In his book, The Mark of the Christian, Francis Schaeffer said, “In the midst of the world, in the midst of our present culture, Jesus is giving a right to the world. Upon His authority, He gives the world the right to judge whether you and I are born-again Christians on the basis of our observable love toward all Christians.”
A lack of love toward one another, even in our differences, is how the Christian witness to the watching world is marred. More than that, it is the reason many Christians find it hard to live among other Christians inside the church. How many stories of church injuries have you heard? How have you been wounded yourself by the church? What is the solution? It is not withdrawal or retreat. Leaving the church will not make your or anyone else’s life better. Separating the believer from the family only increases the pain. The only solution is a commitment to loving the way Christ loves—covenantally. That means we love even when we don’t feel it. We can disagree and still love because we have already made a promise with the other person in the future to be there. We can love because it isn’t based on our feelings but on the promise that Christ gives.
Schaeffer goes on to say,
I have observed one thing among true Christians in their differences in many countries—what leaves a bitterness that can last for twenty, thirty or forty years (or for fifty or sixty years in a son’s memory)—is not the issue of doctrine or belief which caused the differences in the first place. Invariably it is lack of love—and the bitter things that are said by true Christians in the midst of differences. These stick in the mind like glue. And after time passes and the differences between the Christians or the groups appear less than they did, there are still those bitter, bitter things we said in the midst of what we thought was a good and sufficient objective discussion. It is these things—these unloving attitudes and words—that cause the stench that the world can smell in the church of Jesus Christ among those who are really true Christians.
We live in an age of differences. If you follow Christian Twitter, for example, you will see disagreement every day over what appears to be a minute detail. I can't keep up with the outrage. I often step back and ask myself, “Where is the love in this discussion? Where is the place for real disagreement with real unity in Christ? Must I choose one side in order to belong?” In those cases, where the disagreement is over a small matter, love must prevail. The strong does not judge the weak and the weak must not judge the strong.
There are sometimes cases where Christians will have disagreements over larger issues. How can we move forward without compromising orthodoxy and yet displaying love? How can we find the exit before the train goes down the tunnel of darkness?
Here, Schaeffer provides valuable insight.
What happens, then, when we must differ with our brothers in Christ because of the need also to show forth God's holiness either in doctrine or in life? In the matter of life, Paul clearly shows us the balance in 1 and 2 Corinthians. The same thing applies in doctrine as well.
First, in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 he scolds the Corinthian church for allowing a man who is an active fornicator to stay in the church without discipline. Because of the holiness of God, because of the need to exhibit this holiness to a watching world, and because such judgment on the basis of God's revealed law is right in God's sight, Paul scolds the church for not disciplining the man.
After they have disciplined him, Paul writes again to them in 2 Corinthians 2:6-8 and scolds them because they are not showing love toward him. These two things must stand together...
A very important question arises at this point: how can we exhibit the oneness Christ commands without sharing in the other people's mistakes? I would suggest a few ways by which we can practice and show this oneness even across the lines where we must differ.
First, we should never come to such difference with true Christians without regret and without tears…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.
Second, in proportion to the gravity of what is wrong between true Christians, it is important consciously to exhibit an observable love to the world. Not all differences among Christians are equally serious. There are some that are very minor. Others are overwhelmingly important [Know the difference.]...
Third, we must show a practical demonstration of love in the midst of the dilemma, even when it is costly. The word love should not be just a banner. In other words, we must do whatever must be done, at whatever cost, to show this love. We must not say, “I love you,” and then—bang, bang, bang...
Fourth, approach the problem with a desire to solve it, rather than with a desire to win. We all love to win. In fact, there is nobody who loves to win more than the theologian. The history of theology is all too often a long exhibition of a desire to win. But we should understand that what we are working for in the midst of our difference is a solution—a solution that will give God the glory, that will be true to the Bible, but will exhibit the love of God simultaneously with his holiness...
Fifth...keep consciously before us and help each other to be aware, that it is easy to compromise and to call what is wrong right, but that is equally easy to forget to exhibit our oneness in Christ. This attitude must be constantly and consciously developed--talked about and written about in and among our groups and among ourselves as individuals.
In fact, this must be talked about and written about before differences arise between true Christians. We have conferences about everything else. Who has ever heard of a conference to consider how true Christians can exhibit in practice a fidelity to the holiness of God and yet simultaneously exhibit in practice a fidelity to the love of God before the watching world? Have you heads of sermons or writing which carefully present the simultaneous practice of two principles which at first seem to work against each other: (1) the principle of the practice of the purity of the visible church in regard to doctrine and life; and (2) the principle of the practice of an observable love and oneness among all true Christians?
Before a watching world, an observable love in the midst of difference will show a difference between Christians’ differences and other men’s differences. The world may not understand what the Christians are disagreeing about, but they will very quickly understand the difference of our differences from the world’s differences if they see us having our differences in an open and observable love on a practical level.
At the end of the day, do you sigh in exasperation or with love? What are we saying to the watching world? Is there unity among us? Is there a seeking of peace? If not, we need to listen to the Apostle Paul's words in Romans 13:8-10.
8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
We should owe no one anything, except love. Paul’s message is otherworldly. He’s actually telling us to go into debt, but only in one case. He tells us to rack up mountains of debt in the category of love. Love doesn't mean approving or accepting all views. It means, for the sake of Christ, loving others as you would love yourself and showing that love in a multitude of ways. One of those ways may be the correction of bad theology. Another may be in the hug after a hard conversation involving discipline. Yet another may be the reception and giving back of that hug with the one who disciplined you.
Is your mountain of love-debt so high that only Christ can pay it?