It is comforting to believe that all people think like we think. They see things as we see them. They reason as we reason. They understand as we understand. Our perspectives are their perspectives. Therefore, anytime they think, or reason, or understand differently, they are consciously rejecting the thinking, the reasoning, and the understandings that all people hold in common. They know better; they just choose to reject what everyone knows.

That was my unshakable conviction in the late 1950's. I grew up in a small, rural, mountain community. And I am grateful for the blessings of that opportunity. But I had no exposure to or interaction with different peoples or different cultures. My undergraduate studies were at David Lipscomb University, which probably had less than 2,000 students at that time. That is the first time I began to encounter people who did not think like I thought. And I can still remember how outraged I was with the thinking of some of my college friends.

From 1962 to 1969 I worked with congregations in Florida and Mississippi. I encountered a entirely different group of people who did not think like I thought. I still chose to believe that my thoughts were their thoughts, but they chose to reject our common understandings. Why they would do that was beyond my comprehension.

In 1970 I moved to West Africa. I came into direct contact with European cultures and was involved in African cultures. For the first time in my life I finally realized that there really were people who did not think like I thought, who never had thought like I thought, and who never would think like I thought. My thinking and their thinking were so different that I could have come from another planet. It was at that point that God began His in-depth spiritual education of David Chadwell.

  1. For decades it has been both simple and convenient for us as members of the churches of Christ to believe that everyone thinks like we think.
    1. At those times when other people obviously do not think like we think, we were convinced that they did think our thoughts, but they refused to admit it.
      1. It is easy to understand why we came to that conclusion.
      2. As a religious movement, our roots are primarily rural and southern.
        1. Just in this congregation, what would be your guess of the percentage of members above 50 years of age who grew up in a rural community?
        2. Last Sunday we worshipped with a congregation in San Francisco.
        3. When they learned we were from Arkansas, some members immediately began telling us of their southern roots.
    2. For the first 70 to 80 years of this century, members of the churches of Christ were attracted to the church and to each other for two visible reasons.
      1. The first reason is found in the fact that we hold a common spiritual perspective.
        1. We just want to be just Christians.
        2. We just want to be the church of the Bible.
        3. We place our trust and confidence in what God did in Jesus' death and resurrection.
        4. We want Bible teachings to be the foundation of our lives and to be our spiritual guide.
      2. The second reason is found in the fact that we have similar roots and similar thought patterns.
        1. Because our roots and thinking are similar, we are comfortable with each other.
        2. If you have never considered how important it is to be comfortable with each other, just think about what happens in any congregation when one part of a congregation becomes uncomfortable with another part of the congregation.
        3. That phenomenon is as old as the church itself.
          1. Do you remember what happened in the Jerusalem church in Acts 6 when Jewish Christians who grew up in other countries became suspicious of Jewish Christians who grew up in Palestine?
          2. Do you remember all the discomfort that existed between Jewish and non-Jewish Christians in congregations such as the congregations at Ephesus and Rome?
        4. Jesus personally suffered because he created that discomfort.
          1. The Pharisees deeply resented two things about Jesus: he did not think like they thought, and he ministered to people who did not think like they thought.
          2. The Sadducees deeply resented him for the same two reasons.
    3. When Christianity began, it challenged converts' thinking through two enormous mind stretchers.
      1. The first mind stretcher was challenging them to understand and accept what God did in Jesus' death and resurrection.
        1. "We don't have to offer animal sacrifices anymore because Jesus' blood permanently destroyed our sins?"
        2. "We don't have to keep the Sabbath day laws anymore because we are in a new relationship with God?"
        3. "We don't need a priesthood anymore because Jesus himself represents us before God?"
        4. "We don't worship at the temple anymore because through Christ we have become the temple of the Holy Spirit?"
        5. "We are in a saved relationship with God because through His goodness He makes us His sons and daughters when we enter Christ?"
        6. "The power that God used to raise Jesus from the dead will raise us from the dead?"
        7. Because of Jesus' death and resurrection, everything--absolutely everything--changed; nothing remained the same.
        8. What a mind stretcher!
      2. The second mind stretcher challenged them to understand that God loves people who did not think like they thought, and He saves those people.
        1. Jewish Christians really struggled with that fact in the first century.
        2. If you want to see for yourself just how hard that struggle was for Jewish Christians, read Acts 10 and 11 and Romans 11.
      3. If you want to see clearly that God loves and seeks to save people who do not think alike, read three sermons in the book of Acts; note the differences in the thinking of these three sermons given to three different groups of people who did not think alike.
        1. The first is the sermon in Acts 2:22-36 given to Jewish people in Jerusalem.
          1. Notice the emphasis on Jewish prophecies that told about the Christ.
          2. That really clicked in their thinking.
        2. The second is the sermon given to the group at Cornelius' house in Acts 10:34-43: these were non-Jews who had attended the Jewish synagogue.
          1. Notice the emphasis is on the news they had heard about a man named Jesus.
          2. That really clicked in their thinking.
        3. The third is a sermon in Acts 17:22-31 that was given to idol worshippers.
          1. Notice two things: Paul called their attention to a god that they did not know, but worshipped, and he contrasted this creator God with an idol.
          2. That had the potential of clicking in their thinking.
        4. Clearly, here are three groups of people who did not think alike, and God wanted to save all three groups.
        5. And God could save all three groups without them learning to think alike if each group understood what God had done in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

