In this magazine the thoughts about the letter Philippians refer at one point to the falling out between Euodia and Syntyche. Squabbling church members is never an edifying spectacle and Paul’s plea was that they settle their differences and move on together. How often have we come across the sad story where people in families, or next-door neighbours – or even in our churches – feel that the only way they can cope with whatever they think has happened is never to speak to one another again?
It seems to be the way of limited human logic that if we have differences between us then we should go our separate ways. Nature should teach us the foolishness of that approach. Watch a pride of lions hunting and we see the strategy of dividing the herd, separating the individual, weaker animal before bringing it down. Separation is the way of weakness. Watch a flock of starlings in the evening sky. The sight may be spectacular to our eyes but to a bird of prey seeking a tasty supper it is mesmerising and confusing. The strength of the individual is in being part of the flock.
We have recently witnessed the human folly of desiring separation in the Scottish referendum. Sorry, but we must learn how disastrous that would have been and learn when we come to another referendum later on wider European unity. Now I’m not saying that the current state of government (in either the UK or in Europe) is satisfactory. In fact I would be wholly in favour of radical reform in both institutions but whether others would agree with me is open to debate. But seeking the common ground first (implied in Philippians) seems a more sensible way forward. Our problem lies in the philosophy that life is only fair when I get what I want.
Churches suffer from this too. Much of the fragmentation of Christ’s body is because individuals want personal control and because we struggle to cope with the idea of difference. One of the Baptist Union presidents used the slogan ‘The more we are together the stronger we shall be’ for his year of office. I’ve forgotten who it was, but his message lives on. Perhaps that in itself is significant!
I have been heartened to hear of Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities praying together in response to the threat of the Islamic State. If that is possible why can’t nations work together collaboratively; why can’t denominations work together; why can’t people set aside their differences? Life is not about individual identity. It is about corporate survival.