As Christians learn how to coexist with political differences, Simon and Matthew can serve as an inspiration. They were about as opposite political as two people could be.
Simon was a radical who participated in protests, riots and plots to overthrow the government. He felt his people were being oppressed by those in power and violence was the only way to make the powerful listen.
Matthew was exactly the reverse. His motto was: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. He saw the government as a personal opportunity. He worked for those in power and used it to make some extra money for himself.
Simon hated people like Matthew. Matthew looked down on people like Simon. They were political enemies, but then something happened. They both met Jesus.
As they followed Jesus together and worshipped Him as Lord, they stood side-by-side and worked to transform their world for Christ.
Since its founding, the church has brought together people from various backgrounds and political persuasions, including Simon the zealot and Matthew the tax collector—two of Jesus’ disciples.
While this election has exposed significant divides within the American church, it has also revealed an opportunity to recapture one of its most unique facets—unity through diversity.
At the core of the church’s identity, we are people who are far from God brought near to Him and each other. We are a family of individuals drawn from various (sometimes warring) people groups.
That is who we are. And that is different from every other organization or movement not only in modern day America, but in all of history.
When writing to various churches, Paul constantly reminded them of their unity in the midst of their diversity.
To the church in Galatia, he wrote:
There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
When writing to believers in Corinth, he said:
For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
For those gathering in Colossae, he said:
In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.
It can be easy to read those passages and think, “Sure, that’s great for those groups back then, but they weren’t dealing with the same types of divisions as we are today.”
Obviously, their differences are not the same as our differences, but those differences cut deep into their ethnic and cultural identity and they too had a history of distrust between various groups.
Take the Scythians as an example. The Greeks called them more barbarian than the Barbarians. They were people who lived just north of the Black Sea and were thought to be the epitome of unrefinement and savagery. Their reputation stretched across the Roman Empire and throughout history.
Josephus, the Jewish historian employed by the Romans, said the Scythians delighted in murdering people and were little more than wild beasts. They weren’t even people, he maintained. They just killed for fun, like they were animals.
Greek historian Herodotus describes how they invaded the Middle East and left nothing but destruction behind them, simply because they wanted to. Here’s his description of them:
They drank blood from their enemies, made napkins of scalps and drink bowls from their skulls. They had filthy habits and never washed with water.
Those people, they were part of the body of believers in Colossae and gathered with all the others from various ethnic and cultural groups to worship their Savior together.
Nothing in this world can explain uniting Jews and Gentiles, Barbarians and Scythians, men and women, old and young, Democrats and Republicans, yet here is the church.
This is not about ignoring our differences, singing Kumbaya and acting as if we like each other. This is recognizing our citizenship in the Kingdom exists already and transcends any earthly division.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be difficulties. Just because this is part of our religious history and our heavenly future, that does not mean it comes easy right now.
There’s a reason Paul continually wrote to early churches about the unity they possessed in Christ. Because they needed to hear it.
Think about the earliest church. Almost immediately there was a dispute about the treatment of the Hebrew and Hellenistic widows. Cultural and language barriers made it difficult to care for the needs of everyone.
But that problem became an opportunity for the church to display their uniqueness to a watching world. Deacons were appointed. Needs were met. And unity was maintained.
The result? The preaching of the gospel flourished. More people became disciples of Christ, even some of the Jewish priests—one of the groups that would have been the most hostile to the church.
That is the opportunity facing the church today. Our churches and the church is full of people who have every reason to be divided and stay that way.
But, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we have a calling to unity. Though we stumble and struggle, we strive to fulfill Jesus’ prayer for us in the garden as He faced the cross.
“May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me.”
According to His prayer, the world will believe Jesus is sent from God when they see our oneness. As we display miraculous, God-given unity, they will marvel and recognize the divinity of Christ.
This is our moment, Church. This is our opportunity. What will the world see when they look at us? In a time of division, will they see unity? In a time of disorder, will they see oneness?
What they see in us in this moment from us will determine in no small part what they see of Christ in eternity.