (1) Nobody is perfect; therefore it's highly presumptuous to think that in every way your group is doing it perfectly; (2) There's often a suppression of truth involved in sectarianism. There is a real fear that somebody else may have some good things to say, and perhaps they would undermine an esteemed but false notion. So the mindset becomes, "See no reason, hear no reason, speak no reason."
I introduced these equal and opposite errors because I value what Scripture says about unity, and I also value what Scripture says about human fallibility. Therefore, on the one hand, I can't be unified with a group which is clearly neglecting a truth. On the other hand, I can't assume that my group is doing everything perfectly. In fact, I must assume that in many ways we are failing. Perhaps we equate perfection with doctrinal accuracy, but this is wrong. The Pharisees were doctrinally flawless, but according to Jesus they had neglected the "weightier matters of the law," namely, justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23).
It's a curious thing that Jesus pairs justice and mercy--words we might pin against one another. I think he means, stick to what you know is right, and point out error where you see it. That's justice. But (!) be gracious and merciful and understanding and sympathetic when you see others doing what you know to be wrong. That's mercy. The fact is, they may not know they're doing wrong; so be merciful. It is a weighty matter to be just and merciful simultaneously.
When others are unknowingly doing wrong, pray for their grace. Don't damn them. Some time back, a well-known televangelist died, and just after his death I observed a FaceBook post, which read, "Today __________ found out he was a false teacher and led everyone to hell!" It was ugly; it was almost jubilant; and I think it ruined that person's Christian testimony. Besides all of that, it reflected a major lack of mercy. Truly, God will damn those whom he wills; and in so doing, he will be blameless, for he is perfectly just. But humans may just damn themselves in damning others*. Here's why I say that: If perfection is the standard by which you judge another, you will assuredly be judged by that same standard--and you'll fail miserably (Matthew 7:2), for nobody on earth is perfect.
Therefore, James commands, "So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:12-13). This means, in the final judgment there will be no mercy from God Almighty to the man who spent his entire life damning others on the basis that they erred. Where is your mercy, Christian?
Moses, the meekest and greatest leader in history, begged God to show grace and mercy to Israel after they turned from God to worship idols. He prayed, "Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people" (Exodus 32:12). Moses prayed for their grace. Mercy triumphs over judgment. In truth, there was a heavy judgment against those who persisted in idolatry; and yet, many had opportunity to repent before God because a man of God was full of mercy. When others err, pray for their grace.
*This does not mean we shrink back from declaring aloud the truth of God. It means, as flawed human beings, we don't have the authority to produce the verdict for anyone's eternal judgment.
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