An average of 90,000 Christians are killed each year by those who stand opposed to Christ and His followers. [Source] It’s hard to imagine that Christians would participate in such persecution, but they have.
And Christians have killed Christians right here in America.
Remember the Pilgrims? Sure you do. They came to America to give us Thanksgiving—and to live free from religious persecution. Patriotic evangelicals often wave the flag of religious freedom because, after all, that’s the whole reason all those people came cruising to America in the 1600s.
True, but there’s a catch. The Puritans came for religious freedom for themselves.
Maybe their hearts were in the right place—sort of. They were called Puritans because of their desire for the Church of England to reform and be pure. Be true to God’s Word. But since many in England liked things just the way they were, the Puritans went to a place where they could live the Christian life as they saw fit. So far, so good. But you can take that to the extreme. If we’ve got the doctrine and practice right, why should we tolerate those who don’t?
Enter the Quakers. These folks also had a strong faith, although their doctrine and practices did not fully align with the Puritans. They also came to America seeking a new life free of persecution, only Massachusetts wouldn’t have anything to do with them. In 1658, the colony passed a law that any Quaker could be arrested and banished. If they wouldn’t leave, well, they could leave by way of a rope.
And that’s exactly what happened. On October 27, 1659, William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson were hung because they were the wrong kind of Christians. They were Quakers.
I love studying history and theology, and I’m not oblivious to the fact that there are differences between the Puritans and the Quakers. But when it came to the essentials of the Christian faith—the supremacy of Jesus Christ, the Bible as our sole authority, and salvation by faith—Quakers and Pilgrims were in alignment. Apparently, the essentials didn’t matter. The Puritans looked down their orthodox noses at the Quakers because they held a different view on …
- …original sin.
- … the way God moves in a person’s heart.
- … the practice of communion and baptism.
- … the role of women in the church.
- … how to conduct a worship service.
- … the relationship between church and state.
The Puritans expected everyone to line up on the non-essentials as well. If you’re not a Christian exactly like me, you’re not a Christian.
Get a rope.
We can bemoan the extreme way these Quakers were treated over 350 years ago, but we still engage in a subtle form of it today. Here in the ever-shrinking Bible belt, we have churches on every other street corner. The Baptist church and the Church of Christ sit next door to each other and they pretend the other does not exist.
I am not calling us to be fully ecumenical. We need to know what we believe, why we believe it, and stand for those beliefs with conviction. But we can still engage in conversation and even fellowship with those whose convictions on the non-essentials are different from ours.
Think what it would look like to the community at large if the various churches in that community didn’t act like they were in competition with each other. People would sit up and take notice—not of our differences—but of our shared desire to lift up and honor Jesus Christ.
A gazillion years ago when I was a student minister, the student leaders in our semi-small town thought it would be great to bring our youth groups together once a month for worship. These kids went to school together. They played sports together. Why not let them worship together?
Church leaders were not opposed, but there was concern. My stance was; “We’re not gathering to talk about our differences; we’re gathering to celebrate what we have in common: a love and commitment to Christ.” And that’s what we did. Students gathered, prayed, read Scripture, and worshiped together. Baptists. Presbyterian. Assembly of God. We even let the Methodists kids come in.
That is still my stance. It’s far better than hanging those who don’t see eye-to-eye with me on every jot and tittle of doctrine. When Jesus said …
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
… He was giving a command to all believers. And when we love each other—regardless of our evangelical bent—the world will notice and they will know we are Christ’s disciples.
Who knows. They might be drawn to hang out with us if we’re not hanging each other.
Related blog post: Kicked to the Curb by a Pilgrim
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