Christianity 201

November 9, 2017

When We Disagree (When Disagreements Arise, Part 3)

by Clarke Dixon

It is ridiculously easy to create disagreement in churches. Simply suggest painting the sanctuary, and presto, a disagreement arises over the colour. But you don’t even need to do that. Most churches harbour theological disagreements Sunday by Sunday, ours included. You won’t get very far into the Bible before disagreements arise. Some people from our church think that the earth and the universe is young, only several thousand years old. Others in our church family think our earth and universe is old, very, very old. Each can point to experts in the fields of science and theology to back up their claims. Both have different takes on how one should approach Genesis chapter one.

Certain passages of Scripture are tricky when it comes to knowing how to read them,  Genesis chapter 1 included. Is it a purely historical writing, or a poetic way of teaching theology without getting into the scientific details? On matters like these, and there are plenty of matters like these, most churches, even where there are strong opinions in the pulpits, have disagreement in the pews. What are we to do with such disagreements?

As “Convention Baptists” we could turn to the publication “This We Believe“, which we have agreed upon as our standard summary of belief. However, we will not find much within it regarding the age of the earth, or clarity on some other disputable matters we might want cleared up. Perhaps we could come up with our own supplementary summary calling it “This We Also Believe”? We could argue out all the details, declaring the winners on each point of theology until we had unity on each and every point of doctrine. We could then declare ourselves to be absolutely pure on doctrine. All five of us left once the smoke has settled.

Is there a better way? Scripture itself points us to a better way in Romans 15:1-7. Let us take a look at how Paul handled disagreement among the Christians at Rome. With some declaring freedom when it comes to Jewish sensibilities, and some finding such indulgence to be ungodly, let us see how Paul handled the disagreement:

We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. . . . Welcome one another . . . Romans 15:1,7

First, let us notice what Paul does not do here. He neither declares a winner nor suggests holding a congregational meeting to determine a winner. A church council has already occurred to determine that Gentiles need not become Jews to become Christians. But here in Rome, the Gentile Christians are not to declare victory. Instead they are to put up with the fact and the results of the fact that some continue to see things differently. In fact, people on both sides of the issue are to “Welcome one another” (Romans 15:7).

Part of laying aside the desire to be declared the winner is putting aside the need to be pleased, which brings us to our next point:

2 Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. 3 For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” Romans 15:2-7

When we are in a disagreement, we are so quick to build a winner’s podium for ourselves. We will be pleased when we can stand on it having being declared correct. The way forward, however, is the building up of the people we are in disagreement with. This is the Christian way, for it is Christ’s way. Jesus was beat up. We are built up. Death on the cross hardly seemed like the self-pleasing option in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet Jesus bore the cross for us anyway. To live in harmony with one another we may need to pick up a cross along the way.

Next, there is the encouragement to look back.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4

Paul is referring to what we now call the Old Testament when he speaks of “whatever was written in former days”. What are we to find as we look back? What, from the past, brings hope? What brings hope is how God handles those who should be declared the losers. Promises are made in the Old Testament, for both Jews and Gentiles, that are fulfilled in the New. In Romans chapters 1 through 3, Paul teaches how both the Gentiles and Jews alike “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). They are in a place of being declared lost. Yet in Christ there is a wonderful opportunity;

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:56-57

Because of sin and rebellion, those without the law (Gentiles) do not deserve God’s welcome into His presence. Likewise, those with the law (Jews) do not deserve God’s welcome into His presence. Yet now, “Christ has welcomed you” (Romans 15:7).

Instead of treating ourselves like winners, let us focus on treating those we think are the losers in the same way God treats those who are lost; with a sincere welcome.

Finally, instead of declaring victory, glorify God;

5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:5-7

We are to glorify God with one voice. As believers in Jesus Christ we are singing the same song. However, we may find ourselves sometimes singing a different note than the person next to us. God is not glorified if we stop in the middle of a hymn so that we can bicker about the notes. God is not glorified when our greatest priority is getting everyone to sing our particular note. God is glorified when we sing in harmony. If we can’t sing the same notes, let us at least sing in harmony!

Did you notice that verses 5 and 6 are a prayer? It is as if Paul knows that the Christians in Rome will find this all very difficult. So rather than simply tell them what to do, he asks the Lord’s help. Handling disagreements can be difficult. The Lord will help us sing in harmony to His glory!

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Catch up on any of this series you’ve missed here or at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

December 9, 2015

When Peace Returns

•••click the title below to read this at Clarke Dixon‘s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

ISIS Goes Global. So Does Peace.

The term World War Three is popping up more and more these days. With ISIS extending its reach and more nations lining up to reach back the war on terror is looking more and more like a worldwide thing.  And ISIS is only one part, there is still Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Taliban, and others besides. “It’s a small world after all” is feeling less and less like a feel good statement and more and more like a lament the world is too cramped. Will there ever be peace? Will we ever be able to stand together as different nations, peoples, and races?

