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Pondering Division and Unity in Lebanon and Beyond

by Loulwa El Maalouf

Lebanon remains a failed state, and God continues to remind us that there is hope. This blog post is not about new ideas, but rather musings on how God can always use His church for His purposes, and how a church united leads others to know Him.

Lebanon continues to be President-less (for the sake of Lebanese history I suggest this word be added to the dictionary). The position of President in the country has been vacant for over a year. This is not the first time that has happened. Once again, the Parliament has so far failed to elect a new president for the country. It is not only that we have failed leadership in this country, we currently do not have leadership at all. Of course, there are the usual party and religious leaders who lord it over their followers and increase divisions. One of the main reasons Parliament has failed to elect a new president is the deep divisions in the country. Lebanon is a country divided. Our sectarian political system is, even at its best, built on division. Outside of Lebanon, divisions in the world continue to result in ugly wars.

Every time I see division I think of the fallen nature of mankind. Division was clear as soon as God confronted Adam, when he blamed Eve and also God for his own disobedience (see Genesis 3:9-13). After they got kicked out of Eden, we saw their nuclear family further broken down and divided: it was so divided that Cain killed Abel (see Genesis 4:8). The world is continuously being divided, left and right (pun intended), on a large scale, with man-made boundaries called countries, each with its own good and bad. The division continues, to smaller and smaller units. It is disturbing how in everything humans need to take sides and be divided. Nation against nation, race against race, men against women and women against men, tribe against tribe, wife against husband and husband against wife!

Unfortunately, we see this division in the body of Christ as well, whether in inter-church or intra-church conflicts, sometimes as covert conflicts, and other times as overt conflicts. We have recently been seeing such examples in Lebanon on multiple levels: followers of Christ who have the same Master, either slandering or subtly attacking each other. Sometimes it is because of differences, and other times because of love of power and control.

Before Napoleon, before Julius Caesar, and before Philip II of Macedon, I would guess that Satan really liked the idea of divide-and-conquer. Seeing the church divided and broken, failing in its missional role, gives him pleasure. In 1 Peter 5, Peter is talking to elders, warning them that the devil is going around like a lion wanting to devour someone. He is talking in the context of serving and humility. Perhaps serving others and being ready to humble ourselves is one way to resist the devil and not succumb to division.

Thankfully, Christ Himself prayed for the unity of His Church:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

Growing up, I was able to experience fellowship with many church communities. Through youth groups, worship meetings, and mission trips, I met and worshipped with followers of Christ from different denominations. It was an amazing experience to see how there were faithful God-loving believers everywhere and how they each reached different types of people for Christ. Timothy Keller said that nowhere in the Bible does it say one church or denomination has all the gifts and talents. I experienced that and grew to appreciate differences in churches and denominations. Unity does not mean we need to all look alike.

Unity does not mean that we cannot have different denominations; it does not mean that we cannot go out and plant new churches or start new ministries; and it does not mean that we cannot have differences. On the other side, division is ruling over each other like the leaders of the world do over their people, creating partisanship; division is slandering other churches or believers because we are concerned only about ourselves and have the “crab mentality” where we need to pull others down so that we can climb over them; division is focusing on our religious system and traditions rather than on Christ.

However, God has one Church. Tim Keller explains that the first church practiced unity by sharing their possessions and sharing their problems. My hope is that instead of creating problems and competition, our churches support each other. Thus, as Christ prayed, the church would serve as a testimony to the world, demonstrating His love and unity with the Father, so that the world may believe in Him.

In the last couple of years at ABTS, I have been able to witness some wonderful examples of unity among different churches. Through our peacemaking work, we have seen pastors from very different denominations come together and share their problems and pray for one another. I am sure this happens in many places in Lebanon and around the world – where the love of Christ unites people from different backgrounds and traditions. Another example of unity in the body of Christ I see comes through our friends and partners. Imagine a church in a rural part of the Midwest sharing her resources with the Arab church! Churches that are completely different culturally and ethnically, that may not even have exactly the same set of beliefs and traditions, but are united by the love of Christ and love for His mission. There are many such examples!

These examples give me hope for the church in Lebanon and the global body of Christ. My prayer is that the church in Lebanon will arise to be a model of unity for the whole country. A united church can be much more powerful in lifting its country and leaders in prayer. Also, because a united church understands the value of others despite their differences, it can provide an example for the different sects and parties in Lebanon to better work together. And, most importantly, a united church in Lebanon brings glory to God and gives a reason for many to know Him.

Finally, I also pray for the global church to be united. The wars and dehumanization that we are seeing reflect the human tendency for division since the Fall. If churches around the world and between conflicting communities are aware that there are disciples of Christ in every tongue and every nation, then disunity is no longer an option. No doubt, a united church that loves its neighbors and its enemies can become a much better agent for peace and justice in our world.

 

Loulwa is the Director of Partnerships at ABTS. She is studying toward a PhD in Organizational Leadership at Columbia International University and is amazed at how God chooses to work through people for His glory.

5 Comments

  1. Margaretjohnston@gmail says:

    Loulwa, this is a welcome piece of writing for our times.Thank you.

  2. Mike Kuhn says:

    Thanks for this, Loulwa. I appreciated your thoughts on unity amidst diversity. It’s needed in our day. A reunited church would do much to mend a fractured world.

  3. hassan says:

    Thank you Loulwa, God bless you

  4. Ashraf Zaki Nakhla says:

    I really appreciate the time and effort you put into sharing your thoughts and experiences. It’s always refreshing to read different perspectives and learn new things. Keep up the great work!

  5. Brent Hamoud says:

    “Our sectarian political system is, even at its best, built on division. Outside of Lebanon, divisions in the world continue to result in ugly wars.”

    Thank you for the reflection, Loulwa. You show well that so many of the problems of division around us are actually political problems. (I believe that’s the case for countries AND for churches). It is a reminder that we urgently need contextualized political theologies to problematize the challenges around us and direct us in faith towards hopeful opportunities.

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