“You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.” (Romans 14:10-13)
Vol. 2 Issue 24
June 17, 2008
Just Another Brick in the Wall
Something I said in the last letter has had me thinking. “If we’re all bricks in the same building, stretching back over thousands of years and covering the whole earth, then I have trouble with the idea of my ‘church’ and your ‘church.’”
There are a lot of fellow ‘bricks’ who kinda creep me out. If there’s no my church or your church, only His church, and if you and I are the church, I’d better get used to the idea that you and I are joined together forever, fellow bricks in the building that is God’s temple.
But what if I don’t like you? What if I think you’re way wrong about a lot of things pertaining to Him? What if I think you’ve missed the boat on some pretty important theological points?
What if you think the same thing about me?
Why can’t I just have my church and you have your church, and then we’ll let God sort things out in eternity?
See how easy it is to slip back into that “church is a building/ officialdom/ organization/ profession” thing again? Remember the church is us. You and me and all of those whom Christ has “called out.” It’s made up of all of us … even those who creep us out.
“Whoa Steve, you’re treading on thin ice here.” (What else is new?) “Surely you don’t mean just bunching us all up together!” “There are doctrinal issues at stake!” “Are you asking us to compromise the doctrines that make us different?”
No, not at all. That is, unless your doctrine is wrong. Then go ahead and change it.
“You’re not talking about Ecumenism are you?”
For those of you who don’t stake your lives on man’s theological constructs and their definitions, “ecumenism” is the idea of moving toward ‘universal Christian unity.’ A catholic church.
Don’t panic.
Not the Catholic Church. “Catholic” means “universal” and pertains to the idea of a single, undivided “church” … the way the first church was back in the first century. The way it will be when Christ returns to claim His church.
Something else I said in an earlier letter is relevant to this week’s topic.
“Any time you get a bunch of humans together (Christians fall into this class too) they have a tendency to muck things up.” (Purpose Weekly Vol. 2, Issue 22)
I was talking to a friend on the phone the other day about the early church. We were pretty amazed at stories in the book of Acts about all the believers sharing meals and having everything in common and how a person who had something went out and sold and shared the proceeds with everyone so that no one had too much and no one went without.
Halfway kidding I said, “Communism isn’t a failed ideology; we’re a failed species.” Then I thought about it a little. Then I wasn’t kidding so much.
Communism doesn’t work. Not because it’s broken … because we’re broken.
For the same reason ecumenism, the practical establishment of a single universal church, doesn’t work. As fellow bricks in the wall we disagree with how the wall is built and what it should look like. Each of us is convinced that he or she is right and the brick that doesn’t see it our way is wrong. And we are right … unless we’re wrong. But we stick to our guns – I make my church and you make your church and that’s the way it is.
There will come a day, however, when He returns to receive His church. My church and your church will fade away pretty quickly. My stuff and your stuff won’t be important anymore. It won’t be because He fixed our systems or ideologies or the other guy’s screwed up beliefs; it’ll be because He fixed us.
Artist’s oil paint comes in little tubes, like toothpaste. Between manufacturers there are thousands of colors and tints to choose from. Personally I can’t see the difference between “Brown Ochre” and “Burnt Sienna”; I must not have an artist’s eye for detail. Each pigment has its own unique shade and tint, no matter how subtle … or so they tell me.
But if a crazed pigment terrorist were to sneak into the factory and squeeze all the contents out of all the tubes into a giant pot and stir them all up with a giant stick he wouldn’t get a rainbow of all the world’s unique shades and tints of color. Each individual pigment would be compromised as it was stirred into the mix. They would all meld into one greenish, brownish, grayish goop. What a mess.
In order to graduate from college I ‘had’ to take an art appreciation class. The university wanted to be sure business and science majors had at least a dash of civilization so the institution wouldn’t be embarrassed by news of their alumni not knowing a Cezanne from a Chagall.
I’m fairly dull regarding the finer arts, but I did see a lot of pretty paintings and hear a lot of pretty music in that class and the professor did his best to penetrate our thick business major skulls as to why we should appreciate the ‘Masters.’
I don’t remember much about Cezanne or Chagall other than I’m pretty sure they were painters and not musicians. But one guy did stick in my mind. His name was Georges Seurat. He was a post-impressionist painter (don’t ask me the difference between that and a pre-impressionist painter). What I remember about this guy was that he used a painting technique called “pointillism.” That means his paintings, usually huge canvases, were made up of thousands of tiny uniform dots. It fascinated me that all those individual dots together on the canvas made up a single picture that I could understand and appreciate.

That’s about as close as I can come to explaining the “church”; those whom Christ has “called out.” Individually we’re unique colors of every imaginable shade and tint. Some of the colors go well with others, some clash. If we put all the colors together in a big pot and stirred them up with a big stick we’d get a greenish, brownish, grayish goopy mess. But in the hands of the Master all those individual pigments can come together in a wonderful whole.
It’s beyond me.
I’m beginning to learn my job as a brick; my responsibility as a tiny dot of color. It’s to fill my spot in the whole. That’s it.
I know that I’ll run into other bricks in the Temple, other dots of color on the canvas, whom I disagree with. If I run into a difference that’s too big to ignore I’ll try to follow Paul’s advice. “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” (II Thessalonians 3:14-15).
The truth is though, that we tend to focus on differences, even if they’re not so important; we’ll make them important enough so we can be at odds over them.
God, knowing I’m a little dull, usually throws an object lesson my way when He wants me to learn something.
I had lunch with a guy last week who I didn’t think I really wanted to have lunch with. I had decided that I disagreed with this guy on a few things and those few things were important enough for me to decide that this guy was one of those ‘bricks’ who creeped me out.
I was wrong.
First of all, I didn’t know the guy at all. I’d seen him around; I had heard him and heard about him, I’d been in some of the same places at the same time. But I didn’t know the guy.
That didn’t stop me from judging him though. And it didn’t stop me from privileging the world with my opinion either. I was wrong. I apologize.
There are a few things that this brother of mine and me see differently; but we’re both ‘bricks’ in a same temple; both tiny dots of color on the same canvas. Our responsibility is to fill our spot. That’s it. We’ll leave the big picture to the Master.
I’ll end this week’s letter with a classic. I should have this one on a note, pinned to my shirt.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7: 3-5)
Until next week.
In Christ,
Steve Spillman