This question in answered in the book of Revelation:

9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9)

It's a Small World After AllNotice that the people in this vision are standing together. Finally, people standing together in peace! One thing I miss about my former church in Ottawa is the diversity in our worship. There were times you could look around and see people from Canada, Jamaica, Russia, Iran, Benin, Haiti, China, England, and N. Ireland not to mention the Congo when we combined services with a  sister church. Those combined services were a special treat with different races worshipping together in English, French, Swahili, and Lingala. It felt like a foretaste of Revelation 7:9, many peoples standing together in worship.

With all the wrangling over land, resources, and ideologies, we may correctly be cynical about ever expecting peace on earth this side of heaven. But we ought not to be surprised that God has promised to bring people together in harmony. The Bible has pointing this way for a long time. Do you remember the last time we enjoyed peace on earth? Yes, it did actually happen once. There were only two people on earth at that time mind you, but there was peace on earth! This was God’s intention from the get-go: peace and harmony. We see hints and pointers to this throughout scripture.

Like the promise to Abraham:

in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)

Like the words of an angel announcing a birth:

see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10)

Like the words of a whole big party of angels celebrating a birth:

and on earth peace among those whom he favors. (Luke 2:14)

Like Simeon on seeing the baby Jesus:

30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel (Luke 2:30-32)

Like John 3:16,17

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

Like our Lord’s Commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:19)

. . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8 NRSV)

Like the Day of Pentecost:

7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power. (Acts 2:7-11)

Like the day the original Jews for Jesus realized Jesus wasn’t just for Jews:

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. (Acts 10:34-36)

And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life. (Acts 11:18)

All these and more are pointers to a coming reality:

9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9)

Who are these people and why are they able to stand together? 

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14)

Before we notice that these people are standing together we should notice that they are standing before God. This has incredible significance for it is a wonder that they should be able to stand there at all. In fact the seventh chapter of Revelation is an answer to a question raised in chapter six:

15 Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand? (Revelation 6:15-17)

Who is able to stand in the day of God’s judgement of sin? There is not one person who is able to raise their hand, point to their own righteousness and say “I am.” Yet here in Revelation 7 we have a multitude standing. The answer is those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14) It is because of what God has done for us through Jesus at the cross that we can have peace with God, that we are able to stand in His holy presence. And it is because of God’s work in our lives that we will be able to stand together in harmony and peace.

While we cannot stand together before God on the strength of our own efforts, we are to be involved and active. Notice that the multitude are those who have done their washing! They have actively participated. They have repented. Salvation is completely the work of God in our lives through Jesus. But we are not saved to simply sit around waiting for the Prince of Peace to return and bring the Day of peace. We are saved to be peacemakers. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This is the work of God in us and for us, but also in us and through us, for others.

Peace on earth might seem like an impossible dream. But when God is the One with the dream, nothing is impossible. Advent reminds us that the Prince of Peace is on His way. Despite the wars and rumours of wars all around us, we don’t just look forward to peace, we lean into it. Come Lord Jesus.

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV. Emphases are mine.

 

March 29, 2015

Don’t Get Pushed Around

galatians5_1

Devotional ideas come by a variety of means. Today I found a scrap of paper in something my father owned, on which was written the name Richard L. Strauss (a Christian writer, not the music composer). I looked into his writings and much of what is available online would be too lengthy to use here, but this one met the size parameters, and I felt I was meant to use it today. The scripture verses are in King James, but you can update them at BibleGateway.com or similar sites. The late Dr. Richard L. Strauss was pastor of Emmanuel Faith Community in Escondido, California.

Why Get Pushed Around?

NOBODY LIKES to get pushed around. We don’t like to get stepped on, taken advantage of, treated unfairly, or denied our rights. True, Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. But we still find it demeaning and degrading to get pushed around.

When it comes to spiritual issues, however, all of a sudden most of us get very weak-kneed. All of a sudden, we’re ready to back down, to give in, to roll over and play dead. And yet, this is where the Bible tells us to hold fast.

No wonder, therefore, the New Testament has so much to say about standing firm. I would like to explore some of the Scriptures in which the Greek word steko, meaning “to stand firm”, is used. Let’s find out the specific issues on which we are to stand firm, the specific areas where we must refuse to let Satan push us around.

1. In the faith.

Spiritual warfare is stamped all over the four commands the Bible gives in I Corinthians 16:13. It reads: “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.”

First, “Watch.” Like armies in battle, we Christians should always be watchful of enemy movements; we must be constantly on the lookout for potential attack by Satan. Secondly, “stand fast in the faith.” When we see an attack coming, we may be most tempted to retreat, or even desert. But when our faith is threatened, God wants us to stand firm, to hang tough.

The last two commands involve combat itself. “Quit you like men” is a quaint King James rendering that means “Act like men”. In other words, be brave, be courageous, whatever dangers you face. And finally, “Be strong.” Use all the power that God has made available to you through His Spirit.

