E3 2017: Escalating the Console Arms Race and a Plea Against Denominationalism (1 Cor 1:10-17, Eph 4:1-6)

We are days away from this year’s E3 Expo and the expectations are that Microsoft will finally fully unveil their new hardware code-named “Scorpio” in their most recent attempt to claim console superiority in the marketplace.  As we all buckle up for an exciting ride, I can’t help but think about how many times I have been in this exact same position doing this song and dance before.  I remember attending E3 the year the Xbox 360 was first shown and simply being over-whelmed by the spectacle.  It could do everything… online dominance through an enhanced version of Xbox Live, improved graphics, and boasted a library of games coming from developers all across the world.  It was promoted as the Sony killer… only it wasn’t.  As a matter of fact, it was the technically under-whelming but vastly popular Nintendo Wii console that dominated that generation in terms of raw unit sales, and with Sony and Microsoft they have remained engaged in a head-to-head battle for superiority to this day.

In my youth the war was choosing between the NES and the Sega Genesis, followed by years of tug-of war as Nintendo and their cartridge based systems did battle with Sony and their army of Playstations, Microsoft and their avalanche of Xboxes, and the sad also-ran Sega platforms that were essentially dead on arrival.  And now we head into this year’s E3 Expo with three distinct and viable platforms that are ever evolving as Microsoft takes aim at showcasing the most raw power ever found under the hood of a console, Sony continues to deliver on exclusive gaming experiences and the possibilities of their VR headset, and Nintendo looks to continue their newfound momentum with a first party library that has never truly been topped.  With all of these choices many gamers are torn between supporting one platform or another, not only based on price but also on principle.

Sony has their dedicated fans who refuse to accept that they are on anything other than the superior console, Microsoft is supported by an incredibly loyal fanbase, and Nintendo?  They are in the midst of a renaissance in which it seems every idea they touch is turning to gold right now.  Nintendo fans are constantly coming out of the woodwork as the big “N” is taking over mobile gaming, re-releasing specialty retro consoles, displaying unquestioned dominance in the handheld gaming market, and now has the hottest console on the market with the Switch.   With this wealth of choices you would think we would all be satisfied as everyone can find something that makes them happy, but most of the time when I am in my local gaming store I find this is not the case.  Many times I observe a chaotic scene as an employee is attempting to moderate a friendly but serious debate between two or more loyal gamers who are 100% certain they are playing games on the one true pure gaming platform, and everything else is just a blasphemous pretender to the throne.  Publishers even play into this by offering incentives to purchase major titles such as Call of Duty or Destiny on a select console platform and receive benefits such as early access to downloadable content or exclusive features.

But we are all still gamers, and we all support the same industry and celebrate the same hobby, so one has to wonder why can’t we all just get along?  As we and our hobby finally start to gain mainstream credibility and terms like “nerd” and “geek” are no longer hurled like hateful insults but are actually badges of honor worn with pride, one would think we would celebrate having the inside track on an exploding medium.  But it is human nature to look for the differences within our similarities and square off accordingly, and instead of enjoying a robust buffet of choices that allows all of us to have our cake and eat it with a helping of Mario-flavored ice cream on the side we still choose to draw battle lines and even question the gaming credentials of those who disagree with us.

While gaming console preferences make for entertaining discussions and lead to verbal discourses with such exciting terms as teraflops, GPUS, and memory bandwidth there are much more important battle lines that are drawn across our cities, country, and the globe that carry eternal significance.  I’m talking about the denominational divide that has accomplished more to damage the church than the devil could ever hope to.  Jesus Himself famously said in Mark 3:23-24 that a kingdom or a house divided against itself cannot stand.  And yet the very kingdom we were entrusted with, the kingdom of heaven itself is currently divided by every difference that one human being can have with another instead of realizing the power of uniting under the most powerfully good news that has ever existed.  We have divided on just about every issue of doctrine that can possibly exist, and I intend to demonstrate precisely how foolish and potentially fatal our path is if we do not choose a better one.

Have you ever been to the DMV?  It is definitely not my favorite place to spend time, and I have never had a visit that did not extend into at least an hour of my life span.  Crowded in a room of people who are sitting in the same awkward silence that I am, we come from all walks of life and have gotten here in a variety of different methods.  Some of us are veterans of the DMV like me, who are over-prepared and arrive with all of the required paperwork (and a little extra just in case) just waiting for our number to be called.  Others may be there for the first time, nervously awaiting their first driving test and praying not to fail.  Some walked, some drove, some were driven but all arrived here to take their place in line.  Many are well-dressed for their photo, others like me are in work attire, and a large contingent appear to have fallen out of bed and into their chair without any thought to appearance at all.  But whether you are young or old, rich or poor, first-timer or old-timer we are all occupying the same uncomfortable chairs and clutching our number in our hands as we await the sound of freedom when C62 is called.  Well, that’s my sound of freedom.  Yours may vary.

