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Kingdom Friendships
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Kingdom Friendships

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By Caroline Stoltzfus

“I need you to know. I hold complementarian views.” The words trickled out of my mouth like a confession. Slow, steady, and sure. Ending with a heavy pause. I braced for the reaction from my one of my coworkers, who was in the middle of describing the belief that informed so much of my life and modesty as one that was foolish and antiquated.

Three weeks earlier tectonic plates had shifted past one another in the Church over one prominent complementarian’s statement, causing a devastating quake. We were not only degrading the ministry of brothers and sisters on either side of the issue; we were modeling a heartbreaking example to a watching world.

“I know you don’t want to hurt me, and I don’t want to lie to you,” I continued. I had been holding this secret in my mind much longer than three weeks. In fact, this particular coworker had been espousing his message on male and female roles in the home and church since I began as an intern with this same Christian nonprofit six years ago. That first summer in Cleveland I was soaked in the complementarian controversy. I read books from both perspectives, spent entire car rides discussing with my now husband and wrestled in prayer, sometimes only having the words to ask God, “Why?”

A college degree, marriage, two real jobs, three cities and four churches later, the work of the Holy Spirit convicted me to find peace in the complementarian idea that author and professor Mary Kassian simply defines as, “God [having] created male and female as complementary expressions of the image of God—male and female are counterparts in reflecting his glory.”

What made this view so complicated in my workplace was not so much this coworker’s opinion, but the one of my dear friend, Billie, standing behind him listening. For the past two years, we had grown from new officemates to intense friends, meeting before work with another sister, Emily, to “hold court.” These meetings are a time where we can burden the intimacies of each other’s lives; seek each other’s wisdom, shoulder each other’s pain, and shout each other’s celebrations.

Because of our confidence, I know that the deepest desire of Billie’s heart is to plant and pastor a church with her husband. While we often learn from and laugh about the differences between her Charismatic and my Reformed church, before that moment I had never explicitly stated the words that I knew might affect her, and our friendship, so deeply.

I shifted my eyes to the background to meet hers and waited for a response.

Humble Friendships and Convicted Hearts

Do you find that theological tension wears down friendships, oftentimes before they even begin?

Instead of loving one another well and working together for our common goal of making Christ known, we tend to either avoid conversational depth, or we retreat to like-minded communities.

Is this what sola scriptura has for the Church? Paul does not write to this siloed end.

“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life,” Paul pleads in the fourth chapter of Philippians. His entire letter to the church in Philippi is one of deep affection and friendship. His charge to these two women flows out of the words he shared some paragraphs earlier, to “complete [his] joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

Thankfully, Paul uses several strokes to clarify what the “same mind” means. Simply put, it is the mind of Christ’s humility. You can turn back a page in your Bible to read that what will complete Paul’s joy is the news that his friends are counting the other more important than themselves by continually humbling their own comforts.

Our personal interests and theological holdings ought to elevate the other. This is not to say that we elevate others' theological viewpoints to a place that is beyond conviction but to say that we count the person, the Imago Dei individual, as more important than ourselves. This is the example of Christ as he took the form of man to die for the sins of Euodia and Syntyche to bring both of them to glory—not so they could endlessly argue about whose interpretation was correct.

My husband noticed during a recent sermon on Philippians 4 that when Paul implores Euodia and Syntyche to agree in the Lord, he does not go on to choose a side. He does not mandate which of these women is right in the matter. Perhaps it is not the theological matter at all, but the adversarial attitude they hold that is clearly affecting this young church. Ultimately, Paul’s concern is not with the result of the conflict, but with the Kingdom.

Pastor and author Jonathan Holmes provides a helpful redefinition of friendship that is unique in a world full of people—especially women—searching for “their person.” He writes in The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship that, “Biblical friendship exists when two or more people, bound together by a common faith in Jesus Christ, pursue him and his kingdom with intentionality and vulnerability. Rather than serving as an end in itself, biblical friendship serves primarily to bring glory to Christ, who brought us into friendship with the Father. It is indispensable to the work of the gospel in the earth, and an essential element of what God created us for.”

All too often, I have personally defined friendship as a way to gain affirmation and identity. In any given moment of friendship, I can find myself bending my values or judging more harshly to assimilate. Sisters, this is not the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ, as Paul continues to share in the sentences following his admonishment to the two Philippian women, is:

“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Paul tells us that we have the power of peace in our relationships. Many of us might consider what this passage means in light of friendships with an unbeliever, but how does our reasonableness play out in Christian circles? Do we consider fellow Christians with contrary secondary issue beliefs to be an enemy, a people to be won over? God’s words in Philippians instead encourage us to use disagreements with our sisters and brothers as an opportunity to display what true peace is—a harmony that makes no sense—so that Christ can be glorified.

When we shy away from friendships with believers who hold differing opinions on tertiary subjects for the sake of keeping the peace, we miss out on the work the Lord is doing in other parts of the body, the work He is doing in redeeming a broken world, and the work He wants to do in molding our prideful hearts to be more like His.

For the Sake of His Church

The pause ended as my coworker shared a few more sentences to apologize for any pain he may have caused and turned to head back to his desk. Billie was left standing in the doorway of my office. She held my gaze and said with misty eyes, “I’m proud of you.” Such grace.

In that moment, she was not offended by my statement but proud of my personal growth in speaking truth. Our great differences did not have to disrupt our friendship. Instead, they can become a bridge to humility and better understanding of the other. I can continue to pray for the ministry of her family, as she can for mine. We can both share our dreams for the future and trust that the Lord will use us to glorify His name and build His Kingdom on earth.

Our theological differences will not define our friendship; only the person and work of Jesus Christ can do that. So as we encounter and seek out Kingdom friendships, may we enter into conversations with humility to remove the sting of a splintered Body. May we prove unity is worth the loss of our pride to a polarized World. And may we agree in the Lord for the sake of His Church.