WAKE FOREST — Unity in the body of Christ can be hindered by pride, an unforgiving heart and an unwillingness to join together for the sake of the gospel message, speakers said during Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s LifeWay Conference Week.
The special chapel services, which are an annual event to focus on Christian education and spiritual formation in the local church, featured Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, and Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research.
During his address, Stetzer exhorted young and future leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention to work to close the generational divide that he said is threatening the convention.
From Titus 2:1-8, Stetzer examined the roles and responsibilities of multiple generations of believers in ministry and said it is important to overcome the challenges of generational tradition and bridge any outstanding gaps.
“I know it’s easier to birth a baby than raise the dead,” Stetzer said, referring to the importance of finding common ground among the generations rather than splintering into multiple factions.
“We share the same gospel but perhaps not the same direction,” Stetzer said. “Generation has become a dividing line in the SBC, and it hurts and hinders our witness and our mission in the world.”
A tendency to divide along generational lines stems from differences in the way one generation does church versus the way a different generation does church, Stetzer said.
“Why are we battling about the way to do church instead of standing on the word of God and taking it to every tribe and tongue in the world?” Stetzer asked.
It is the responsibility of young leaders to honor leaders from previous generations as those who fought for the Bible and built the denomination and seminaries into what they are today. Young leaders also ought to work on cultivating elders of integrity, he said.
“We need to stop seeing older members as hindrances to the plan and instead see them as fellow laborers for the gospel,” Stetzer said. “It doesn’t mean I need to treat his way as truth, but it does mean I need to honor him. There’s a promise of mutual accountability.”
To bridge the generational divide, young leaders should talk less about the way they do church and talk more about the doctrines they teach, he said.
During his address, Rainer said forgiveness is a vital part of the Christian doctrine that Christians should emphasize among the local body of believers.
The power to forgive others, regardless of how grievous the sin, is found in God alone, Rainer said, referring to Matthew 6:14-15.
“When we talk about the health of the church, perhaps one of our greatest spiritual impediments to that is the inability to forgive others,” he said.
Even within the broader SBC, some conflicts arise because people are unwilling to forgive and to realize the issue is their own hearts, Rainer said. Jesus knew people would hurt, but he didn’t give any constraints in the passage on when to forgive others, he said.
“Every Christian has been sinned against, and everyone has something in their past or present that causes them to have anger,” Rainer said. “There is no sin we should not forgive.
“ … It does not say, ‘Forgive men when they commit a minor sin against you.’ Sometimes, we have to forgive them for more than the minor,” he said. “Sometimes it is more than the petty. It’s deep and you say, ‘How can I do it?’ In God, all things are possible, including forgiving those who have hurt you.”
Rainer cited as an example the early years of his relationship with Stetzer, which he said was characterized by strife and an unwillingness to forgive.
“I despised him. We didn’t see eye to eye on hardly anything,” Rainer said.
But as God began to soften their hearts, the two men sought reconciliation with each other.
“Finally, my stubborn heart melted enough to see that I did not have an enemy but a brother in Christ,” Rainer said.
Now that Rainer and Stetzer both work at LifeWay and recognize the need for unity among the body of Christ, Rainer said they are attempting to glorify God together.
“Sometimes now we may actually be able to do some good things for the Kingdom,” Rainer said.
“… Maybe some denominations are failing because they fail to forgive. The health of the local church depends on the hearts of its people, and the restoration of our fellowship with God is predicated on our willingness to forgive others,” Rainer said.
“Though our relationship with God will hold, our fellowship with Him is broken as long as we are unwilling to forgive.”