The cinematic adaptions of comic books often change details in the process of going from comic book still images to motion pictures. Some of these changes are aesthetic and wise. A good example of this is not putting Wolverine in yellow spandex. Other changes are made for story telling reasons. The story telling ones often get the diehard fans up in arms, because often these changes are not for the best from the fan point of view. In Captain America Civil War one of the changes that was fairly dramatic was how Baron Zemo was presented, though in the movie he was just Zemo. In the comic books Baron Zemo is one of the great foils to Captain America and an archetypical power-mad, evil villain. The marvel cinematic version though is a spiritually broken man consumed by vengeance. He may not have the evil villain cool points (no menacing purple hood after all) of the comic book version, but he is much more compelling. His evil plot in Captain America Civil War is also brilliant. His goal is to destroy the Avengers, but he knows he cannot do it on his own. Instead, he gets the Avengers to turn on each other. Towards the conclusion he reveals that this was his plan all along. He explains: “ I knew I couldn't kill them. More powerful men than me have tried. But if I could get them to kill each other. . .”
While Captain America and Iron Man stop short of killing each other they do fight each other a lot, and Baron Zemo succeeded. In the end it is the heroes who do more damage to one another than their enemies could ever hope to do. Unfortunately, Christians are the same way. We can be our own worst enemy, and this happens when we elevate something that divides us over something that unites us. The New Testament has a lot of scripture about unity among believers. For instance in 1 Corinthians Paul urges that church to not have any division among them and be perfectly united in heart and mind. Unfortunately division has been a constant thorn in the side of the body of Christ.
In our current day and age, division and in-fighting seems even more common place. There is a statement that comes out of the Moravian tradition. This is a protestant denomination that had a profound impact on John Wesley. As such this Moravian wisdom has found its way into the Methodist church and you may have encountered it before. The saying states, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things love.” The concept is that in the beliefs most vital to the Christian faith, that is where we must agree with one another, have no division and be perfectly united in mind and thought. In everything that is not an essential core belief of Christianity, then as believers we are free to form our own opinions. Now our faith should absolutely inform all of our opinions and beliefs, but it is very possible for two Christians to rely on their biblical understanding and faith experience to come to different conclusions on non-essentials. That is fine because we are called to unity not uniformity. Finally, no matter what love is what covers all. This means it does not matter how much we disagree with someone, we love them anyway. We recognize that they are a precious creation of God that has sacred worth, and we value them for that.
This naturally leads to the question what is essential and what is non-essential? Fortunately, church tradition defines this for us with the creeds, which are essentially statements of essential belief. The most well-known creed is what is traditionally called the Apostle’s Creed. It states:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the VirginMary, suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church, the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.
Those are the essentials. God the Father, Jesus the son-who was, and is, and is to come, and the Holy Spirit. Notice there was nothing in there about healthcare, about immigration, about job creation or any of the other hot button issues that prove so divisive. When we are of one mind about these essentials and we consider that statement of faith to be the cornerstone of all that we believe, then unity as described in this scripture becomes possible. What unites us is the power of the cross of Christ, and that gospel should have more power in our lives than every other message there is. Often the reason why there is conflict in the body of Christ, the reason why there division is because we forget this.
By its very nature church is awkward and messy. Church is a bunch of imperfect and kind of selfish people trying to live in perfect and loving community with one another. This process is messy, and there is no way around it. When we get it right though, then it is a thing of beauty. We get it right when among the essentials there is no division among us. We get it right when we are perfectly united in mind and thought in our belief that Jesus is a great savior. When we do this, then the non-essentials, the cultural and political things that so quickly divide us do not matter as much because we realize the God that unites us is bigger than that which divides us. One day when we all get to heaven, we are going to find ourselves worshipping the Lamb of God side by side with souls we never would have agreed with on earth, because God’s grace and mercy is that big.