In two separate entries for the definition of the word “reconciliation,” I think I see the seeds of one of the biggest issues facing American Christians today. There is an entry which says that reconciliation is the “restoration of friendly relations,” and the next entry says “reconciliation is the action of making one belief or view compatible with another.”
Interestingly, when looking up the word irreconcilable, I found a similar set of definitions, but in reverse order. The first entry says that irreconcilable indicates “ideas, facts, and beliefs representing findings or points of view that are so different from each other that they cannot be made compatible” while the second entry reads that irreconcilable, when used to describe relationships between people, means “implacably hostile to each other.”
As I read blog articles, eavesdrop on conversations in the diner, and engage in pretty intense one-on-one conversations with people about topics like abortion, contraception, sexuality, gender, war, gun control, foreign aid, environment, labor, or incarceration, what I find is people who have somehow made the two definitions of reconciliation (or irreconcilable) the same.
Yet one definition is a definition of subjects. It is a description of relationships between people: people who have successfully re-established friendliness, and people who cannot and will not decide to get along.
The other definition is a definition of objects. It is a description of relationships between things: ideas, beliefs, and facts. Some ideas can be made compatible with one another: I am a Christian and I am a United Methodist, for example. Other facts cannot be made compatible with one another: hot and cold, for example.
It seems, as I read, listen, argue, converse and engage, that we all too often fuse the two. “I hold ideas or beliefs that cannot be reconciled (made compatible) with your ideas or beliefs, so that means you and I must be implacably hostile to one another.” Or, more commonly, “Because you and I cannot find agreement on this issue, one of us has to leave, or both of us have to stop talking about these ideas and beliefs, and not just with one another, but at all.”
This confusion-that the full compatibility of ideas is necessary in order for our relationships to be friendly, for you and I to be reconciled to one another, is not only ridiculous, it is also dangerous. What’s more, it casts doubt on Christ’s ability to have reconciled the world-because Christ’s primary work of reconciliation was a work of subjects: God with people, people with God, people with people, people with creation, creation with heaven, the living with the dead, men with women, Muslims with Christians, deviant with conformist.
In John Wesley’s sermon The Character of a Methodist he opens with this phrase: “The distinguishing marks of a Methodist are not his [sic] opinions of any sort.” The Methodist is “a Christian, not in name only, but in heart and in life. He [sic] is inwardly and outwardly conformed to the will of God, as revealed in the written word. He [sic] thinks, speaks, and lives, according to the method laid down in the revelation of Jesus Christ. His [sic] soul is renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and in all true holiness. And having the mind that was in Christ, he [sic] so walks as Christ also walked.”
Apostle Paul says it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21
12We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. 13For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences.
* even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view,* we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,* not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view;
As we humans continue to argue the compatibility of ideas, beliefs and facts, I think it is imperative that we Christians live seriously into this other ministry with which we have been entrusted: the ministry of restoring friendly relationships between all God’s children on this Earth.