The Christian calling to be peacemakers is especially urgent in the aftermath of the Referendum. Regardless of the outcome, it was always going to be the case that the population of Scotland would be deeply divided over the issue of independence. Half the population of the land will be deeply disappointed, perhaps even angry and frustrated, whilst the other half will be pleased and relieved. That could be a recipe for broken relationships.
Families have been divided over this issue, husbands disagreeing with wives, parents with children. Friends have argued, often heatedly. Neighbours have found themselves on opposing sides of the debate. How often have you seen a ‘Yes’ poster proudly displayed in a window next door to a ‘No’ poster?
Undoubtedly, our fellowship will be as divided over the issue as is the rest of the community. It is therefore important that these differences are left behind, and we learn to move on. Christians ought to set an example in this.
First of all are our responsibilities within the fellowship. Some of you voted ‘no’ and others voted ‘yes’. It is vital that we realise that what binds us together in Christ is infinitely more important than our political differences over Scottish independence. When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome, he was concerned that the church was being divided by believers who were falling out over minor matters of Christian practice, such as the appropriate food a Christian ought to eat and what holy days to observe from the old Jewish calendar (Romans 14). The Apostle applied all his apostolic authority in urging them to learn to serve one another, not fight with one another. They were to recognise that the brother or sister next to them in worship was someone for whom Christ had died.
Let me illustrate the point. When the group of influential Scottish theologians travelled to Westminster Abbey to meet with their English counterparts in the 17th century, working to produce what became the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Scots were appalled to discover that their fellow believers in England observed Christmas Day. Such special days had been abandoned in Scotland as expressions of a superstitious and unreformed church. In fact Christmas day wasn’t a holiday in Scotland till the 1950s!
Fast forward to our own generation. During my time living in Wigtown, I was told by one of my members, born in England, how appalled he was to discover when he moved to Scotland, after the war, that these godless Scots didn’t even celebrate Christ’s birth by taking a day off on 25th December!
For some believers, not celebrating Christmas Day was an expression of their concern to be faithful to Christ; for others, marking 25th December was an important expression of their love for, and gratitude to, Christ.
The lesson? Serve your fellow believer with whom you disagree over a secondary matter, by putting them first and don’t fall out over it.
How we voted in the Referendum is not a matter of the Faith. Such secondaryissues should not be the thing that comes to mind when we meet with other believers. Recognising our fellow believer as someone for whom Christ has died, our concern should be not to trip them up over minor issues but rather to build them up through service. If the first thing you want to talk about with other believers is a matter of contention then your attitude is wrong.
When the driving principle is my rights and my preferences and my freedom and my opinion then I have succumbed to the selfishness that is a denial of the Christian fellowship. Instead, I ought to be concerned, as a matter of priority, to serve others.
It is unclear how things will be in Scotland over the coming months. There has been a real and commendable concern, among politicians of all persuasions, to foster unity. The calls for such unity have attempted, understandably, to turn away from the divisiveness of the independence issue and to focus on ‘building a better Scotland’, and the like. Nothing wrong with that. Christians, however, have a more obvious focus of motivation, away from referendum issues. We are meant to be Christ-centred and Christ-focussed and Christ-serving. The key to harmony in a Christian fellowship is Christ-centredness, where our own petty preferences pale into insignificance. Disharmony is typically evidence of disaffection, not only from each other, but from the Lord,
In all of this we ought to be a living witness to the community around us; as they see how different we are in so many ways, yet recognising something more fundamental and real that binds us together.
P.S. No, I won’t tell you how I voted. My task as a preacher of the Gospel is too important to risk putting people off that message because of where I put a cross in a box!