Remember the good old days when a military conflict or a natural disaster seemed to bring us all together, even if it was only for a few days? One would think that if anything was going to make us all join hands and buy the world a Coke it would be white supremacists radicalizing a car and using it to plow over their fellow Americans. Or maybe a crazed leftist trying to assassinate an elected official would make us take a second look and put aside our differences. Neither one did. Instead, they only highlighted the giant wall separating this country.
We are more divided than ever.
And, for some reason, many in the church feel the need to pick a side.
There should be no, “Yeah, but what about that time when they…” after attempted murder at a softball game. There should be no, “Well, the other side…” after what we just saw in Charlottesville.
But that’s what we’ve got. And many of those excuses are coming from the church. After last weekend’s violent riots in Virginia there are still those who want to remind us of something that was done by someone on the left rather than simply weeping with those who weep and doing the necessary self-evaluations to see how we got to this point. It’s easier to look down your nose than it is to look in the mirror. Even for good church folks.
We would do well to heed the advice of Gamaliel.
I don’t usually hold Gamaliel up as a model for us to follow. He was a religious leader who, two thousand years ago, helped oppose the early church. But in his opposition, the esteemed religious leader showed us the difference between a movement of man and the body of Christ.
Peter and the apostles were agitating. Their gospel proclamation and good works were stirring up the establishment. So they were detained and told to stop. Key leaders wanted them dead. That’s when Gamaliel spoke up.
He reminded the other leaders of a man named Theudas. Theudas was the leader of an uprising. But Theudas was overthrown and his movement came to nothing.
After him came Judas the Galilean. He too tried to start a revolution but lost his life in the process. His movement came to nothing.
And then Gamaliel dropped this nugget of wisdom about what to do with Peter and his friends.
“So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” Acts 5:39 (ESV)
Antifa is of man. It will fail and come to nothing.
The alt-right is of man. It will fail and come to nothing.
The Democratic and Republican parties are both of man and they will both fail and come to nothing.
So why, as these movements are in the process of driving off into the ditch, must Christians pick which side they want to crash on? Why must we explain one side as not being as bad as the other? Why must we place our identity in them?
The church is supposed to be different. It will last forever. This is liberating for Christians. It means that we have the freedom to say to Antifa and the white supremacists, Democrats and Republicans, “A plague on both your houses.” It frees us to call evil what it is without fear of upsetting the base, whatever that means. And it helps us to preach and live the gospel, no matter how unpopular it may be.
It’s time for our local churches to do some self-evaluation. Are we content with being the body of Christ or would we rather be a movement of man? If we choose to be the body of Christ, we may not be liked but we’ll be known for our love. If we settle for being a movement, we’ll just be known as the people who still haven’t gotten over the Broncos cutting Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick not standing up during the national anthem. And we will come to nothing.
While the world is busy trying to fight one brand of hate with another one, the church must remember that it was Christ who died for us, not a Civil War general or a flag. It means that we’d rather live in harmony with our neighbor than win a debate against him by using crime statistics we found somewhere on the Internet. It means that we love like Christ rather than arguing like a talk radio host.
Antifa’s days are numbered.
The alt-right’s days are numbered.
And the same is true for churches that settle for being movements of man rather than the body of Christ.
But not so for the true church. A few years before Peter was called to stand before Gamaliel, he stood before a much greater leader named Jesus. And Jesus told Peter an even greater word about the church that we need to hear today as we consider transferring our membership to a political party or racial identity.
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18 (ESV)
The gates have opened and Hell has poured out into our streets.
But it is no match for the body of Christ.