United by love, not doctrine

Mar 25, 2015 by

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A couple of days ago, with the help of some friends, I planted the early vegetable garden with cauliflowers, cabbages, broccoli, lettuce, Chinese greens and carrots. I use the square foot method — lots of diversity close together for maximal yield and minimal pest control. I start with well composted soil and try to balance those crops that need lots of fertilizer and drain the soil with those that need little fertilizer and are a net gain to the soil. Then I throw a row cover over them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost prolific in the existing garden, however, and requiring no care at all, are the dandelions. They are probably the most nutritious plants in the garden. The roots can be used for tea, the leaves for salad and the flowers for jelly. It helps to hold the soil together and to bring nutrients up to the surface from deeper down within the soil.

In the garden variety is the spice of life and weeds are an important part of that variety. I think it is meant to be the same in the body of Christ. We need variety of belief, doctrine and understanding of the truths of God to build up the soil and reduce the pests so that we can get the best harvest. We need the death of our old understandings to create the most precious nutrient for our soil — compost. And often some of the most important plants (or people) are those at the margins, the ones that we want to yank out and get rid of, the ones that disrupt our doctrinal certainty and make us uncomfortable — like the people who are mentally ill, gay and lesbian, doubters, people of other religions and, even, the atheists in our midst.

It is no wonder Christ emphasized the need for love, not doctrine, to hold the body of Christ together. Part of my journey this Lent has been reconciling myself the rich variety of beliefs, attitudes and values that are acceptable to God without judging or condemning those who think and act differently.

Jesus knew that we were not all meant to think alike or look alike. Variety of doctrines are not only acceptable to God but necessary for God’s family to be healthy. The more alike we all look, the more we insist that there is only one acceptable Christian worldview — and the less adaptable, the less healthy and the less productive the body of Christ becomes. The more alike we look, the more “fertilizer” we need and the more “pests” attack us.

As Samir Selmanovic says in his fascinating book, It’s Really All About God, we need atheists to ask the questions we are afraid to ask ourselves, and we need people of other Christian worldviews and of other faiths to broaden our understanding of God. We need those at the margins to pull us out of our self-righteousness and remind us that we are all sinners, only acceptable because of the grace of God. Christ came to the unacceptable and those at the margins — the Samaritans, prostitutes and lepers — and did unacceptable things in the spirit of love and asks us to too.

Unbind us Lord that we might live,
Unbind us from our sins,
From our prejudices
And our lack of love.
Unbind us Lord that we might live,
Live in unity,
and in peace,
and in love.

Christine Sine is executive director of Mustard Seed Associates, a small organization founded by her and her husband, Tom Sine, to assist churches and Christian organizations to engage the challenges of the 21st century. She writes at God Space, where this post originally appeared.

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  • Steve Dintaman

    One of my least favorite jobs as a boy was weeding our family’s large garden. Seemed like an endless task. My mother did not welcome all plants in her garden. Steve Dintaman

  • Felix Hershberger

    Yes, that is called common sense. And those of us who farm know that weeds will take down your crop. Just like tollerating sinful lifestyles in a church will eventually take said church down. It may continue to exist as a gathering of people, but with Ichabod written across its doors. Yes Jesus loved sinners. But he called them to repentance, because he loved them.

  • Aaron Yoder

    You claim: “We need people of other Christian worldviews and of other faiths to broaden our understanding of God.” This is simply not true, Christine. I will admit that Christians often hold to very narrow definition of God. This is both the curse and blessing of being human. If we fully understood him, then we would be His equal. For this, I’m glad that I don’t fully understand my Creator! There is always room for me to know him better. However, a truthful view of God comes through the Hebrew and New Testament Scriptures (Ephesians 3:3). And, if that is not clear enough (in part because it’s a lot to read), Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15) and “the radiance of the glory of God…the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3). Islam, Universalism, Buddhism, Hinduism will never aid a person in more fully understanding the God Most High. These only serve as dead end streets or serious distractions. How do we broaden our understanding of God? “Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:9-10).