Like-minded: the very word conjures warmth and welcome. Like-minded people are those who understand us, who “get” what animates us.  The term surfaces often these days in both Christian and non-Christian contexts: we’re advised to look for “like-minded” partners in ministry and are invited to join groups of “like-minded” enthusiasts. Like-minded people see the world in a similar way and labor with similar goals in mind. It’s a powerful idea, and like most powerful ideas, it can also be dangerous.

An ambiguous concept

Like-mindedness in popular use is a very subjective concept. Comparison is inherent in the word itself, yet the basis of comparison is rarely made explicit. Rather, the word is employed as though it names an innate characteristic: “I found a group of like-minded artists,” or “I need a more like-minded workout partner.” It’s like trying to talk about an art gallery that will only display “accomplished” art, or a university program that admits “qualified” students. To make sense of the conversation, we need more details about the style, type, or medium of art on display, or the specific achievements and skills that fit a student for the program. No two people think alike on everything, and the ambiguity inherent in the common concept of like-mindedness actually prevents us from delineating our real points of agreement with one another.

If what makes us alike is left undefined, what divides us is equally unclear.  It’s possible for people to be “like-minded” in some areas and not in others; yet when the term is used without further qualification, it impedes rather than furthers discussion. I recently received an email at work inviting me to a virtual conference for “like-minded” people. Knowing that I differ somewhat from the organizers’ views on the conference topic, I felt excluded by this language that was meant to be inviting. Such a description does not invite critical interaction, exploration, or nuance. Shorthand for sets of beliefs is often necessary, but we must know what that shorthand means. Anything worth uniting around is worth putting into words.

An unexamined judgment

Despite the grammatical anomaly of a comparative adjective in isolation, we do infer meaning from the term “like-minded.” Presumably, it denotes being like the person rendering the judgment in ways most relevant to the proposed collaboration. A like-minded soccer team might play with similar intensity and aims and agree on the rules of the game. However, it becomes clear that there’s more to this term when we consider that a player who shares all these views, but whose politics—and desire to discuss them at practice—differ from the rest of the team, is not likely to be described by the other players as like-minded.

What is in play here? Like-mindedness often describes our experience of a person or group as much as it describes the actual individuals in question. Perhaps, even more than denoting commonalities, “like-minded” describes people we experience as accepting, understanding, and non-threatening; who offer welcome and approval, who will further and not thwart our goals. This belonging is a powerful experience, and one worth speaking about. However, when we apply the term like-minded as an unqualified descriptor of another person based on how we feel in their presence, we abandon responsibility for critically appraising our own responses. Like-minded is a qualitative (either/or) assessment: it draws a circle around an in-group. At worst, the word creates an unexamined “us” and “them,” establishing a semblance of unity that rests only on the basest elements of our human experience.

A diverse body

The church is described in Scripture as a collection of radically different people who have one all-important thing in common: they have died to themselves and live through faith in Christ as their resurrected Savior. The church is the body of Christ. As such, we’re told, it’s meant to have lots of very different parts.  Scripture expects differences in race, sex, culture, background, social status, wealth, age, and giftings within the body, and instructs us to live in harmony with one another.  Not only does Scripture expect these differences, but it honors them as God’s design. “If the whole body were an eye,” Paul asks, “where would the hearing be?” (1 Cor. 12:17) He, elsewhere, elaborates that these differences are effective in growing the church into all it is meant to be; that is, to grow up into the full stature of Christ, the head, “from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16). Thus, our growth, and even our love and unity, depend, in God’s economy, on the very differences He has assigned. In order to grow into the likeness of Christ together, we need the challenge and grace of those who see the world differently.

As an example, I’ve been privileged in my work to labor alongside people who are animated by a desire to see churches established in new locations, and others who are passionate about translating Scripture into new languages. What’s interesting is that each group tends to have a nuanced view and detailed plan regarding their own work, yet a proclivity to take the other task for granted. Church planters may feel sure that once an indigenous, healthy church is established, the church will take on—and fund—Scripture translation. And translators may believe that if they can just make clear, accurate, and natural Scripture available in an accessible format, healthy churches are sure to follow. Both of these views fall short of reality. Each is built on a kernel of truth that is the importance of their own calling, and a failure to rightly appraise the labor and vision of others. The two groups need each other’s separate focus, passion, and expertise. What the church does not need is for all of them to become like-minded generalists.

