Finding Peace in Our Differences

Finding Peace in Our Differences: Reconnecting as the Body of Christ
2012 C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical contest presentation
by Rachel Giovarelli

"There is a popular Mennonite Central Committee poster circulating, especially over the last year, that says "A Modest Proposal for Peace: Let the Christians of the world agree that they will not kill each other" (MCC). This proposal urges for peaceful actions overseas, but it can also be applied to the nonphysical violence Christians practice every day toward their brothers and sisters of different denominations. What if every denomination stopped arguing over their differences and instead joined together as the body of Christ to shake the sinful foundation of this world? Sometimes we are emotionally attached to our denominations; they represent our spiritual journey to either embrace the spirituality of our parents or to choose our own path. As a Mennonite I have frequently been ridiculed for the "absurdly Conservative" beliefs of my denomination. However, I have grown to question the insider-outsider mentality these divisions have built that create a sense of hierarchy within the Christian tradition. How can we repair interdenominational relationships and reconcile the Body of Christ? In order to show love to non-Christians, we must first love our brothers and sisters, approaching each other peacefully with open arms, open ears, and open minds. In order to reconnect the Body of Christ, we need to recognize our differences, focus on our similarities, and develop understanding within our congregations.

The pages of the bitter history between Christian denominations are bathed in blood. Since Jesus' resurrection, the community of believers has frequently divided, sometimes violently. Although the ultimate goal for Christianity should be to reconnect as the Body of Christ, we must first recognize and make peace with our differences. In Romans chapter 14, Paul discusses the quarreling between the Jews and Gentiles over whether the church should abstain from eating meat that was sacrificed to idols. In response, Paul dismisses the argument itself replying, "those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God" (Harper Collins Study Bible, Romans 14:6b). Paul says in this passage that such differences are not worth destroying relationships: "Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? [...] For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God" (Harper Collins Study Bible, Romans 14:10). We should do what we believe is right to honor Christ and not judge each other. As he says, "Let all be fully convinced in their own minds" (Harper Collins Study Bible, Romans 14:5b).

Our shared belief in Christ is what matters and joins us together. Likewise, in First Corinthians Chapter 12, Paul talks about the Body of Christ pertaining to our diverse spiritual gifts. Although we are different, Paul says in verse 21 "The eye cannot say to the hand 'I don't need you!"' because, as he explains in verses 25 and 26, Christ intends "that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part with it" (NIV Study Bible, 1 Cor. 12:21, 25-26). The metaphor of the body exemplifies the church's differences and usefulness when the parts work as a whole; faith in Christ unites the church when all other factors attempt to separate it. When differences drive us apart, the gospel calls us back to reconciliation, as the Mennonite Confession of Faith says, "Peace is more than the absence of war; it includes the restoration of right relationship" ("Article 22"). We must recognize the legitimacy in our differences and accept them in order to follow Jesus' command in Mark 9:50 "to be at peace with one another" (Harper Collins Study Bible, Mark 9:50) and in Matthew 5:24: "be reconciled to your brother and sister, and then come and offer your gift" (Harper Collins Study Bible, Matthew 5:24).

However, although we must recognize our differences, they cannot be our continual focus if we are to recreate and maintain a unified body. In Matthew 12:25, Jesus says, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand" (Harper Collins Study Bible, Matthew 12:25). Likewise, if we continue to divide the Church, we will be unable to carry out the mission Jesus has for us. It is time that we see ourselves first as Christians rather than Mennonites, Catholics, Lutherans, or other denominations. The original intention for the church was to be a unified whole rather than separate distinct parts. While it is impractical to do away with denominations entirely due to theological and cultural differences, restoring and reconciling relationships within the Church will help the Body of Christ become whole again in spirit. We cannot ignore our differences, but we must focus on our shared belief in Christ and what he has done for us. By choosing to be unified, churches can work together, strengthening their efforts for the same cause. As the Body of Christ, the Church is failing to maintain a strong presence in the world as a unified group of believers. Anthony Buzzard says, when Christians attack other Christians, "the church commits suicide, the body self-destructs" (Buzzard). While he is referring specifically to killing other Christians through war, this same mentality can be applied to interdenominational conflict. When denominations attack each other rather than working in harmony, the body self-destructs and no longer sustains its full potential. By focusing on these shared beliefs, denominations can peacefully reconnect as the Body of Christ.

