Family fights run in my family tree. Yes, you heard that right. A schism runs in the veins of my family line.
Long, long ago… the fabled story is told, but tis’ true, the Brezina clan arrived in northern Michigan from the faraway province of Bohemia (now part of the present day Czech Republic). Near the turn of the 20th century a sizable group of Czechoslovakian farmers banded together and formed a small settlement outside of East Jordan, Michigan (now known for just about every sewer and drainage plate cover in the USA).
The tiny farming community busied herself by constructing a sturdy stone church and numerous brick farmhouses that still dot the hilly landscape. Winters were (and still are) brutally cold and snowy in northwest Lower Michigan. The hillsides were rocky and consisted of a sandy-loam type of soil that didn’t naturally burst with abundant crops. Established civilization would seem days away in an age predating the common use of automobile transportation. But these hard-working, disciplined, and sturdy Czechs kept plodding along in their newfound homeland.
But just when life’s horizon appeared to be brightening upon the little community, a cloud of dark emotions filled the sky. A feud, deep and fierce, broke out among the Brezina family. Perhaps the winter just wore on too long. Maybe the isolated atmosphere was going to everyone’s head. Whatever the case may be, a family fight opened up full-bore.
Specific details are scarce and likely inflated with creative imagination, but the core of the fight holds proof right down to the spelling of our name. The schism grew so hateful and embittered that half the family decided to change the spelling of their last name; hence, Brezina became “Breznau” in a split that carries on to this day. In fact, no one on my side of the family really knows anything about the other Brezina family members, besides a lonely cemetery that bears the names of our ancestors in the original spelling. They were gallant people and, no doubt, of some means to be able to traverse the Atlantic and settle together on their own land in Michigan. But somehow pride invaded the scene. Hate rose to the surface. Bitterness split open the love and divided the once tightly knit group that traveled more than 4,300 miles to make a community together. And now the one family is a distant two.
When family fights break into the skin of our lives, our usual tendency is to make a grand attempt at escape. Ironically, that’s just the avenue my great-grandfather took when he picked up his family and moved to Detroit during the epicenter of the Industrial Revolution.
Some may want to stick it out and wade into the fight, hoping for peace to come. But most of us just put up our hands, step back, and ignore the center of the squabble. Sweeping the issues and symptoms under the rug of busyness seems very convenient. And slowly the gap widens between persons and families. Conversations skip along the surface between uncomfortable smiles and awkward chuckles, never achieving any depth or meaning. We look across the room and catch glances of the “other side,” but rarely cross the room for more than a casual greeting. We Band-Aid the deep fracture with the topical medicines of separation, ambivalence, and good ole’ American individualism. Yet the burning pain deep inside never goes away. The fighting and splitting is not what we really want, but somehow ends up being what we learn to tolerate… and live with for years and years.
Our modernized, technologized culture also provides easy ways to escape into the individualistic life of our own making and desire. Facebook recently advertised a new app first available on HTC phones simply called “Facebook Home.” The commercial is all too realistic of our escapist, individualistic culture. The implied message is clear: if you don’t like what’s going on around you, if people annoy you, bore you, or are simply uninteresting… then simply check out of the situation! And Facebook, with a virtual world of modified reality, is the perfect escape. You can watch the video here:
Being Human, Being One.
We can even spiritualize our coping mechanism with an emphasis on personal Bible study, personal response, personal prayer, individual devotions, etc. Yet while none of these practices are wrong (in fact, I encourage them), God is always pushing His people toward one another in community, not further away into isolation or individualism.
Jesus Christ leads the family of God, the Church, on a path together. Ouch. You mean we cannot escape from fights in the family of God, but should instead dive-in toward authentic, lasting reconciliation? Yes, in the power of God’s Good News.
Here’s how Milton Vincent reminds us of God’s reconciling power: “The gospel is not just a message of reconciliation with God, but it also heralds the reconciliation of all believers to one another in Christ. Through the death of Christ, God has brought peace where there was once hostility, and He has broken down the racial, economic, and social barriers that once divided us outside of Christ . . . when God saved us, He made us members of His household, and He gave us as gifts to one another.” (A Gospel Primer for Christians, pg. 23)
God’s way for His people guides us to stick together, work together, and love one another through the raw difficulties of being human. God in Christ is continually gearing His Church to be together – not separate or individual – but one in Him.
Why is this so vital? Because being together in communion through Christ is how we become more like Christ. Becoming mature in Jesus Christ is impossible in isolation from the rest of Christ’s Body (cf. Eph. 4:13-16).
