Evangelism has taken me to churches and ministries in 47 states in 6 different countries in hundreds of different “camps.” You know what I mean by that right? Some “camps” are larger (the BBF, for instance) and some are really just a small group of like-minded folks who occasionally get together for encouragement and collaboration. At first, I found myself bothered by the variety of it all! Now, I am good with it, primarily because I have learned that no one has to be like me. That has made all the difference.
To be clear, there is a sense in which others actually do have to be like me in order for us to serve and work together. We call these essential matters the “fundamentals” because they are matters that are, well, essential if one is going to be a Christian. A belief in the inspiration of Scripture, the Virgin Birth and Deity of Jesus, His vicarious death, burial, and literal resurrection, and other similar doctrines are all fundamental to the Christian faith. Without them, one cannot be a genuine Christian. We do have to agree on those, but that is not what I mean when I say that you don’t have to be like me. Here is a brief synopsis of what I mean:
- You don’t have to be like me because of the individual priesthood of the believer.
This statement refers to the teaching that all believers have access to God through Jesus Christ and are themselves part of the “priesthood” (see 1 Peter 2:5-9 and 1 Timothy 2:1-6). I am not responsible for you and you are not responsible for me. In fact, the Bible clearly teaches that “every one of us shall give account of [ourselves] to God” (Romans 14:12).
- You don’t have to be like me because of the autonomy of the local church.
Each local church is self-governing under the headship of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, 19, 23). I am not responsible for the local church and can encourage each one as they seek God and follow His leading in their particular setting, culture, and so forth.
- You don’t have to be like me because there are different callings in the body of Christ.
As an evangelist, I know that I have a specific calling. I also know that my job description, if you will, is identical to a pastors (based on Ephesians 4:11-16) and yet is different, at least in the way it is accomplished. My focus is often different (the gospel and revival as opposed to the flock and shepherding them), and so is my preaching (sometimes more pointed and specific). I serve churches alongside of pastors who are very aware of the people and the needs within their church family. Some evangelists have allowed themselves to become very frustrated by these differences because they want a pastor to see and do things the way they see and do them, but I have learned to accept these differences and even celebrate them. A pastor can be very different from me, and yet we can work together and accomplish much good in the work of the ministry.
- You don’t have to be like me because there are different gifts spiritually in the body of Christ.
This is a big one and is often problematic for many in today’s culture where we can so easily share our views, argue our points, and ridicule those who see and think differently than us. We have this tendency to believe that others should see everything our way. We argue petty matters on social media, subtly (and sometimes openly) criticize others for not seeing or doing things the way we do, and often sigh and roll our eyes at the viewpoints of others. The older I get and the more I have grown in the Lord, the more I realize that sometimes people are simply operating within the framework of their spiritual gift. For instance, the way a “prophet” views matters and responds to them is very different from the way a person with “mercy” does. It was a happy day in my life when I began to see that people often operate differently from me simply because they have a different spiritual gift than I. As a result, I can love them, learn from them, and rejoice over them as they serve God with the specific gifts He has given to them.
- You don’t have to be like me because there are varied cultures, backgrounds, and influences that affect all of us differently within the body of Christ.
I am convinced this is why our good God left some matters more “grey” than simply “black and white.” Cultures vary (in everything from dating to music to dress to style of worship and to preaching). Backgrounds and influences vary too. I am happy that God works in all of them. As a result, a church in the Bahamas is often quite different from a church in Tennessee, Wisconsin, or California. A church in Russia is very different from one in Canada. Individual believers are the same way. A believer from the Bible Belt could be expected to be somewhat different from one in Washington or Oregon. One from a broken home who grew up in the public school system will view things in a different way than one from a successful family who attended a private Christian school. Instead of criticizing, ridiculing, or distrusting our differences, we could simply realize that you don’t have to be like me!
Can you see why I am no longer bothered by many of the differences found within Christianity? While I intend to stand firm in the faith and while I want to be doctrinally and morally accurate, I also want to live these admonitions from God’s Word:
Speak not evil one of another brethren (see James 4:11).
Him that is weak in the faith (who is unable to have all the liberties that another may enjoy) receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations (not to argue and fuss over varying views) (Romans 14:1).
[Charity] thinks no evil (see 1 Corinthians 13:5).
What then? Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice (Philippians 1:18).
What do you think? I would love to hear from you in the comments below. Please be kind, as I am aware that each of the points above likely need several chapters to fully expound all that I mean.
Thanks for reading.
Your sincere friend,