I find as we are coming closer to the return of Christ, that the Body of Christ is actually in danger of becoming fractured. Just as in the first century, when the birth of the Church presented new and unfamiliar ways of viewing God working in the world, I see Christians being separated by what they perceive as being "acceptable" ways to glorify and honor Him.
Of course, there are the differences among Christians based on the changing cultural "morals". Issues like gay marriage, abortion, social justice, and civil disobedience are addressed in the Bible, yet we find that people who call themselves Christians differ on how their faith instructs them on these matters. How can that be? God doesn't offer compromises or concessions in His commandments, does He? So how are we to contend with these varying opinions?
I am as guilty as the next Christian. I know that Jesus and the Holy Spirit have been doing mighty works in my life; and showing me how to help others experience the joy of their Presence. My experience has not been the norm; it is outside what the Church in America has known and promoted for at least the last century. Yet I know it is real and from God! But I have to fight the temptation to reject the traditional and "safe" message of the Church, because who am I to know the mind of God, or how He might reach just one person sitting in a pew on a Sunday morning? I do not want to become my own god!
At the same time, there are highly controversial people who call themselves Christians, and who appear to have borne fruit for His Kingdom through decidedly non-Church methods. Are we to discount that their message or testimony is not real? I think all of us can agree that we are to know our fellow Christians by the fruit that they bear. But Jesus taught in John 15 that the primary purpose of a fruit tree is to bear fruit, and it is therefore judged by what it produces and not by how it looks. We are instructed to be careful and not to be deceived by false prophets who look like beautiful fruit trees, whose fruit is pleasant to look at, tastes good, and is easy to digest; but produce nothing for the Kingdom. At the same time, we must not forget that a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. So while a fruit tree might look unorthodox and strange, if we discern that it is producing good fruit, then does it have credibility?
It is easy for us Christians to establish the rules and determine what looks like Holy Spirit-produced fruit. But I caution us that we must not fall into the trap of the Pharisees and Sadducees, who simply could not fathom that this rabble-rousing son of a carpenter could be a representative of Yahweh. I am not saying that we should accept every new and dynamic conversion as the real thing, just because they say they have "found Jesus." But neither do I think we should rush to condemn someone if they aren't miraculously changed on the spot. Jesus told the woman caught in the act of adultery, and the man healed at the Pool of Bethsaida, to both "go and sin no more."
They didn't instantly become a sinless, perfect human being. None of us will ever be that. But the power of the Holy Spirit broke the power that sin once had over them, and a process was begun towards conforming them into the likeness of Christ. We are all on that path. Some of us get there quicker than others. Some have to stumble and fall many times over before we can shake the depravity and lies of our sinful past. But if we have accepted Christ as our Savior, and surrender to Him, He will do the work... no matter how long it takes.
I have seen evidence of that long path in a good friend of mine this week. I never doubted his faith, but his actions did not show that He was walking with the Lord. But God is now using him, while in a still imperfect state, to witness to people who need to hear of the Grace, Mercy, and Healing Power of Jesus. His has been a very personalized, and different path to Christ. He embraced the path to Christ easily, but he didn't walk the usual and normal path. I have always felt that it was my duty as a Christian to embrace him and where he started, but also to encourage him and pray that he would not finish there.
Should not the same thing be said for all of us in relationship to each other? We are not all going to look alike or produce the same fruit from a cookie cutter template. We must test the spirits and the message of those who look and sound different from us. But we must also be open to the power of the Holy Spirit to be working in unique and unusual ways. He is smarter than all of us, and can use just the right person to reach the unreachable. We have entered an Age in which nothing resembles the ordinary, and nothing looks like it did in the past. Jesus and the Holy Spirit worked outside the realm of conventional religion in the first century. They can do the same today. And through discernment, we must evaluate the good fruit from the bad, and support our brothers and sisters in Christ as we all strive to share the Good News. We may not all look alike or follow the same path to Christ, but if we converge at the Cross, then the path forward will be in true brotherhood and unity.
John 15:44 "How can you believe [in Me], when you [seek and] receive glory and approval from one another, and yet you do not seek the glory and approval which comes from the One and Only God?"