by Bob Lupton
The community of Las Jirones is fractured. The thousand or so village residents are separated by deep political fault lines. Some cling zealously to the conservative PLC party, while others pledge unwavering support to Daniel Ortega’s socialist Sandinista government.
Neighbors - even members of the same family - have decidedly different beliefs about how the government should be run. Though the days of violent revolution that ripped the country apart are now history, memories and loyalties linger on.
Even so, there is a gradual healing taking place. A generation has now passed, and an uneasy peace has come to Nicaragua. A tolerable stability has returned to village life, sufficient to allow neighbors to put away their guns and return to their fields. To everyone’s great relief, government elections, though contaminated with corruption, are reasonably civil and orderly. Elementary school attendance is gradually increasing, and parents are beginning to imagine a future once again.
But there is one deep division in Las Jirones that simply will not heal. Religion. Yes, residents are predominately Christian. Their faith roots go back more generations than anyone can remember. Catholic missionaries planted churches centuries ago in Central America. The Protestants arrived later. Both versions of Christianity now propagate the village.
And therein lies the conflict. Though Catholics and Evangelicals (the generic name given to all Protestants) worship the same Jesus, they judge each other to be heretics. And “what fellowship has light with darkness?” The fracture goes deep into the soul.
At a recent village meeting, Yara, our community developer, announced that a low interest loan could be made available for a community development project. The announcement immediately ignited lively discussion. Road improvements, a community ball field, a shelter for gatherings at the local school. Ideas swirled. All good.
But the two proposals that elicited the most enthusiasm were church related. The Catholics wanted a new archway, fencing and landscaping for their church. The Evangelicals wanted a new tile floor and a small classroom addition for theirs. Obviously there was no way the divided village could achieve consensus on which project they would endorse. And competitive bidding would only deepen the chasm that separated these believers.
We don’t do church loans, Yara explained. We only make loans that strengthen communities, not ones that further fragment them. And so the discussion returned to road grading, ball fields, and school improvements.
Over in a corner, in a side conversation, two neighbor women – one a Catholic and the other an Evangelical – were having a hushed discussion about a radical idea. To publicly voice their idea would take considerable risk. But it was worth a try.
“We worship the same God,” they said. “What if we got a loan for our two churches together?” Silence! Discussion about roads and ballfields abruptly ceased.
If a loan were made jointly to both churches, the women nervously continued, then everybody could join together raising money, doing bake sales, having community yard sales, preparing meals for the workers… that way both churches could get what they wanted and the village could celebrate their achievements together.
It was a brilliant idea! Everybody agreed. Even the ministers! Yara too. And so the joint loan was made, the work began, and neighbors who had maligned each other’s faith became co-laborers together.
Neighbors who’d never entered each other’s places of worship were now invited inside to fellowship and break bread together. It is what could be described as the New Command in action.
The New Command. It’s the one Jesus spent most of His last night on earth emphasizing to His disciples. (John 13-17) It was His parting mandate: love one another, don’t let anything divide you, lay down your very lives for each other.
Obedience to this Command would authenticate true discipleship and be the visible proof of His Deity, He said. Yet for some reason, as Christianity emerged into an organized religion, the New Command went unheeded. Doctrines were debated, sides were taken, leaders were chosen, heretics were declared, infidels were burned at the stake.
Thankfully, in our day, Christians no longer kill each other. Not physically, at any rate (though religious character assassination is still fairly common). But the New Command is still largely ignored.
Christianity continues to multiply. There are now 33,000 denominations worldwide. And we create 300 new ones every year. Denominations!
And most of that growth comes from church splits – arguments over doctrine, lifestyle, governance, and other theological minutia. There seem to be an endless supply of new leaders eager to proclaim their version of the “real truth,” but very few who seem interested in attempting to reconcile their “divide and conquer” growth strategy with the New Command.
The last thing Las Jirones (or any community) needs is another “fragmenter” (call them church planters) to splinter the fragile unity that has taken root in the village. Perhaps it is time to commission a new breed of “New Command Missionaries” who will model and propagate what Christ declared to be the defining behavior of true disciples. Unifying Love.