While there is some level of notable disagreement between the two or three major interpretations of sanctification (the process of becoming more like Jesus Christ), none can argue the fact that the Bible places the corporate edification of the Body, the Church, as the locus from which sanctification flows (Eph. 1:4-12; 2:19-22; 4:1-16; 1 Cor. 12-14; Rom. 12:1-8). The place where sanctification occurs most explicitly is the Church – among the members of Christ’s Body. Even further, the corporate edification and spiritual growth of the Body is also the goal of sanctification.
Becoming mature in Jesus Christ is impossible in isolation from the rest of Christ’s Body.
This is precisely why God inspired the writers of the New Testament to paint pictures of His Church with terms like “household,” “holy temple,” “body,” and “family” (Eph. 2:19-22; 4:1-16; 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Romans 12:1-8; cf. Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11; Rev. 5:9). Being individually different is part of the beautiful mosaic of God’s tapestry. Each member in God’s family is wonderfully diverse in role, function, and gifting. Yet every member is also united in the one family of God through the work of the Spirit and by the sacrifice of the Son.
The believers in ancient Corinth had all sorts of fights and problematic issues, but the root of the struggle was their disunity grown out of spiritual pride. They were splitting and dividing, as a result, they were not maturing together into the likeness of Christ. So the apostle Paul wrote these words, cutting to the heart of the fight:
“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).
The people of God are one body because God has drawn us together by one Spirit through the one Rescuer, Jesus the Son. Perfect unity within diversity…
With a good laugh, Paul continues:
“…If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member [one body part], where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body.” (1 Cor. 12:17-20)
God has sovereignly arranged His people in Jesus Christ to function as individual members united in one body. No one is more important than another. No family fights can flourish under the headship and humility of Christ. Perfect unity within diversity…
The apostle Paul then gives the purpose of the whole talk:
“…so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” (1 Cor. 12:25-27)
Why do we need to hear about being one body in Christ? Because division is not the way of God for the people of God in the kingdom of God. Oneness, together in humility and joy, is the announcement of our witness to the reconciling work of Jesus. The mission of Jesus moves forward when Jesus-followers operate as one.
…division is not the way of God for the people of God in the kingdom of God.
Two Superstars or One Team?
I remember watching the Detroit Pistons play against the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA championship in 2004. The Lakers were banking on their two super-style rock stars: Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. These two guys dominated any court and had carried the Lakers to the playoffs again and again. Reporters also told us that these two spent most of the season feuding over who was the most valuable player for the Lakers. I suppose Sports Illustrated needed something to publish. 🙂
Enter the Detroit Pistons. The 2004 Pistons squad was comprised of a lot of great players – even well above average – but no real superstars like Kobe or Shaquille. But they were a team. They played with precision. Their ranks were deep. Their plays were seamless and full of energy – together. They rejoiced in each other’s successes. They loved their coach. And as one team with one goal they squarely beat the Lakers 4 games to 1. Al Michaels, the play-by-play announcer for the NBA on ABC during the finals, observed that even though the Lakers had Hall of Fame players, the Pistons beat L.A. by using players that nobody else wanted. I doubt there was ever a more stark contrast in all of NBA history. It sure was fun to watch, too.
God chose every single member of His family by the kindness of His will to the praise of His glorious grace. And no one is more or less important, valuable, or significant in the sight of God. God took the nobodies – you and me – and made us somebodies, together – His sons and daughters, His family.
Our mission hinges on our unity. The ultimate mission for the family of God is to glorify God, to make Him known. And the way we put God on display (glorify Him) is by living by His Spirit in unity within diversity because this is the picture of our Triune God.
God, as One in Three, displays perfect unity within diversity – the essence of team. The Father is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Son, nor is the Son the Father. Yet all three are equal in power and authority, and all Three are One in essence, together, One God.
In the New Covenant community of the Spirit, the Church, God has called us to be one in mind, action, and attitude. Inevitably, we will not always live in perfect harmony. But the goal is nevertheless the same: glorify God by living out unity within diversity. Step across the room. Clear the air by addressing that rift between a brother or sister in Jesus. Walk in grace towards one another knowing you, too, act in stupid and selfish ways (more than we’d like to admit). Speak with love. Be quick to forgive and show mercy. No family fights.
We are part of one family. Not two. Not three. Just one. This is the Trinitarian, God-glorifying, Christ-exalting lifestyle for which God has geared and chosen His sons and daughters: one family, on one mission, together for the glory of the one, true and living God. So together we gather in communion around our Lord’s one Table to celebrate His work of reconciliation that brought us to God and healed the deepest wounds of mankind’s fight.
 Undoubtedly, there are far more than just two or three views. However, it seems apparent that in a broad sense, only perhaps three “major” views undergird much of the arguments at hand. Sanctification is understood as a process, a one-time crisis event, or a series of crisis events. Still other interpretations could be raised here, but space does not allow for further elaboration. See further: Melvin Easterday Dieter, Five Views on Sanctification, Counterpoints, ed. Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996).