AWOLs. The ranks of professing Christians has had many deserters. Most Christian young people know, for example, that the Bible’s explanation of life, the universe, man and history is the only truth. Yet, when they are confronted with the anti-Christian bias in the secular school, they wilt.

Christian adults are no stronger. All too often, believers subordinate their Christian commitments to worldly demands; people who profess to be Christians typically allow their work or even hobbies to keep them from studying the Bible or serving their Savior.

In Daniel, we have an outstanding Biblical model of one who is truly standing firm in the faith. Daniel’s commitment to his God was tested from the moment he arrived captive in Babylon as a young man. But when he was forbidden to pray on pain of death, he prayed anyway, trusting God to care for him as He chose.

Let’s dare to be the Daniels in our world. Let us stand firm in the faith whatever the cost.

2. In our freedom.

Freedom from the law is the theme of Galatians. God does not accept us because we’ve kept His laws. We are saved only because He has forgiven us and has granted us the gift of life in His Son.

But there are always people who would like to get you back under the law. That’s why Paul says in Galatians 5:1: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

The trouble with the legalists is that they don’t understand God’s grace. They think it’s dangerous to let people out from under the law. Actually, legalism is the more dangerous teaching. For one thing, the legalists tend to compare their “obedience” with others; and pride, of course, goes before a fall.

For another, they tend to rely upon their own strength to keep the rules. And the inevitable result of self-reliance is a spiritual nose dive. Worn out from trying in vain to keep the law in the energy of the flesh, some of them just give up in despair. Others, thinking that God owes them something for their efforts, get disillusioned when they don’t get what they expect.

Paul vs. Peter. Standing firm against the legalists is not easy, to be sure. Strong, seemingly-spiritual personalities will sometimes put heavy pressure on you. Paul had that experience. It was none other than the great Apostle Peter, who got himself trapped in the legalistic rule that Jewish believers should not eat at the same table with Gentile believers, and Peter was influencing others to think the same way.

But Paul stood up to Peter. He wrote in Galatians 2:14: “But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?”

The pitfalls of legalism are endless. Satan would love to get you bogged down in one of them. So, watch out for him. Don’t get tangled up in that web of bondage. Like Paul, we must stand firm in our Christian liberty, as well as in the Christian faith.

3. In one accord.

Paul says in Philippians 1:27, “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ; that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”

Instead of maintaining unity and harmony, we Christians have been fighting one another all over the place. Churches are splitting over trivial issues, para-church organizations are feuding against one another, Christian husbands and wives can’t get along, parents and children are at war.

This was a problem at Philippi. After the above exhortation, Paul went right on to settle a church fight between two wrangling women. They were probably fighting over their own views, their own rights, their own ways of doing things. But Paul says, “No, no, no. The most important issue in the church is unity, harmony and love; not your views, your rights, and your ways. Our love for each other is that which distinguishes us from the world. Stand firm in that.”

This often requires our giving in to others, letting them take advantage of us, forgiving them when they wrong us. Isn’t that interesting? Letting others push us around may be the very thing we need to stand firm against Satan, who seeks to sow discord among us. Don’t let Satan push us around in this matter anymore. Stand firm in the faith, in your freedom, and in one accord.

4. In the Apostles’ doctrine.

We read in II Thessalonians 2:15: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”

What have they been taught? Our King James translation says “traditions”, but the idea in the Greek word paradosis is the authoritative teaching that has been handed down. It emphasizes the authority outside the immediate teacherin this case, the authority of God. He gave this truth to the apostles, and they passed it on, sometimes by spoken word and sometimes by letter. But we have it today recorded and preserved in our Bibles.

To stand fast and hold firm onto the Word of God, we need to get familiar with it. Learn what it means and how it applies to life. Some people will try to move you away from it. They will tell you that it’s old fashioned; they’ll laugh at you for still following it in this day and age.

It would be so easy to get caught in the tide of social or cultural changes. But we must hang on to the time-tested truths of God’s Word. Stand firm. Don’t back down. Don’t let anybody push you around when it comes to the doctrine of Scripture. It doesn’t matter who else believes it or who doesn’t. When you live by the old adage, “If God says it, I believe it, and that settles it”, you will have clear direction and purpose.

Yes, we must stand firm in the faith, in the freedom we have in Christ, in unity and harmony with other believers, and in the doctrine of the Holy Scripture. We can do it because we have Christ who strengthens us. Having now seen what the Word of God commands, may all of us have a little more spiritual grit and gumption in standing up for Christ whenever Satan tries to push us around.


The book title by Richard L. Strauss that was written on the piece of paper is The Joy of Knowing God. It has been posted online and can be read in its entirety without any additional software or apps by clicking this link.  Another book by the same author is also available in full, How To Really Know The Will of God at this link.

November 1, 2014

Wait a Minute! What Did Jesus Just Say?

