I’m at home today, trying desperately not to be sick. It came on me like a thief in the night last evening. I sat down from some pre-Thanksgiving preparations about 8:00 and realized I didn’t feel so good. A sneeze here, a sniff there. I had a feeling of unusual tiredness, and I realized… “Oh, no!” I reached out to my best buddies and asked them to help me pray it away, and one of them suggested I stay home today. I’m not usually one to stay home from work. I usually need someone to give me permission. Still I figured I’d go in for a while today, until morning came and I realized that wasn’t happening.
So I’m lying in bed with my snuggle buddies (the cats love sick days) and watching my favorite television series on Netflix for the third time. West Wing. I’m in the middle of season two, again, and some Chinese Christian refugees are seeking asylum in the US, and the President is meeting with their leader to determine if he really believes they are Christians, or if they are just making the claim in order to gain access to the US. It is then that I learn a new word. I have let it pass the other two times I have watched this episode in the last few years. But this time it grabbed my attention.
Shibboleth. If you are like me and have not heard this word before, let me tell you what it means. Basically, it means the one thing that sets a group apart from all others.
Back to the West Wing. The President kept asking the Chinese leader to prove his Christianity by recitation of Christian facts. Could he name the twelve disciples? Could he state their religious practices? It was then that the leader realized the predicament the President was in and he said, “Christianity is not demonstrated by a recitation of facts… but we are justified by faith alone… faith is the true shibboleth.” Faith in Jesus Christ is that which separates us from all other religions and all other groups. We try to make it about other things. Our tendency is to be pharisaical in our judgements of Christians who hold to doctrines that are not exactly like our own.
I’m not sure Jesus intended on it being all that hard. In John 14:1 Jesus told his disciples not to be troubled. He knew they believed in God, but he urged him to believe in Him. Simple. Uncomplicated. Jesus wasn’t about complicated. We tend to make easy things hard because we cannot simply accept that something so completely unfathomable could be so straightforward and uncomplicated. Its not enough to simply believe, we must also hold to this or that doctrine, or practice this or that tradition. I have listened to Christians of all flavors hurl insults at believers who disagree with them. They actually make fun, find offense, and draw lines in the sand. Denominations are not the work of Jesus. He established one church. He chose Peter, one of the most unlikely disciples upon which to build His church. Peter, the one who rarely got it right was chosen to be the rock upon which the Church would be built.
Like President Bartlett of the West Wing, we try to prove the faith of others by the recitation of facts rather than by the one thing that separates us from all groups. Our Shibboleth, our faith. If you put your faith in Jesus alone, then you are my brother or sister in Christ. All the rest of it is just details, and we all know the devil is in the details. If he can distract us from demonstrating Christ’s love to a dying world with infighting among ourselves over doctrines that don’t save anyone, then he’s done a good days work in his book.
I don’t really care if you think the world was created in a literal seven days, or if you think the wine Jesus made at the wedding contained alcohol or not. All of that stuff makes for interesting study and discussion, and I have my definite opinions on all of it, for sure (I mean except for the thing about the wine, who cares really?). But I won’t discount your faith in Jesus if you believe differently than me on those things and others.
We share Shibboleth, and that’s what truly matters.
Stay well, everyone!