Most of us have heard of the famous Christmas Truce of 1914. For roughly a week before Christmas, the shooting of the First World War ceased, and carols were sung from the trenches and even together across no man's land. Capt. Josef Sewald of Germany's 17th Bavarian Regiment remembered it this way:
"I shouted to our enemies that we didn't wish to shoot and that we make a Christmas truce. I said I would come from my side and we could speak with each other. First there was silence, then I shouted once more, invited them, and the British shouted "No shooting!" Then a man came out of the trenches and I on my side did the same and so we came together and we shook hands—a bit cautiously!"
Gifts were exchanged between the British and German troops, soccer games were played… and for one brief moment, in one of the bloodiest conflicts ever, the guns were silent as members of two opposing armies united to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.
This Christmas season, I'm wondering if we might see something of the same spirit that was displayed by those soldiers in the trenches almost a hundred years ago.
Christianity as a house divided is nothing new. We have long been a people of factions and fighting, taking delight when our tribe or small corner of the Church increased and someone else's decreased. We defend the leaders of our parties, making excuses for all manner of behavior and error while being quick to jump and judge when prominent figures in opposing movements show the slightest signs of human weakness, or make a verbal gaffe. We divide and divide again over the most miniscule doctrinal points, and rather than coming together to discuss and resolve the greater doctrinal points, we dig our trenches ever deeper.
Technology has been no help in all of this, either. If anything, we have taken what could be used as a tool to bring understanding, connection and dialogue across our lines of separation and used it instead to foster animus, controversy and division. The amount of ire and vitriol has only grown as we tweet, blog and post things we would surely never say in the presence of those whose lives and doctrines we are criticizing. We have grace enough for those who are in our own theological camps, but all too often nothing more than scorn or mockery for those who aren't.
Richard Baxter, the great Puritan pastor of the 1600's said:
"He who is not a son of peace is not a son of God. All other sins destroy the church consequentially, but division and separation demolish it directly. Building the church is but an orderly joining of the materials; and what then is disjoining, but pulling down? Many doctrinal differences must be tolerated in a church. And why, but for unity and peace? Therefore, disunion and separation are utterly intolerable."
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