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Yesterday we looked at the subject of unity in the body of Christ and it’s hard to discuss this subject without remembering John 17:21. This is Jesus praying before the crucifixion:

…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (NIV)
…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (ESV)
…That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. (KJV)

This verse is often used as a rallying cry for Christian unity and promotes the ideal that there would be no division in the capital ‘C’ Church.

But Jesus isn’t just saying that, he’s saying that we would be one just as the Father (to whom he is praying) and himself are one.  What does that mean?

trinity 1

We’ve used this diagram before here to promote the idea that each part of what we call the Godhead maintains complete unity with the other but is also distinct. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Spirit is God. But the Father is not the Son or the Spirit; The Son is not the Father or the Spirit; The Spirit is not the Son or the Father.

This is summed up in The Athanasian Creed. When you click through, you see something much longer than the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. Part of the length is this qualification that each holds distinction but is part of the unified whole.  (I once suggested it was written by lawyer!) The purpose is to spell out the complexity of what we call Trinity in unmistakable terms.

There is also some additional language that stems from this:

And yet there are not three eternal beings;
there is but one eternal being.

For the person of the Father is a distinct person,
the person of the Son is another,
and that of the Holy Spirit still another.
But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,
their glory equal, their majesty co-eternal.

So…back to John 17:21. Is Jesus suggesting that in becoming one with the Father just as he and the Father are one, we need to re-draw the diagram? Does that make us part of the Godhead, too? (Father, Son, Spirit, Church?) Some tools at BibleGateway.com are useful here.

From the Asbury Bible Commentary:

In nature this was identical to the oneness that united Son and Father, and it was characterized by the same glory. Its purpose was that by observing it the world might come to know that God had indeed been behind the mission of Jesus and that his blessing was on the church.

From the Reformation Bible Commentary:

This prayer for unity is not merely for a “spiritual” or invisible unity, but for a unity that is visible to the world, “that the world may believe.”

IVP Bible Commentary:

What follows is usually seen as the content of Jesus’ prayer for all disciples—that all of them may be one (v. 21)—as it is in the NIV. The word that (hina) is used this way quite often, but it also frequently signals purpose. Jesus uses this same language in two other places in this prayer (vv. 11, 22), both times clearly indicating purpose, which suggests he intends this meaning here as well…

Matthew Henry:

Some think that the oneness prayed for in John 17:11 has special reference to the disciples as ministers and apostles, that they might be one in their testimony to Christ; and that the harmony of the evangelists, and concurrence of the first preachers of the gospel, are owing to this prayer. Let them be not only of one heart, but of one mouth, speaking the same thing. The unity of the gospel ministers is both the beauty and strength of the gospel interest. But it is certain that the oneness prayed for in John 17:21 respects all believers. It is the prayer of Christ for all that are his, and we may be sure it is an answered prayer—that they all may be one, one in us (John 17:21), one as we are one (John 17:22), made perfect in one, John 17:23

So first of all with respect to the idea that Jesus would incorporate the Body into the triune relationship, this is not intended. Jesus is not suggesting that. The request is not literal, nor is it hyperbole, but it is a simile.

Rather, Jesus is praying that we would have the same type of unity, the same type of intimacy enjoyed by the Father, Son and Spirit.

What would it look like to see that happening in The Church today?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 31, 2014

Wanted: Unity in the Body of Christ

The Church Works Best When We Work Together

Our text today is from Ephesians chapter 4:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
    he took many captives
    and gave gifts to his people.” 

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

We live in a bullet point world, so some of you will appreciate the point-form layout of today’s devotional from Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM). I thought some of you might find this “cut to the chase” approach refreshing. To read this at source, click on the title below:

Ephesians 4:1-16, Live worthy of your calling

Introduction

The Christian church is under increasing attack from the world both here in America and abroad. Churches are being destroyed, and Christians are being killed all over.  But we here in America face a different attack, and it is from within the church.  Among many issues that we as Christians need to work on, disunity is one of the more prevalent problems.

Our propensity for division is natural to our sinful natures, and this is why God inspired Paul to tell us to live in a manner worthy of the calling which we have received.

