the gospel unites

By far one of the ugliest cars in my lifetime has been the AMC Pacer. Not only was it unsightly, but it also suffered design flaws and quirks that crippled its sales and sealed its automotive doom. Production lasted from 1975 until 1980 and nearly 300,000 plucky people chose to own one. Today only small numbers survive. The Pacer has become a bit of an oddity, a collector’s item for people in love with ugly cars from the 1970s. Not surprisingly the Pacer consistently ranks among the top ten ugliest cars ever made. Seriously.

Once the car went out of production Pacer owners became fewer and farther between. It certainly wasn’t a mainstream collector’s vehicle. People in their communities considered Pacer owners automotive odd balls. Why would anyone choose to drive an unreliable, rusty glass egg that had horrible gas mileage and no power when there were so many better options? Was it the quirky design that captured their imaginations, or an act of rebellion that made a social statement, or their only gift from the family inheritance? Only a few non-conformists dared drive a Pacer beyond the mid 1980s.

Then, along came the great equalizer—a sort of revenge for Pacer enthusiasts—the internet and social media. In 1995 Jeni created The Pacer Page to showcase her high school transportation. She quickly connected with other Pacer fans from around the world. Finally, they were no longer isolated Pacer owners. They shared a common interest that united them against all previous probabilities. And today multiple Facebook pages honor the AMC automotive legend with no fewer than 1,000 fans. The excitement is palpable. But that’s not all, you or I could search Craigslist and other websites where if we wanted our very own Pacer, we could find one and buy it!

While I have nothing against Pacer admirers, they illustrate a powerful principle at work between people. Interpersonal relationships tend to quickly move from broad associations to narrow interests. Social media, a powerful mechanism for human interconnectivity, is not exempt from this phenomenon. In fact, it appears to move this way even faster than previous communication methods. At first we cast our net wide among all sorts of people: casual acquaintances, childhood friends, high school buddies, college dorm mates, former coworkers, distant family, dearest friends, immediate family, and 500 million others. Through the excitement of so many possibilities and the thrill of finding long lost contacts, we all eventually find a small group of people who share our interests, passions or concerns. We follow them, and they follow us. We ignore everyone else, and they ignore us.

So while social media makes more friends available to us, ironically it also limits friendship to increasingly smaller bands of cronies such as Pacer lovers or Christian special interest groups. The danger for Christians is to uncritically follow this pattern and to transfer it to the local church. A melting pot of sorts, the church, gathers and unites disparate people under the banner of Jesus’ gospel. Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, allies and adversaries, and many other contrasts comprise the church and local churches. Sadly, in our era people are increasingly looking for a church that suits their preferences, meets their perceived needs, validates their perspectives, and mostly attracts people like them.

Yet rather than criticize someone else’s church, or an imagined congregation somewhere else, let’s honestly consider our hearts and churches. Do we promote cultural uniformity or Biblical unity? There is a significant difference. Uniformity requires conformity, but unity connects differences. Do we attract one demographic or multiple groups? Obviously, this depends on one’s community, but the US is an increasingly multi-cultural environment. Have we reduced the church to a single issue such as a preference for our children’s education or a commitment to a particular worship style? Someone once quipped, “God created people in his own image, and we returned the favor.” Our churches reflect this reality. Do non-believers consider the church a place where they can ask questions and explore Christianity or do they receive long lectures and unreasonable expectations? Too many churches either never welcome non-believers or they expect them to act like Christians. How are you doing so far?

Many more questions could be asked; however, the bottom line is this: the Gospel reverses our sinful tendency to divide. Where we naturally shift our interpersonal relationships from broad associations to narrow interests, the Gospel takes a narrow interest in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; and it broadens our interpersonal relationships. People from divergent ethnicities, social backgrounds, economic statuses, educational levels, and many more gather in the name of Jesus, trusting in his atonement. The gospel unites diverse people of every kind for the singular praise of God. That is amazing. And, yes, all AMC Pacer enthusiasts are welcome!

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