Let me take a quick break from my dialogue with my great-great grandfather to say something as briefly and clearly as I know how:
Phrases like “our identity” and “our distinctiveness” have no place in the vocabulary of any Christian who believes that Jesus prayed John 17. They should be cast out as demons were cast out by Jesus and those who followed Him.
You will not find an individual church’s “identity” or “distinctiveness” as a concept in scripture. Heck, you won’t even find those words in scripture.
So who authorized anybody to use them with regard to the church at all, let alone as issues that are paramount?
Those are words used by people who are divisive and contentious, and I think we all know what scripture has to say about such people.
They are words which create division and cause dissension, because wherever there is an “our” or “us,” there must be a “their” and “them.” There is no denying this.
They are scare words, because the people who use them are scared to lose the power that they think they have by using them.
The power in the church belongs to God in Christ Jesus, not anyone else. The only identity that the church has is through Christ Jesus, our Lord. The only distinctiveness we should have is in lives that reflect His, which shone forth the Father’s glory from the moment of His birth to the moment of His death, and then beyond and on and on.
“Our identity” and “Our distinctiveness” are judgmental words, because they cast judgment and condemnation on others who are different, see things differently, have different customs.
They are contra-authorized words, prohibited because scripture advises that we count others better than ourselves and accept each other as we have been accepted in Christ.
They are unholy words, because they do not maintain the Spirit of unity in the bond of peace, but seek to supplant Him with self.
They are arrogant words, because they presume that “us” and “our” is correct and therefore righteous and therefore superior. Scripture says that no one is righteous; no, not one … except through the blood of Jesus Christ. And that through faith, which is not even of ourselves, but is the gift of God.
Only by Jesus’ sacrifice and His judgment will sheep be separated from goats; only by His grace will any be saved; only by His justice will any be excluded … not by any lines that we draw or judgments we make or by any subscriptural human teachings that we espouse as dearly as if they were God’s own words when God had no intention of saying them. And it should be to no one’s surprise that they do not appear in scripture.
They are words by which their users will be judged, and I am not at all superior to or more righteous than those who use them constantly because I have used them myself, over and over, without even thinking of the connotations of them or the perceptions of others or — most importantly — the way they sound to God’s ears.
May God forgive me.
May God forgive us all.