  1. First of all, God wants you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received (Read verses 1-3. But what does that mean, “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received”?).
    1. There are many examples around us of what it means to live in a manner worthy of a calling.
      1. A policeman, when he works, is supposed to be an example of the Law.  He lives worthy of his profession.  He doesn’t steal, and he doesn’t cheat . . . He defends and upholds the Law.
      2. A doctor also is supposed to live worthy of his profession.  He heals the sick.  He cares for those who are ill and seeks to make them well.
      3. A farmer tills the soil and produces food for thousands.  He is called to this task and is gifted to accomplish it.
    2. As a Christian, there are marks of what it means to live a life worthy of the calling.
      1. In this section they are throughout. Look with me at verses 1-3
        1. “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance (endure with) to one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
        2. Several fruit of the Spirit are listed here:  humility, gentleness, patience, love, and peace.   All for a purpose, unity in the body of Christ.
          1. Therefore, in order for unity to occur in the body of Christ, we Christians need to exhibit humility, gentleness, patience, endurance, love, and peace.
  2. Alright, so God wants you to live in a manner worthy of being called a Christian.  But why? Why does God want you to be humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another, loving, united, and peaceful?
    1. First of all it is because God has called you all into unity.  (Read verses 4-5: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism”).
    2. The reason that it says “one faith, one Lord, one Baptism” is that it is into one church that you are all baptized; that is, it is into one faith: the Christian faith–Calvinists and Arminians alike, male and female, young and old, immature and mature, black, white, and brown.  One faith as a whole, and one faith in the particulars, one faith in the decisions that a church must make for the purpose of glorifying God, being united in love, and expanding the kingdom of God.
    3. Take for example a Military Unit.
      1. It has one leader; it works as a unit; it moves in one direction; it receives its orders and obeys them.  All those in it work well together because they have been trained to do so.  Sometimes individual members of the group don’t like what they are called to do, but they do it anyway for the greater good.  Therefore, they are able to accomplish a great deal because they act as one.
      2. Didn’t Jesus say, “And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them; that they may be one, just as We are one;” (John 17:22).
    4. God wants you to be united because (v. 6) there is “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
      THE CROSS!

      1. You have been bought, and you are united to Christ.
      2. The same God indwells each of you.  The same Holy Spirit.  If differences of opinion arise, it is not because God is telling us different things; it is because we are not listening.  It is because we are stuck listening to ourselves and not to God.
      3. Now is the time to listen more intently to His will and submit to His will just as Jesus said, “Not My will be done Father, but your will be done.” (Luke 22:42).
  3. God wants you to be united, of one mind, of one body, of one Spirit, of one faith, and of one Lord.
    1. But God simply doesn’t require unity without providing the means to achieve it.
      1. That is why He gave gifts
        1. (v. 11) “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,”
        2. Aan Apostle is a delegate, a messenger, one who is sent forth with orders from God.
        3. A Prophet is someone who is moved by the Spirit of God and who solemnly declares to men what he has received from God by inspiration.
        4. An Evangelist is a bringer of good tidings. It is a name given to the New Testament heralds of salvation through Christ who are not apostles. They lead people to Christ.
        5. Pastor: A herdsman, a shepherd. He is someone who cares for his flock.
          1. The tasks of a Near Eastern shepherd were to watch for enemies trying to attack the sheep; to defend the sheep from attackers; to heal the wounded and sick sheep; to find and save lost or trapped sheep; to love them, and guide them.
          2. During World War II, a shepherd was a pilot who guided another pilot whose plane was partially disabled back to the base or carrier by flying alongside him to maintain visual contact.
          3. So to, the Pastor comes along side to guide, protect, help, and teach the sheep so that they might grow in the grace of God and come to unity in the faith.
        6. A teacher in the New Testament is a person who teaches concerning the things of God and the duties of men.  They teach doctrine and correct people in error.  They are those who in the Christian assemblies undertake the work of teaching with the special assistance of the Holy Spirit.
          1. Note: In the Greek the construction of the last two, pastor and teacher, implies that they are shared by the same person. The Pastor/Teacher is the gifting for one man.
      2. These officers were given to the church by Jesus for a specific purpose.
        1. To prepare you (v.12) . . . for service.
          1. What kind of service?  Spiritual service: prayer, helping, admonishing, teaching, forgiving, loving, being an example of Christ in this world, and bringing glory to God.
          2. To accomplish this you are to be both humble and bold, gentle and determined, patient and strong, bearing with one another in love (verses 2-3), forgiving each other, helping each other, and considering others more important than yourselves.
  4. This unity that Paul is speaking of is for a reason: Maturity
    1. Again we have an issue of “reason”; that is, the reason we are equipped and gifted in this church is (verses 12-13) so that “that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
      1. As members in the body of Christ, we are continually being built up to maturity.
        1. Maturity in persona areas mentioned above: humility, gentleness, bearing with one another, love, peace, etc., so that you can . . .
        2. Mature corporately: The personal maturity leads to corporate maturity.
        3. Maturity in doctrine:  Knowing what is essential and what is not essential.  Knowing what it means to be gracious to others in the body of Christ who do not agree with you in areas of opinion.  Patience and love and peace should be shown to all people in the body of Christ so that we might speak the truth.  That is the result of maturity . . . speaking the truth in love.
  5. Conclusion
    1. In this world of anti-Christian bias we need all the more an extra measure of maturity, of grace, of gentleness, patience, and forgiveness.
    2. Each of you needs to keep your eyes on the one Lord.
    3. Each of you needs to keep your eyes on the one faith.
    4. Each of you needs to seek unity–being knit together in a close group.
      1. Each of you needs to be doing your part.
        1. Reaching Up–Seek God in prayer, study, and reading his word.
        2. Reaching In–Look to one another and find needs.  People in this church are needy and need love and support.  Visitors need to be welcomed and encouraged.
        3. Reaching Out–The community at large awaits the continued demonstration of your love and commitment to Christ.
    5. This is what it means to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

August 16, 2014

“Perfectly” United?