  2. Those same two mind stretchers present major spiritual challenges to us today just as they did to those first Christians.
    1. We still struggle to believe and to trust what God did in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
      1. We still struggle with the concept of total forgiveness of sins.
      2. We still struggle to understand that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a new legal system, that it is a completely different way to relate to God through a Savior.
        1. There was no Savior in the Mosaical system.
        2. There is a Savior in Christianity.
      3. We still struggle to learn, to understand, and to trust the goodness, the kindness, and the mercy of God.
      4. That is a major mind stretcher among Christians today.
    2. We still struggle to believe and trust the fact the God loves and saves people who do not think like we think.
      1. It is common for Christians to be sincerely convinced that if people do not learn to think like we think that they cannot be saved.
      2. It is common for Christians to believe that for any person to be saved that it takes more:
        1. Than faith in Christ.
        2. Than repentance, more than a redirection of life.
        3. Than baptism into Christ.
        4. Than letting the New Testament teach us about new life in Christ.
      3. All of that must happen, but somewhere in the process, the person has to learn how to think like we think.
    3. We long to believe that everyone can think like we think--we long to believe that because it makes everything so simple.
      1. But our own families and our own brothers and sisters in Christ are constantly revealing that just is not the case.
      2. We don't think alike.
        1. A Christian whose whole life from birth to maturity was spent in an urban environment does not think like a Christian whose whole life from birth to maturity was spent in a rural environment.
        2. A Christian with an advanced education does not think like a Christian with a basic education.
        3. A Christian who has never married, who has lived for years as a single adult, does not think like a happily married Christian.
        4. An adult Christian who lives with the scars and wounds of growing up in a seriously dysfunctional family does not think like a Christian who grew up in a stable family with healthy relationships.
        5. A Christian who has experienced the unwanted rejection and trauma of divorce does not think like a Christian who has never had that experience.
        6. A Christian who is recovering from an addiction, or a rape, or incest does not think like Christians who never had those horrible experiences.
      3. A living, maturing, growing, healthy congregation will always be composed of people in Christ who do not think alike.
        1. There are some Christians who will spend their lives learning to trust God's mercy as they wage war against an enormous problem that they must face every day they live.
        2. There are some Christians who will spend their lives putting life back together again.
        3. There are some Christians who have the gift and talent to teach who will spend their lives teaching.
        4. There are some Christians who have the gift and talent to serve who will spend their lives serving.
        5. There are some Christians who have the gift and talent to lead who will spend their lives leading.
      4. Aside from believing in the Savior, aside from constantly growing in knowledge and understanding of the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is no one thing that must be alike in all Christians.
        1. Some will always need encouragement as they wage their war against their problems.
        2. Some will always need reassurance in the mercy and the promises of God as they seek to overcome tragic pasts.
        3. Some will always need guidance and help as they struggle to understand and accept God's love.
        4. Some will always need a challenge as they seek higher levels of commitment and service.
      5. Every spiritual need that exists among us and every spiritual need of those outside of Christ are legitimate spiritual needs.
        1. There are no simple answers.
        2. But Jesus Christ, our Savior, is adequate for every spiritual need.

To decide that the only people that we want to attract to Christ are people just like us is a disastrous decision. Let me speak a moment to those of my generation and older. Have you noticed that people just like us are disappearing? If you haven't, take a serious look at your children and your grandchildren. They don't think like we think. Their roots are different. The everyday world they live in is different. Their experiences are different.

If we seek to attract people to Christ just like us, there will be fewer and fewer people to attract. And when we die, there will be very few people like us left. So, when we die, after our years of sacrifice and work, the congregation dies. It will not die because there are no opportunity or no needs. It will die because it only knows how to minister to and teach people who are just like us.

I decided I do not want to help that happen. I decided I want to do what it is in my opportunity to do to keep that from happening. What will you decide?

Jesus died to save everyone.
He will never reject you.
It is your decision.
Won't you come to Christ?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 25 May 1997

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