In this room in which every age, race, background, and gender is represented we are all seated together with a common goal and an unstated but evident desire for each of us to get through quickly and efficiently.  We are actually rooting for each other to have a quick and painless experience because the faster C61 gets through the sooner I get to the window as well as each person who arrived after me.  This remarkable unity of purpose despite our lack of other commonalities unites us and as a result we each march towards the endgame successfully.  I am perfectly fine sitting next to the nervously sweating teen who is frantically studying his driver’s manual one last time because his eventual success is also mine.  We are not so different… just at a slightly different place in our DMV needs at this time.

In 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 Paul addressed the schisms that had already presented themselves in the newborn church.  He begins this entire epistle pleading with the church to eliminate divisions and to be joined together in one mind.  Humanity hasn’t changed too much, as we see the various believers split between those who called themselves followers of Paul, followers of Peter, or followers of Jesus.  It sounds kind of silly if you think about it, since they are all on the same team.  And yet here we are, in our refined and sophisticated era of enlightenment in which we have splintered off into hundreds of denominations and even managed to split hairs within our chosen brand of Christianity.  I mean, seriously, how many flavors of Baptist exist?  Why are Pentecostals unable to swing from the same chandelier together?  Why is a group called Church of God fractured?  Methodists, Presbyterian, Lutheran…. I could go on and on but I think you get the point.  And now we come to the truly difficult but most important questions…

In the DMV I can successfully sit and wait my turn surrounded by people who do not necessarily support my beliefs or even accept my views.  We do not listen to the same music, share the same doctrinal concepts, or enjoy similar dietary patterns.  And yet none of us feel compelled to leave the room simply because of our differences.  We are all here in one accord and with one goal… a shared desire to get our license needs resolved.  So why is it that I can sit next to people for an hour in the DMV with nothing in common but our time of arrival but I cannot sit next to someone in a pew for an hour that likes a different tempo of song than I do?  How can we accept the differences of opinion when we are standing in line at the grocery store but not when we are in a church building?  I don’t question my server’s view on the second coming of Christ before gladly accepting an order of fries… but when it comes to the church body we demand uniformity or we simply can’t get along.

Now you may tell me to pump the brakes and say I am over-simplifying some very complex issues.  But I am planting a flag in the ground right here and joining Paul in saying that it must not be this way.  If we can accept each other’s differences while standing in line at Disney World then why do we allow ourselves to jump out of a church because they dress differently or wear their hair differently than we would like?  As long as we are worshipping the same God and His Son Jesus Christ why does our different levels of understanding and conviction preclude us from enjoying fellowship?  At Disney two young girls from two different continents will see each other wearing the same Cinderella dress and excitedly point to each other.  They don’t even speak the same language, but they will stand in line right next to each other as their parents snap pictures of them side by side, united by this very simple commonality.  But in our churches we have drawn battle lines on everything from music to miracles and we have divided the body as a result.

In Ephesians 4 Paul repeats his plea for unity, saying  “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”  Bearing with one another implies difficulty will be involved.  I have never had to “bear with” an ice cream sundae.  Nobody had ever said to me, “Please bear with me while I deposit millions of dollars into your bank account”.  It isn’t easy to create unity, but if we are aligned on our purpose we can see past the differences and align on our mission.  We are all going to the same place, and we are all on assignment to bring everyone we meet with us.  I hate to break it to you, but there is only one heaven and it doesn’t have separate subdivisions.  Might as well learn to  get along with your new neighbors…

Now before we finish, this is not in any way a support that all religions eventually lead to the one true God or that all paths lead to heaven.  There is only one way to heaven, and that way is through Jesus Christ (John 14:6).  But this is absolutely a plea to put away our divisions on doctrinal areas that do not pertain to what Paul listed above as the fundamental areas of unified doctrine:  We serve one God, the God of the Bible, and we have one Lord, His Son Jesus Christ.  We have one Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who indwells and guides each believer.  And we follow one faith as outlined in the Word of God and believe in being baptized under the only name given to men by which we can be saved, Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38).  So can we agree to allow the person on our left to worship differently than we do and accept that the person to our right chooses to worship the Lord on a different day of the week?  Can we put away the differences in eschatology that divide us and unify on the similarities in purpose that unite us?  The world is waiting for the proof that we are a family worthy of joining, and with all of our infighting I suppose if I was not a believer I would not want to spend eternity listening to us dispute Calvinism and rapture views either.  Let’s tear down the walls and give them something worth being a part of… One unified church body, serving the Lord and each other in love and understanding.  Even when they person across from you has a PS4.

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