From the big box retail stores in suburbia to the new mega-churches that are beginning to dot the American landscape, from the barroom to the ballroom, from sea to shining sea, regardless of race, color, age, national origin, gender, religion, disability or sexual orientation, everyone is riddled with one common flaw — they simply can’t get along.
Say what you want, mankind is fatally flawed. Regardless of the complex legal notices that appear in the waiting rooms of employers, immense affirmative-action litigation, silky words by politicians, and clever excuses by the religious clergy, division still reigns as the champion over the race of man. So why can’t people get along?
Though a great deal of energy and thought has been given to passing legislation that will curb people’s natural tendencies to discriminate, it doesn’t deal with the root of the problem. You might smile and greet someone at the workplace, while inwardly scowling at him. This kind of repressive behavioral control doesn’t help people get along; in fact, it causes them to despise each other for the restraint of external control. In reality, repressing their true feelings about others is a way of life.
How about at church? Are Christians any different from the rest of the disunited world? Is their savior, Jesus Christ, giving them the power to overcome the fatal flaw that causes disunity so they can be a light to the world? Talk to most Christians today about unity, and you will hear some very abstract concepts. Christianity today boasts some 37,000 denominations worldwide. So, with this kind of fragmentation, one can only be left with two options: either Jesus Christ does not have the power to cause His followers to live together in peace and unity, or Christians today are not really following Him.
The famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said to Christians, “You will have to look more redeemed if I am to believe in your redeemer.” He could not reconcile the message that Christians preached about love, forgiveness, unity, and oneness with the obvious quarrels, inquisitions, and Crusades that had stained her 1,900 years’ history as a religion. When looking into the reflecting pool of recorded Christian history, man’s fatal flaw glares back at you.
Though many will make excuses as to why Christ’s followers can’t get along, the true gospel puts an end to all divisions — it doesn’t excuse or perpetuate them. Oddly enough, despite the apparent disunity among Christians, unity was supposed to be the hallmark of disciples of the Son of God. Look at the following passages from the Gospel according to John:
That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:21-23)
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)
Also, recorded in the Book of Acts, the early believers were fulfilling what the Messiah had taught and prayed:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. (Acts 2:42-45; 4:32-35)
If Nietzsche and other critics could have seen this manifestation among believers, then they wouldn’t have had such scorn. Sadly, though, these verses did not describe the state of affairs among Christians in their day, nor do they today. In fact, today, all men can tell who aren’t His disciples because of their inability to come together and love one another.
The true gospel is the only solution to the most devastating problem in human history — disunity. In fact, it calls a person out of the fatally flawed world where division and strife reign and into a new life where love and unity reign. It is in this new culture that believers do not settle for “agreeing to disagree,” but they actually agree because they love one another.1
Can the Father and Son Agree?
It is silly to think that the Father and the Son are in continual disagreement, dividing over doctrine, but what is one to think about the prayer that Christ prayed? “Father, let them be one, just as you and I are one.” Either this was an unreasonable prayer, demanding something of His followers that was impossible, thus making Christ a hard taskmaster, or perhaps those who are claiming to be His followers aren’t really following Him. If you are a follower of someone, then you say and do what he says and does. Is Christianity today saying and doing what Christ commanded?
In Matthew 24:14, Christ said that the gospel of the Kingdom would be preached as a witness to all the nations, and then the end would come. What kind of witness was He talking about? A witness bears testimony to the truth.2 So what is the truth? Well, according to John 17:21-23, the truth was that the Father sent the Son because He loved the people of the world. So, by obeying His commands, His disciples would give witness to what He both said and did — they would prove that it was true, and be a light to the world around them. But what if they didn’t obey His commands? What if they weren’t able to overcome the fatal flaw that divides the whole world? What if they couldn’t get along and ended up dividing into an ever-increasing number of factions? Would they be any different or stand out more starkly than any other group, organization, or people? The answer is plainly, “No.” Christ’s followers, if unable to overcome the simple rifts that plague people’s relationships, could not prove that He rose from the dead. On the contrary, they would bear witness that He is still in the grave, which is precisely what Nietzsche and thousands of other critics down through the centuries have said. It may be easy to intellectualize away Christ’s commandments, but the result that occurs is that the unbelieving world looks on and scoffs.
Even the symbol of the cross, perched high upon many a church steeple, engraved and printed on pulpits, books, T-shirts, and many Christians’ automobiles, is a symbol of death, not life. It would be no different from someone putting an electric chair atop their place of worship, or a noose on their sacred text. Posting the cross everywhere is like again hanging the Son of God up to public shame.3 The true testimony to the Father sending the Son is not how He died, but what He experienced in death, and the fact that He rose from the dead, giving His disciples the power over their tendencies that cause death in human relationships. If His resurrection can’t give people the power to overcome the fatal flaw in mankind, then what did it accomplish? We can all with one voice say, “He rose from the grave: SO WHAT?!” People celebrate His resurrection on Easter Sunday, but their actions the rest of the year show that, as far as they are concerned, He might as well still be dead.
Somewhere there must be a place where the fatal flaw can be overcome. It can’t just be in the “sweet bye-and-bye.” The prophet Ezekiel wrote of such a place:
This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. (Ezekiel 17:22-23)
So where is this tree that spreads its branches to allow birds of every imaginable kind to find shelter? It is certainly speaking about a place where people from every background live together in peace and unity — a place where people are overcoming the division that has plagued humanity since its inception. Does such a place exist?
If the gospel is being obeyed, it gives those who have received it the power to love one another. Love is what overcomes the fatal flaw. There is a place where the tree that Ezekiel wrote about is growing and collecting birds of every feather. It is even prophesied in the New Testament that such a place will emerge in the latter days4 — a place where Christ’s earnest prayer is being fulfilled, a place, as the Psalmist wrote, where brothers dwell together in unity.5 It is there, in that place, where God commands the blessing of eternal life. It is there that the fatal flaw is being overcome. If you are one of the weary ones, longing to be able to obey what is written in the Gospels, and tired of excuses as to why no one can live that way, we invite you to come and see what we have found.