Keep the Faith and Faithful Friends
An article from SVM Fall 2014
By Mary K. Thompson
LOUISVILLE, Ky.—When God called us, He invited us to have a growing relationship with Him. Another benefit of His involvement in our life is the opportunity for us to develop deeper relationships with other people.
It is sad to notice how some people sometimes have a difficult time maintaining relationships with people who attend a different church.
I recently got an email from a good friend of mine who was preparing for a Christian retreat. The retreat organizers had asked her to contact friends and ask them to identify spiritual gifts they saw in her. I was readily able to identify many spiritual gifts that she has.
Since I knew this woman well and we have shared openly about our desire to know, love and serve God, it was easy to identify these gifts. I have seen her growth over many years and have benefited greatly from sharing with her about my faith and struggles.
We went through a lot together as teenagers, young parents and now mature women with grandchildren. She has remained in the church we grew up in, and I have left that church and hold some different doctrinal beliefs now.
We have talked about this a bit but mainly continue to share about our faith journey and do not dwell on doctrinal differences. If she asks about my beliefs, I am ready to share them. But, if she doesn’t ask, that is fine too.
It does not occur to me for a minute to question whether she is in a relationship with God. I intimately know how deep her love for God is and have seen her grow spiritually. I have leaned on her faith at times when mine was tested. I do not see her as misled or deceived even though I now disagree with some of the doctrines she holds.
Why Lost Relationships?
I am grateful that she does not worry about my relationship with God even though I have left the church I grew up in. I am sure some in that church would consider me to have lost my faith. She continues to pray for me and asks that I pray for her.
We respect one another and I count myself fortunate to have a childhood friend with whom I can still share my faith, even if our understanding of God and His plan may differ in some ways.
My faith is in God, not in a specific church or even in a set of doctrines. It is God who does not change, but my understanding may change and has changed over time.
I think what allows us to continue to share our faith journeys, even if not all of our specific beliefs, is that we both trust that our relationships with God are very important to both of us.
We also trust that God is working with each of us and we can leave that work to Him. I am not responsible to correct her beliefs and she does not feel she needs to correct mine.
Conviction and Compassion
Certainly it is important to follow where God and our study of the Bible are leading us. We should be willing to “count the cost” and be willing to lose relationships if necessary to follow God.
Of course, we will want to worship with others who worship in the ways that seem best to us. If others are trying to control us and force their beliefs or doctrines on us, we should resist that and hold to what we understand and believe.
Often, however, it is not necessary to lose these relationships. With mutual respect and trust in God, many rich relationships can continue and flourish despite changes or differences in doctrinal beliefs.
My husband and I recently attended the Feast of Tabernacles in Flagstaff at a site sponsored by the Church of God Big Sandy. While we enjoy the edifying messages, we greatly appreciate the loving environment that encourages loving fellowship.
At the site this year, we were aware that some of those attending were using a different calendar. This meant that they were planning to stay at the Feast site for a few extra days.
Some had done a lot of study on that issue and, if asked, they were willing to share about it. It was clear they were happy to share the Feast with those of us on a different calendar, and there was no sense of judgment or condemnation about that issue.
There was a sense of love and shared meaning in keeping the Feast and respect for others keeping a slightly different calendar.
It was clear that the priority was on a loving relationship with God and others. This was a good witness in placing the importance on the central understanding of God’s plan and on loving God and others.
I was recently struck in reading the book of Acts to realize that Paul and Peter had some strong differences. Neither was “disfellowshipped” over these differences.
We see in the book of Acts how Peter had a vision from God that allowed him to understand what God’s plan was for the gentiles. This allowed him to grow in his understanding.
Evidently Paul was willing to wait for God to give Peter this understanding. Likely this was in part because Paul was aware of how wrong he previously had been in his understanding of God, and recognized that God patiently worked with him about that understanding.
This is an example many of us would be wise to follow. Maybe we can leave it up to God to correct the understanding of those who are seeking Him.
Perhaps more people can avoid becoming exclusive concerning with whom they meet, with whom they talk and for whom they pray.
Rather, people can help one another and support one another as they lovingly share their understanding