I have two good friends who over the years have added much to my life. They know of each other though they don’t know they have my friendship in common. The truth is they really don’t like each other, even though their contact has been rather superficial. They live in seemingly different worlds. They would probably be surprised that they have my friendship in common – but far more importantly, I am convinced they have Jesus in common.
One of them loves to explore, understand and think about God, faith, truth, & spiritual matters. My friend enjoys clarity of expression and orderliness of thought in line with the historical faith which he treasures.
My other friend loves Jesus no less but in a different way. This friend values experience, action and the down to earth practicalities of faith-filled living.
Sadly, when they talk about each other the first describes the second as emotional, flakey and flighty; the second describes the first as rigid, cerebral, dead and boring. Even far beyond such supposedly profound, weighty & decisive matters of disagreement as whether to sit in a pew on Sunday morning in a building or sit on a living room couch on another day of the week; paging through a hymnal or staring at a projection screen; or a dozen other items of dispute, they are poles apart. They have concluded because they are so different that the other really doesn’t know, worship, serve or love God.
I honestly wish my two friends could know each other better since they add so much to my life – I can’t help believe they would add much each other’s. Here’s my problem – they both want my friendship to be exclusive. They claim to know each other – at least on those matters on which they disagree. They have both kept a long list of where the other is wrong, un-biblical, heretical or worse and why no one (truly their friend) in their right mind (or right belief) would befriend the other. The truth is what they agree on is much greater than their disagreements – but listening to them you would never know it.
Who are my two friends? They are not simply two people but actually many people I have met over the years that represent two spiritual heritages and traditions – the first that emphasizes a grasp of theological knowledge, holding on to the historicity of the faith and the development of the understanding as a foundation for growth in grace. The other emphasizes the power of God, the joy of the Holy Spirit, the presence and reality of the victorious Christ and a vital affection for God. Why am I friends with such as these? Not only because I have learned to value and appreciate their differences; but because they also mirror two aspects within myself that alone and isolated are unbalanced but working together provide a counterweight to my extremes. Therefore, I refuse to choose either one over the other. Still, I find the situation extremely sad. The one man, formed from Jew & Gentile through the sacrifice of Christ’s life (Eph. 2: 14) is torn asunder and the dividing walls of hostility are rebuilt with a vengeance. In “Surprised by the Voice of the Spirit” Jack Deere calls this a “costly divorce.”
I find Deere’s analogy convincing. Divorcing the Word and the Spirit are separating what God has joined together, like asking an airplane pilot which wing on their aircraft they’d be willing to give up – no one will be going anywhere if they do or if they try someone’s going to crash.
What will heal the rift? What will reverse the divorce? At times I’m not sure my friends see their estrangement as a problem. Like the age old, generational cycles of conflict and destruction that characterize tribal hostilities the parties seem to know no other way to relate to one another except as “the enemy.” Plus, the situation offers multiple opportunities for puffing one’s chest out and crowing loudly in public about one’s exclusive possession of the truth and unparalleled spiritual purity!
However, in this hostility, the true enemy externally is not each other but rather, as Jeremiah Burroughs points out in his helpful book “Irenicum: Healing the Divisions Among God’s People” the devil and he’s doing quite well with his appointed task of causing divisions and enmity among the saints. The truth is “all the devils in hell could do us no great hurt in dividing us from God or one another were it not for the corruption of our own hearts” – a corruption that manifests in pride, self-love and envy.
I wish there was an easy solution. Some divisions are centuries old and reconciling warring parties is difficult work. Law enforcement officers know the risk of intervening between people that are fighting – often the mayhem is turned on those who would stop it. Burroughs points out the dangers: “He who meddles with the divisions of the times may expect to be divided himself, to have his own name and his reputation cut asunder and thrown this way and that. It is a thankless work to meddle with a divided people. A man may with as much safety put his hand into a nest of hornets.”
To refuse to choose sides, to refuse to identify exclusively and separate with one side or another is often taken as evidence of weakness, disloyalty or doctrinal indifference. Yet that conclusion perpetuates the fallacy of false choices between the Word and the Spirit, or choosing between God-sent friends. Frankly, I’m weary of every item of discussion turning into a life or death litmus test of allegiance. Tired of the carnage, moving beyond scoring debate points or retaliation in kind, ready for a ceasefire and recognizing that mutual assured destruction is not the path to pursue, Romans 15:7 seems worth practicing – “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
The best idea I can come up with for now is to have my friends over sometime for dinner, simply to spend the evening together. They may say “no” or “too busy” or it may be a disaster. Or, after some initial discomfort, by the grace of God, they might come to the realization they not only are they both my friends, but they might look over the wall they’ve built and see that they are fellow friends of Jesus.