An election year is upon us and with it all the debate, suspicion, and rancor that is sure to accompany the culmination of another four-year cycle. Though the election is still months away, I’m already dreading the inevitable interpersonal struggles that will come with it and even the strains it may bring to the unity of my local church. What’s crazy is that we don’t even live in the country that will be holding the election. Yet because America is so close, so powerful, and so culturally dominant, its debates inevitably extend above the 49th parallel and across the world.
My concern is less for the unity of my nation than the unity of my church. An election like this one, or an election like the one Canada will face in 2025, provide a context in which people can easily begin to distrust and antagonize one another. Of course, there are many other issues that can provoke trouble—pandemic regulations, educational decisions, not to mention age-old issues like the discipline of children or the consumption of alcohol. In so many ways Christians are challenged to maintain a strong unity despite deep differences.
But I wonder if we often think wrongly about the challenges to our unity, and especially our unity within the local church. In Love the Ones Who Drive You Crazy, Jamie Dunlop insists that our differences are not so much a bug within the local church, but a feature, and not so much a problem but an opportunity. “The differences and disagreements that threaten to tear your church apart are filled with potential to proclaim the glory of our good and gracious God.” That’s the burden of his book.
That’s the burden of his book and he defends his position well. Leaning heavily on the words of the Apostle Paul, he shows that God means for the unity we have in Christ despite our differences to be a primary means God uses to display his goodness and glory. This means that
the differences that threaten to tear your church apart are opportunities to demonstrate that being “in accord with Christ Jesus” is all we need to be in “harmony with one another.” That’s how “with one voice” we “glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” If your church is about Jesus and immigration reform, you rob him of glory. If your church is about Jesus and homeschooling, you rob him of glory. Just as God gets greater glory through redemption than through creation alone, the glory he receives in your church’s unity is greater in disagreement and difference than if everyone were in the same place to begin with.
This perspective changes so much about the way we relate to our fellow Christians. It means we must center our church on Christ alone so that instead of pursuing complete conformity, we learn to tolerate differences (in the classical definition of the word “tolerance”). While obviously there are boundaries to our unity—we would not tolerate differences in the core doctrines of the Christian faith—we are to see other differences as opportunities to display the glory of God by loving each other despite them, through them, and even because of them. “Too many of us have never really grappled with the implications of a church centered on Christ alone. We applaud diversity in our churches and pray for more diversity, never contemplating the cost and challenge that comes when God answers our prayer.”
Dunlop unfolds his perspective and his challenge across eight chapters, each of which provides a thematic examination of a different section of Romans. He shows that unity has a unique way of displaying the glory of God; that the kind of love we must extend toward others flows from the mercy God has shown to us; that disunity in the local church tells lies about Jesus; that divine justice empowers us to extend full forgiveness; that people we dislike often act in faith and our worthy of our love and friendship; and so on. “Jesus is creating a stunning picture of his glory in your church, and no matter your flaws and failings, he will succeed,” he insists. “Jesus is creating a stunning picture of his glory through the faith of those you struggle to love, and he will succeed. Jesus is creating a stunning picture of his glory through your faith-filled love, as imperfect as it may be. And he will succeed. This is the hope we have through faith in Christ.”
Whether we are facing a year of political turmoil, a year of pandemic regulations, a year of outright persecution, or even just a very normal year, this book provides crucial instruction and encouragement for every Christian. I would be hard-pressed to find a book that is more likely to benefit you and your church in the year ahead.