While relationships between denominations can improve, these bodies are only institutions. The church is not a building and it is not a small group deciding for its constituents. The church is made up of people; people who have had different experiences, different backgrounds, and different hurts. How can interdenominational relationships be repaired in person-to-person interactions? What does reconciliation look like between two people who hold contrasting beliefs? I once overheard an adult tell a nine-year-old girl that she was not going to heaven because she was Catholic. A comment such as this one breaks down communication between denominations and fosters resentment rather than unity within the church. It refers back to the example of conflict in the Roman church. When we judge one another, we ignore our similarities and our shared belief in Christ. One of my best experiences at Bluffton has been developing a relationship with a fellow student who is Catholic. I trust her to be respectful of my beliefs as I try to be respectful of hers, and we have had many discussions where we question our own beliefs and thoughtfully challenge the beliefs of the other person. While we sometimes become frustrated, we always leave the conversation with a greater understanding of each other. What is most important is that we view our relationship as sisters in Christ first, friends second, and as separate denominations last. Jesus' message requires us to peacefully consider differences and place them aside in order to fulfill the Church's purpose in this world. This decision to peacefully reconnect the Body of Christ must be a willing and personal choice for each believer. Reconciliation cannot be violently forced by denominational decrees.

To conclude, let us remember to think of ourselves as the Body of Christ first. Our beliefs may not match perfectly, and our differences may occasionally cause conflict to arise. However, if we continue to work to peacefully accept our differences and focus on our shared belief, we can move forward and be the Body of Christ in the world. We cannot make these changes institutionally; they must be made through the forming of friendships and the developing of a loving attitude toward everyone, not just those who are the same as us. Finally, I would like to leave you with a revised statement of the Modest Proposal for Peace: Let the Christians of every denomination agree that they will unite together to create one body. With this in mind, I am pleading with you to leave your preconceived opinions and other judgments behind and move with me into the future as a unified, Christ-like presence in this world."

"There is a popular Mennonite Central Committee poster circulating, especially over the last year, that says "A Modest Proposal for Peace: Let the Christians of the world agree that they will not kill each other" (MCC). This proposal urges for peaceful actions overseas, but it can also be applied to the nonphysical violence Christians practice every day toward their brothers and sisters of different denominations. What if every denomination stopped arguing over their differences and instead joined together as the body of Christ to shake the sinful foundation of this world? Sometimes we are emotionally attached to our denominations; they represent our spiritual journey to either embrace the spirituality of our parents or to choose our own path. As a Mennonite I have frequently been ridiculed for the "absurdly Conservative" beliefs of my denomination. However, I have grown to question the insider-outsider mentality these divisions have built that create a sense of hierarchy within the Christian tradition. How can we repair interdenominational relationships and reconcile the Body of Christ? In order to show love to non-Christians, we must first love our brothers and sisters, approaching each other peacefully with open arms, open ears, and open minds. In order to reconnect the Body of Christ, we need to recognize our differences, focus on our similarities, and develop understanding within our congregations.

The pages of the bitter history between Christian denominations are bathed in blood. Since Jesus' resurrection, the community of believers has frequently divided, sometimes violently. Although the ultimate goal for Christianity should be to reconnect as the Body of Christ, we must first recognize and make peace with our differences. In Romans chapter 14, Paul discusses the quarreling between the Jews and Gentiles over whether the church should abstain from eating meat that was sacrificed to idols. In response, Paul dismisses the argument itself replying, "those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God" (Harper Collins Study Bible, Romans 14:6b). Paul says in this passage that such differences are not worth destroying relationships: "Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? [...] For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God" (Harper Collins Study Bible, Romans 14:10). We should do what we believe is right to honor Christ and not judge each other. As he says, "Let all be fully convinced in their own minds" (Harper Collins Study Bible, Romans 14:5b).

Our shared belief in Christ is what matters and joins us together. Likewise, in First Corinthians Chapter 12, Paul talks about the Body of Christ pertaining to our diverse spiritual gifts. Although we are different, Paul says in verse 21 "The eye cannot say to the hand 'I don't need you!"' because, as he explains in verses 25 and 26, Christ intends "that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part with it" (NIV Study Bible, 1 Cor. 12:21, 25-26). The metaphor of the body exemplifies the church's differences and usefulness when the parts work as a whole; faith in Christ unites the church when all other factors attempt to separate it. When differences drive us apart, the gospel calls us back to reconciliation, as the Mennonite Confession of Faith says, "Peace is more than the absence of war; it includes the restoration of right relationship" ("Article 22"). We must recognize the legitimacy in our differences and accept them in order to follow Jesus' command in Mark 9:50 "to be at peace with one another" (Harper Collins Study Bible, Mark 9:50) and in Matthew 5:24: "be reconciled to your brother and sister, and then come and offer your gift" (Harper Collins Study Bible, Matthew 5:24).

