“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” These are the words of President Ronald Reagan on June 12, 1987 to the Soviet leader at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. That wall was built in 1961, not to keep people out of East Berlin, but to keep people in. Walls divide. Walls separate. Walls become obstacles to the free flow of people and ideas.
Some walls, such as the Berlin Wall, are built on purpose. Some just happen over time, such as the divide between the two major political parties at the present time in the United States. It is painful to watch. There has always been a political difference of opinions. That’s a good thing. It promotes discussion and healthy debate about important issues. But when it paralyses the participants to the point of non-action, it is unhealthy and destructive. Individually, most politicians seem to be flourishing quite well, but as a group I believe the growth and health of our country is paralyzed by this political divide.
There are walls in the church. I don’t think they were built deliberately necessarily, but they’ve grown over time. At times they were deliberately built for personal benefit; at times they just grew because no-one was watching or if anyone noticed they did not challenge the construction project until it seemed too late to do anything about it. These walls are subtle but divisive, often keeping people in as much as keeping people out.
Dear to the heart of Jesus was and is the unity of God’s people. He makes that great statement in John 13:35 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” But his prayer in John 17 is the epitome of his heart cry on this issue.
Vs. 11 – “…Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.”
Vs. 20-21 – “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Vs. 22 – “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—“
Vs. 23 – “I in them and you in me–so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Someone has rightly said, “The last great apologetic of the gospel is the unity of the church.”
You may be thinking that the division I’m concerned about is denominationalism, schisms and divisions over doctrine or practice. It isn’t. You may be thinking it’s about worship wars or charismatic issues, of the emergent issue, gender equality, or the racial segregation that still plagues the church at large. It isn’t, although these too deserve our attention.
There are two walls I’m concerned about that have grown up over time. They have been challenged at times – the most significant challenge was during the reformation period. But the walls have grown back. They have been overreacted to on several occasions, but they show up time and time again. They are the sacred/secular divide and the clergy/laity divide. They have divided God’s people into at least two classes, sometimes more. They have disheartened and discouraged and at times disavowed the value that God placed on every child of God when he accepted them into his great family and declared them to be without distinction as Paul told the Romans, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
Romans 8:16-17 “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…”
Out of these divides we hear statements like, “I’m just a layman,” implying “I’m not qualified to serve the church in that way.” We hear, “you really should quit your job and get into full-time ministry,” implying that “ministry” is a higher calling than working in the marketplace for a living.
I want to explore these two walls in coming blog posts. I want to see if there is a way to deconstruct them in our minds and modify our language, so we no longer divide God’s people into classes, or strata, or usefulness. Rather, that together the body of Christ might be united, as Jesus prayed we would. The gospel is the great equalizer. The ground at the foot of the cross is level and I think the floor at the judgment seat will be level also. No pedestals, no balconies, and no raised platforms – except the one the King is on.
About Jim Hislop
Jim Hislop is the Director of Western Seminary's Center for Leadership Development.