So far, my family and I have traveled more than 6,000 miles. We still have hundreds of miles to go on this great American road trip that at one point hugged the border with Mexico through west Texas, and, now, has ascended over a mile high into the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. From the red rock formations of Utah to the steamy swamps and marshes of southern Louisiana, we are seeing America.
Ultimately, however, our trip is not about the scenery; it’s about family. We covered these miles because they formed an artificial barrier, attempting to separate us from the people who are near and dear to our hearts. The distance—even as great as it is—could not finally separate us from our family. From this reality of family, another arises—a theological one.
Distance always tries to separate us: I’m an evangelical, reformed, southern Baptist. I realize that I am a long way from being a Roman Catholic or an Eastern Orthodox believer—such as we find (or once found) in Iraq and the Middle East. Yet even with the distance that separates us, there is a name which we hold in common that unites us; it is, of course, the name of Christ. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Reformed Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, Wesley Methodist—these are names which make up the complete Christian family tree. Think about our road trip again.
On this circling trek of the western U.S., we visited more than Cochrans. We visited Hobsons and Hortons, Smiths and Sims, Augustines and Gibbs—and all these names were somehow directly related to us. Just as each family lives by different rules and governs itself apart from our family, so, too, each of the church families mentioned above have different beliefs and share different traditions. They have different rules of governing and hold doctrines with which I cannot in good faith agree; yet I most certainly do advocate for them as a Christian.
I was asked recently if I could explain why I, an evangelical, think it is necessary to advocate for variant Christian traditions in the matter of persecution. The question was serious and worthy of consideration. This brother is not a narrow, ridged sectarian. His question arises, for instance, from the tension within Christianity—since the Reformation—which often blurs the line between our allies and our enemies. I would not allow a Roman Catholic, for example, to partake of the Lord’s Supper or administer baptism in my Baptist church. We are in that sense divided. My wife, for instance, attended mass with her father in south Louisiana, but she did not take the wafer and could not repeat one of the chants. We remain divided.
Our division—though very real—should also not be overstated. We must insist that division exists, or we fall into the squishy ecumenism which dilutes doctrine altogether. Even with division—even though thousands of miles separate our doctrinal and ecclesiastical nearness—we still have family. As in my own family, I recognize that Christian family may exist by other names with other peculiarities. Maybe we can revert to the family analogy for yet another explanation.
We all probably have family members whom we would not trust to watch our kids overnight, right? Let’s say you have a relative whom you would not trust with your kids. Nevertheless, if that same relative were diagnosed with cancer, would you not show mercy? Would you not make the hospital visit and do your part to care for him and his family? Whatever the distance which divides, the nearness of family closes that chasm in times of crisis. Such is the case around the world today. Christians are in crisis.
If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
In Iraq, the believers are not typically evangelical. They are from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Nevertheless, they were targeted because of the name of Christ. Their houses were painted with an Arabic “N” so Islamists would know that followers of the Nazarene lived there. What Christian can refuse a brother in such need? If we believe we are called to come to the aid of humanity in times of crisis, can we then believe that coming to the aid of “Nazarenes” would be a sin? Let us help our brothers and sisters find shelter, food, and safety. Once those tasks are done, we can continue opening the Word with them, contending for the faith. In other words, let’s not allow our debates over ecclesiology to eclipse our fight against evil.