Christian unity

1 Corinthians 1:10:

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.

One of the wonderful things that can take place online is when people who might normally disagree over certain issues are willing to set those differences aside and come together over a specific cause or concern. It shows that unity is possible even on days we don’t feel it’s very probable.

Even in my own writing, I often find myself disagreeing violently with some Christian authors or bloggers on certain things, and then a few days later, I will use one of their articles here at C201. I know that people who read both blogs must find this confusing; either that or think I’m schizophrenic.

But the verse in I Corinthians one is talking about perfect unity; the implication is that this would mean unity on all things.

But wait; there’s more! If we believe that Paul is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, then it is God Himself who desires that we be “perfectly united in mind and thought.”  Surely there is some context to this verse (see yesterday’s post) that gives us some ‘wiggle room’ on this unity thing, right?

For A to agree with B on an issue, what personal preferences or doctrinal convictions might A have to concede on?

If I believe I am correct about a certain issue, would I be willing to lay that aside in order to be united with the “brothers and sisters” Paul mentions?

Think carefully before you answer those questions. It’s very noble to say, yes I’ll compromise on [substitutionary atonement, baptism of infants, post-Tribulation rapture] in order for us to attain unity, but you’re not truly going to do that with things you feel are part of core doctrine, or things you’ve spent the better part of a lifetime arguing in favor of.

Some would argue that the goal here is merely perfunctory, that Paul is trying to calm down certain quarreling that has erupted (see the next verse, v. 11) but it is interesting that two verses later, the picture he presents is so very similar to our present denominational structure:

12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

We get this today. Doctrinal identity often overshadows our Christian identity.

I don’t believe that denominations in and of themselves are a bad thing. Accountability is a good thing. There is strength in numbers. John Stumbo, president of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination recently said this on the Phil Vischer podcast:

“With mounting pressure against the church of Jesus Christ in North America, it’s a great time to be part of a team”

Furthermore, we see certain distinctions very early on in the first century church. Some believe that in addition to the sects that Paul names in verse 12 above, that there was a group which followed the teachings of the Apostle John. And Paul himself, through his writings no doubt had his ‘Pauline’ followers; to this very day discussions exist as to distinctions between the message of the gospels (what Jesus taught) and the large percentage of the New Testament canon that bears Paul’s name (what Paul taught, that some imply as not necessarily having the inspiration of the Holy Spirit because of its different tenor from Jesus’ teachings.)

So this does get complicated, doesn’t it.

Perfect unity.

The words seem so easy.  Putting it into practice is much more difficult.

August 10, 2013

Being Part of a Body versus Western Individualism

I Cor 12:25 (NIV) so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

I Cor. 12:25-26 (The Message) The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

Romans 12::5 (Phillips) Share the happiness of those who are happy, the sorrow of those who are sad.

Romans 12:15 (NLT) Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

This week several different people we know are all facing the anniversary of an untimely loss.  I copied The Message version of I Cor. 12:25-6 into an email today and sent it to one such family.  I respect Eugene Peterson’s credentials to do a translation like The Message, but I don’t know enough about his translation process to know how we came to “…involved in the hurt and the healing.” It’s certainly unique to his translation; but I like that it implies a sense of follow through; that we stick around not only for the hurt but for the better days that are to come.

This whole sense of bearing one another’s burdens is so contrary to western “me-first” individualism.  We sort of get the idea of extending love and care to someone else, but we often miss the part of the concept where you and I are one.  We sort of get the idea of the people in our church being family, but we miss out on the idea that as the body of Christ we are an organic unity.

Even in marriages — the epitome in scripture of becoming one — it’s common for husbands and wives to have separate bank accounts. I’m not talking about a situation where one spouse has a household account out of which to pay expenses as they crop up; I’m referring to situations where each keeps a portfolio of savings and investment accounts. Perhaps in an easy-divorce culture, it makes the separation of assets more simplified.

So the notion of weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice tends to miss the recurring word “with.” We often weep for, and rejoice for, instead of weeping with and rejoicing with; and by this I am referring to the full sharing of their situation, not something simply done in physical proximity.

In our business, we adopted a financial policy that is somewhat biased toward the people of like faith that we deal with.  We pay all our bills on time anyway, but we like to use the following principle, and expect the people who deal with us — many of them who are churches — to carry a similar goal:

Gal 6:10 (ESV) So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

The problem is, consider the following scenario:  A and B are both Christ-followers and are involved in a financial transaction where A is performing a service for B that is part of his trade. A wants to give B a price break because she is a fellow believer, but B wants to pay more than A is invoicing her for because she wants to honor the Galatians 6:10 principle.