A hard-fought likeness

Despite the difficulties, like-mindedness is a biblical term. In various translations, like-minded[1] is used of believers in Romans 15:5, Philippians 2:2, 2 Corinthians 13:11, and 1 Peter 3:8. In Philippians 2:20, Timothy is commended for being like-minded[2] with Paul in his care for the Philippian believers. Other translations of these passages use phrases such as being “of the same mind,” “harmonious,” “of one mind,” “having the same attitude of mind,” “having unity of spirit,” or “of kindred spirit.” In all this verbiage, we hear echoes affirming our longing for welcome, understanding, and common purpose.

There are two significant differences between the biblical use and our common use of “like-minded.” First, like-mindedness in our culture is discovered in others, but in Scripture, it is commanded in and among ourselves. In 1 Peter 3, believers are instructed to be “harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit.” In Philippians 2:2, Paul urges the church to be “of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Romans 15:5 acknowledges God as the source of like-mindedness in the church, offering up a prayer for the believers to be “of the same mind with one another according to Christ.”

Second, the biblical authors always clarify their basis for comparison; that is, they explain how—and who—like-minded believers are “like.” Instructions to like-mindedness are fleshed out with the commands to accept and welcome one another like Christ did (Romans 15); to meet insult with blessing as Christ did (1 Peter 3); and to consider each other more important than ourselves, maintain love, and look out for each other’s interests (Phil. 2). Ultimately, as Paul continues in Philippians 2, the church is to “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” That is, the church will be like-minded when she is like Christ. By God’s power in us, we extend to one another Christ’s humility and love, His costly welcome. The ultimate purpose we share is bringing glory to God, who alone can make like-mindedness a reality among us. Biblical like-mindedness is likeness to Christ as we pursue the shared purpose of glorifying God.

The Gospel unites because God sanctifies.

How can we enjoy the gift of like-mindedness with one another in a fallen world and a fragmented society? How can junk-food addicts and whole-food advocates, attachment parents and schedulers, social drinkers and teetotalers, Republicans and Democrats, vaxxers and anti-vaxxers; runners, CrossFitters, and couch potatoes all be like-minded? First, whichever camp we’re in, that question likely conjures up some ideas about how our brothers and sisters could grow spiritually by better understanding an issue or two. Good: now we let those go. None of those things forms the basis of our like-mindedness.

Like-mindedness really begins when we see one another with eyes of faith; we now “regard no one according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:16). Christ has already declared our brothers and sisters holy, and He is inexorably making it a reality day by day until the final day when they—when we—will be perfected in Christ. Driven, unhealthy, legalistic, careless, or mistaken, the lives of all who repent and believe are hidden with Christ in God. He has paid for our sin, past and future. Even when a brother or sister is weak in faith, the instruction is to “welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions” (Romans 14:1). The foundation of like-mindedness is the gospel, which teaches us to entrust our brothers’ and sisters’ sanctification to God.

We continue to grow like-minded by learning to speak as Scripture does. First, we can follow the biblical pattern of speaking specifically about what unites us in certain contexts and endeavors, as Paul does with Timothy regarding Philippi (Phil. 2:20). This allows us to speak honestly and clearly about our differences, as well. In our longing for like-minded companions, we must believe that God’s provision for this need is the beautifully and radically diverse church. We can enjoy those relationships our Father sometimes allows to feel easy and comfortable without making an idol of them, while we encourage each other in the hard work of seeking to become like-minded companions to those who are different from us within the body.  In our conversations, we can also help each other resist the urge to take final refuge in any identity more specific or other than being God’s children, fellow bondservants of Christ. The pursuit of Biblical like-mindedness may in fact mean that some of our opinions and information on secondary issues become more private, not being aired regularly in conversation or on social media. Or it may be that they are held with a more open hand. We heed the warning not to risk destroying with our knowledge those for whom Christ died (1 Cor. 8:11). In conversation, growing in like-mindedness usually requires that we listen longer.

We move beyond shallow unity around preferences and opinions to biblical like-mindedness by trusting that God can and will complete His sanctifying work in each other. This frees us to welcome one another (including the person wearing the t-shirt for the opposing presidential candidate), prefer one another’s needs (including needs we think may be culpable), listen longer with love and humility, bear one another’s burdens, and unite around the single purpose of God’s glory. It allows us to bless each other with value and understanding even when our callings unfold in separate spheres. When our conversation, our fellowship, and our passion unite around knowing and exalting our humble and risen Savior Jesus, then each of us is animated by a vision higher than our own daily striving. Rather than struggling to be the loudest, rightest, best or first in our secondary callings, we exalt Him first in our hearts. And when we recognize that passion in one another, we discover that He is making us like-minded after all.

[1] Translating the Greek homophrones or auto phronete.

[2] Translating the Greek isopsychov.

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