However, although we must recognize our differences, they cannot be our continual focus if we are to recreate and maintain a unified body. In Matthew 12:25, Jesus says, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand" (Harper Collins Study Bible, Matthew 12:25). Likewise, if we continue to divide the Church, we will be unable to carry out the mission Jesus has for us. It is time that we see ourselves first as Christians rather than Mennonites, Catholics, Lutherans, or other denominations. The original intention for the church was to be a unified whole rather than separate distinct parts. While it is impractical to do away with denominations entirely due to theological and cultural differences, restoring and reconciling relationships within the Church will help the Body of Christ become whole again in spirit. We cannot ignore our differences, but we must focus on our shared belief in Christ and what he has done for us. By choosing to be unified, churches can work together, strengthening their efforts for the same cause. As the Body of Christ, the Church is failing to maintain a strong presence in the world as a unified group of believers. Anthony Buzzard says, when Christians attack other Christians, "the church commits suicide, the body self-destructs" (Buzzard). While he is referring specifically to killing other Christians through war, this same mentality can be applied to interdenominational conflict. When denominations attack each other rather than working in harmony, the body self-destructs and no longer sustains its full potential. By focusing on these shared beliefs, denominations can peacefully reconnect as the Body of Christ.

While relationships between denominations can improve, these bodies are only institutions. The church is not a building and it is not a small group deciding for its constituents. The church is made up of people; people who have had different experiences, different backgrounds, and different hurts. How can interdenominational relationships be repaired in person-to-person interactions? What does reconciliation look like between two people who hold contrasting beliefs? I once overheard an adult tell a nine-year-old girl that she was not going to heaven because she was Catholic. A comment such as this one breaks down communication between denominations and fosters resentment rather than unity within the church. It refers back to the example of conflict in the Roman church. When we judge one another, we ignore our similarities and our shared belief in Christ. One of my best experiences at Bluffton has been developing a relationship with a fellow student who is Catholic. I trust her to be respectful of my beliefs as I try to be respectful of hers, and we have had many discussions where we question our own beliefs and thoughtfully challenge the beliefs of the other person. While we sometimes become frustrated, we always leave the conversation with a greater understanding of each other. What is most important is that we view our relationship as sisters in Christ first, friends second, and as separate denominations last. Jesus' message requires us to peacefully consider differences and place them aside in order to fulfill the Church's purpose in this world. This decision to peacefully reconnect the Body of Christ must be a willing and personal choice for each believer. Reconciliation cannot be violently forced by denominational decrees.

To conclude, let us remember to think of ourselves as the Body of Christ first. Our beliefs may not match perfectly, and our differences may occasionally cause conflict to arise. However, if we continue to work to peacefully accept our differences and focus on our shared belief, we can move forward and be the Body of Christ in the world. We cannot make these changes institutionally; they must be made through the forming of friendships and the developing of a loving attitude toward everyone, not just those who are the same as us. Finally, I would like to leave you with a revised statement of the Modest Proposal for Peace: Let the Christians of every denomination agree that they will unite together to create one body. With this in mind, I am pleading with you to leave your preconceived opinions and other judgments behind and move with me into the future as a unified, Christ-like presence in this world."

Works cited

"Article 22. Peace, Justice, and Nonresistance." Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective. Mennonite Church USA, 13 Feb. 2003. Web. 22 Mar. 2012. <http://www.mcusa-archives.org/library/resolutions/1995/1995-22.html>.

Attridge, Harold W., Wayne A. Meeks, and Jouette M. Bassler, eds. The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books with Concordance. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006. Print.

Barker, Kenneth L., and Donald W. Burdick, eds. Zondervan NIV Study Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002. Print.

Buzzard, Anthony F. "Towards the Cessation of Church Suicide: A Theology of Peace from an Anabaptist Point of View." A Journal from the Radical Reformation 5.4. Print.

"What's New at MCC for May 6, 2011." Mennonite Central Committee. 6 May 2011. Web. 22 Mar. 2012. <http://www.mcc.org/newsletters/whats-new-mcc-may-6-2011>.

"Article 22. Peace, Justice, and Nonresistance." Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective. Mennonite Church USA, 13 Feb. 2003. Web. 22 Mar. 2012. <http://www.mcusa-archives.org/library/resolutions/1995/1995-22.html>.

Attridge, Harold W., Wayne A. Meeks, and Jouette M. Bassler, eds. The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books with Concordance. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006. Print.

Barker, Kenneth L., and Donald W. Burdick, eds. Zondervan NIV Study Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002. Print.

Buzzard, Anthony F. "Towards the Cessation of Church Suicide: A Theology of Peace from an Anabaptist Point of View." A Journal from the Radical Reformation 5.4. Print.

"What's New at MCC for May 6, 2011." Mennonite Central Committee. 6 May 2011. Web. 22 Mar. 2012. <http://www.mcc.org/newsletters/whats-new-mcc-may-6-2011>.