I’ve been involved in such transactions where each person thinks it’s them that is doing the other person a favor, and it’s not unlike the classic scene where two very polite people are trying to let the other person go through a door first.

The way we work out these things is going to be complex, and sometimes an exactly similar situation will be interpreted in different ways by the different parties, leading to different outcomes. Still, I believe that God is pleased when we are endeavoring to honor Him by preferring others in all that we do.

Furthermore, I believe that what honors Him the most is when we truly view ourselves as part of a single collective body.

 

December 18, 2012

Diversity of the Body

CEB Romans 12:3 Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other.

CEB I Cor. 12:12 Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. 13 We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink…

…19 If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? 20 But as it is, there are many parts but one body. 21 So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

Christmas gatherings bring about the diversity of people who make up our extended families. If I am honest, I often find myself among people with whom I feel I have very little in common, and your family reunions are probably similar.

But full disclosure compels me to admit that my spiritual family is not much different. Even within the confines of a particular church, there is often the same dynamic at work: People have very different spiritual emphases and interests, not to mention varying degrees of spiritual depth.

Last week we had some fun with this at Thinking Out Loud that I thought would bear repeating here; to see the full breadth of the God’s family reflected in the way we interpret what we think are distinctions, using terminology that often leaves people in a fog.

When you say you’re a Bible & Science ministry, does that mean

  • you believe in a literal six-day creation and a young earth?
  • you believe in an old earth; that Genesis is allegorical, that evolution is probable
  • you focus on intelligent design and try to skip the subjects above ?

When you say you have a prophetic gift, does that mean

  • you speak forth with a prophetic voice concerning issues facing the church and/or the world in general
  • your ministry almost exclusively revolves around end-time predictions
  • you counsel people and help them find where they are to live, what should be their vocation, who they should marry, etc. ?

When you say your church is charismatic, do you mean

  • the music is loud and lively, and people clap and rejoice during worship
  • your church emphasizes belief in the limitless power of God and has an active desire for a manifestation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit ?

When you say you’re a ministry to Christians struggling with homosexuality, does that mean

  • you try to assist gay Christians out of that lifestyle through prayer and/or reparative therapy
  • you try to support gays who are struggling with faith issues and/or acceptance by the church ?

When you say you’re an apostolic ministry does that mean

  • you work with church-planters and missional communities to encourage people who have the gift of apostle
  • you are frequently addressed as “Apostle _______” as you see yourself as part of a line of apostolic succession and/or feel there is a special anointing on your ministry ?

When you say you have a ministry to worship leaders, does that mean

  • you assist worship leaders in the personal spiritual development and in building the tools they need to build their teams
  • you help worship leaders navigate areas such as song selection, instrumentation, arrangements, sound systems, etc.
  • you exist to advance an agenda of a specific sub-genre of worship: hymns, modern hymns, ‘soaking’ music, prophetic worship, etc. ?

When you say you’re a ministry to the Jewish community do you mean

  • you stand in the Messianic tradition and want to keep as much of the Jewish ethnic and cultural flavor, while recognizing Jesus as the promised Messiah
  • you stand in the Hebrew Christian tradition which involves assimilating Jewish believers into western evangelical culture
  • your ministry is more concerned with both the political and prophetic ramifications of the state of Israel ?

When you say you are a ‘progressive’ Christian do you mean

  • you prefer contemporary churches which don’t make a major issue out of some of the traditions and taboos which defined Christianity in the mid-20th-century
  • you have a more liberal position on Christian doctrine and theology and Biblical inerrancy ?

When the bottom of your church sign reads, “Everyone welcome,” do you mean

  • you regularly interact with people from the wider community and while it may be a foreign environment in some respects, they would feel relaxed attending services and sense you’re genuinely glad they came
  • people are welcome as long as they dress like you, believe the same doctrines, read the same Bible translation, vote for the same party, and conform to the church’s position on social issues ?

The bottom line however is that we emphasize our unity in Christ.  If you click back to this song, it’s a good way to end today’s thoughts, focused on the things in which we’re all in agreement.

(NIV) I Cor 9:10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.

July 22, 2012

He Is Our Peace: Blood Tears Down a Wall

The reconciliation of God’s people

11 So remember that once you were Gentiles by physical descent, who were called “uncircumcised” by Jews who are physically circumcised. 12 At that time you were without Christ. You were aliens rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. In this world you had no hope and no God. 13 But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. 15 He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. 16 He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God.

17 When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. 18 We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit. 19 So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. 20 As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord. 22 Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.

