When I heard that the Bible Advocate was spending a year on the Ministry of Reconciliation, I was thrilled. Some of my first Christian thoughts were those of reconciliation. Today, after seven years as a pastor, I still think we need to hear this message and spread it with the greatest resolve. I base my view on a personal event.
A boy’s story
My mom and dad couldn’t decide on a local church body to attend for a long time. When I was around five years old, they landed at the Church of God (Seventh Day) in Spokane, Washington. They made this decision primarily because of the belief that the Sabbath still stood for new covenant Christians. In the Spokane congregation, my family found a true church family. However, the security caused my parents to act foolishly.
Every year at Christmas, my mom, her two sisters, and all their families would gather in a hotel that could accommodate twelve crazy cousins. They were all faithful Christians from various Protestant traditions, so celebrating the birth of our Lord was precious for them. Discussion was always a mixture of edification from the Bible, joking the way families do, and discovering what new things had come to pass over the last year. During this time we recognized that we were family by blood and by the blood of Jesus Christ. It was wonderful.
But when I was seven years old at the annual gathering, an argument erupted: my aunt versus my mom and my dad over the date when our shared Lord was born. “Pagan,” said my dad.
Being so young, I cannot remember more than that. But it was over. We did not talk to my aunt again until she was on her deathbed from cancer.
Not talking to my Aunt Arleen didn’t stop me from praying. Nearly every prayer of mine for the next two or three years ended in hope for reconciliation with her.
A pastor’s reflection
Still now as a pastor, I look back and think, Why was the date of Jesus’ birth more important than our common faith in Him as our Savior? Reconciliation and unity are much more important in the New Testament than being right about a date. Paul defines his whole calling as the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). However, because my family did not follow the New Testament’s consistent encouragement toward unity, we lost contact with my aunt and a Christian sister for eleven years. What were we thinking?
We thought that we had security and truth, and we had nothing to do with those who didn’t. But that is not the gospel. That is not God’s eternal Word. Rather, His Word proclaims this:
For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:13-18).
Paul penned these words when the church in Corinth could not stand him. They wanted to be rid of him. But throughout the letter, and most poignantly here, Paul reminds them that he is willing to do anything for them. If he and the other apostles are in their right mind, “it is for you.” But if they are beside themselves, “it is for God.” Either way, the Corinthian church and the apostles are united.
Further, in Ephesians 4, Paul lists all of the uniting “ones” of Christianity: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (vv. 4-6).
And because of this, we should lead a life of humility, gentleness, and patience, “bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (vv. 1-3).
What would Paul think when we dismiss the ministry of reconciliation, grounded on the uniting “ones” and demonstrated throughout his ministry, and instead focus on December 25? Better yet, what does God think right now as we are doing it?
When we as a General Conference say that we are “distinct yet inclusive,” we recognize that God is not pleased with our disunity. We are different, we believe different things, and yet that should not separate us from those who believe in Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Not to mention those who are filled with the Holy Spirit and worship “God the Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (v. 6).
Though I never saw my faithful Christian aunt again after that argument in the hotel, my mother did. Sadly, by that time, both families had missed marriages and births of grandchildren. Now Aunt Arleen is dead. I look forward to spending those eleven lost years with her in paradise.
I’m trying to live a different way than my parents lived then. My mom is too. Let’s commit to not separating families over the date of Jesus’ birth. Yes, He was not born on December 25. Yes, the world celebrates that because it accommodates paganism. But yes, God’s uniting loving sacrifice is stronger than this error.