There is a spirit of competition everywhere you look. Certainly, there is a spirit of competition in sporting events and reality television. My concern is that this spirit of competition has infiltrated other areas of life: as examples, there are some who will do or say anything so that one side of the political aisle wins and the other loses or one stratum of society rises while all other strata fall. Standardized test scores by students at primary and secondary schools are scrutinized as aggressively as baseball box scores and commercial enterprises are often engaged in a “winner-take-all” economic game of chicken.
Most troubling is the ecclesial capitulation to the culture, for we can see, more than just occasionally, the church as engaged in competition. The family of God is regularly engaged in sibling rivalry, arguing amongst ourselves that our programs are better or bigger, our fervor is purer or stronger and our worship is more spiritual or more relevant than the church down the street. The church, while competing with itself, can also be engaged in competing with the culture in a “scorched earth” war of ideas, taking no prisoners in debates on topics as varied as reproductive rights and social justice. There are times, it seems, that the spirit of competition is superseding the Spirit of God.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18 (NIV)
As an alternative to competition, allow me to suggest there are two divergent courses Christians, and the churches they represent, can take. The directions that this Frostian fork in the road creates is the path leading to compromise and the path leading to cooperation. Followers of Christ who refuse to engage in competition against anything but sin may be tempted to compromise their beliefs and practices and wrongly seek to find some middle ground. Personally, I find this unworkable in light of the biblical witness (which unwaveringly upholds absolute truth and the consequences to weakening God’s commands for cultural acceptance). It is not wise to compromise simply to reduce conflict.
Cooperation, without competitiveness or compromise, seems to be the preferred way to engage with those inside and outside the church. This would require the body of Christ to find the common ground instead of the middle ground. It means that the family of God recognizes the universal need for compassion and civility as well as truth and faith. As we embrace cooperation (literally the working together of two or more forces) among the churches, I feel God wants us to work together for the heavenly kingdom. As we embrace cooperation with those outside of the biblical faith, I feel God wants us to work together for the human race.
For me, these thoughts are not abstract but extremely practical. They inform how I see the bigger and better church down the street from me, the real estate agent who wants us to move before we are ready and my choice in November between the diplomat and the developer. Lord, help me, without a spirit of competition or compromise and with a spirit of compassion and civility, engage all those in my life for the benefit of the heavenly kingdom and the human race.