~Ephesians 2:11-22 (Common English Bible)

Another longer post today.  Maybe we should rename this Christianity 401. The blogger we feature today is Morgan Guyton, a United Methodist Pastor. I encourage to read this — and other posts — at his blog, Mercy Not Sacrifice, where it appeared under the title, How can blood tear down a wall? Sacrifice in Ephesians 2:11-22

This past weekend, I preached on Ephesians 2:11-22. It’s one of my favorite passages because it talks about how Jesus tears down the walls between us. And at first glance it would seem like a great opportunity to talk about how important it is for the church to fight racism and take on all the “us vs. them” conflicts in our day that build walls between people. But there was a line that confronted me in the passage that I felt like I couldn’t just treat as a rhetorical flourish as I’d so often read it before. I needed to be able to explain it. Paul says, “You who were far have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” That line doesn’t make any sense unless you read it with some understanding of the central purpose of sacrifice in the community of the ancient Israelites. Only through the lens of sacrifice can we understand how the blood of Jesus can tear down the wall that had kept the Gentiles out of the Jewish temple.

The Jerusalem temple in the time of Jesus was defined architecturally by a series of walls that only certain people were allowed to go inside. The outer area of the temple was the court of Gentiles, where money changers and animal vendors could come to sell their wares to Jewish pilgrims who traveled long distances to sacrifice in the Jerusalem temple and weren’t able to bring cattle from their own flocks with them if they owned cattle. Another group of Gentiles who would hang around the temple were called “God-fearers.” These were Gentiles who believed in the Jewish God but were unable or unwilling to go through the process of fully converting to Judaism.

The “dividing wall” that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 2:14 is the wall separating the inner temple complex from the court of Gentiles. Archaeologists have found several signs that originally hung on this wall around the inner temple saying: “No foreigner is to enter within the balustrade and embankment around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his death which follows.”

Notice the way the sign is written. It doesn’t say that the Jewish authorities in charge of the temple would kill any foreigner. It is simply indicating that people who enter do so at their own risk of imminent death. The Jews believed that strongly that the divine power inside the temple would be enough to kill someone who was not properly prepared to face it. So what in the world happened in their temple that would cause them to feel this way?

We go to our temples and houses of worship today to sing, pray, read scripture, and hear sermons. We do not ritualistically slaughter and burn an animal as the centerpiece of our worship act. But that’s what the Jewish people did. Animal sacrifice was the means that God gave His people in Leviticus to make their people clean.

It’s important to understand that the ancient Jewish understanding of cleanliness was completely different than the modern understanding of cleanliness. In modernity, we define cleanliness according to biological terms. Being clean means you wash your hands with antibacterial soap and wipe your countertop to avoid attracting ants. In ancient Israel, cleanliness referred to the social chemistry of the community. Things were unclean that would disrupt the social chemistry and create conflict between people. In order to stay clean, the people had an elaborate “law with commandments and ordinances” that Paul references in Ephesians 2:15. At the center of the law was the ritual of sacrifice.

Sacrifice as well had a completely different meaning for ancient Jews than it does for us. Today it means “giving up something for the sake of a greater good,” like sacrificing on my weekly food budget for a few months so I can save money for an airline ticket to Hawaii. Though the Israelites were commanded to offer the best 10% of their flock to God, the primary meaning of the word sacrifice for them didn’t have to do with the loss of giving something up, but with the violence within the ritual of sacrifice. It was through the violence and hideousness of slaughtering an animal that the unnamed violence in the air of the community could be named, laid out before people, and then put in God’s hands through the fire of the altar. Using the violence of sacrifice that God had provided for them as a resource, Jewish people were able to clear the air of their community and dissipate any bad blood between them through the blood of the animal on the altar.

In this context of a society that depended upon the cleanliness created through a powerful violent ritual, it seems reasonable that Jews would worry about what would happen to the transformative space they experienced in their temple if Gentile tourists were given permission to walk through. So they told them they would have to sign on fully to the Jewish covenantal system before being allowed to enter. Note that this dividing wall wasn’t about separating races; it was about drawing the boundaries without which a powerful ritual could not occur.

The problem was that the temple cult gave too much power to the religious authorities in charge and they became corrupted as anyone would in their position. It turned into a sacrifice industrial complex. Then a young rabbi from Galilee named Jesus rolled into town and caused a ruckus in the court of the Gentiles throwing all the money changers out, calling the whole place a “den of thieves.” When the chief priests decided to arrest and crucify Jesus, they did not realize that they were creating the means by which their own vocational function would become obsolete. They didn’t make the connection between the lambs that they slaughtered and burned on the altar every week and the innocent man they were putting on the cross.

But because of the chief priests’ unwitting complicity with God’s plan, Jesus became “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). His blood became the violence that absorbs every other violence named and unnamed throughout the world. A very common misunderstanding of sacrifice is that it’s something that is done to “appease” God’s anger. This may have been true about other ancient gods, but Israel’s God YHWH makes it pretty clear through His prophets (Isaiah 1:10-17, Micah 6:6-8, etc.) that He didn’t get any pleasure out of sacrifice except insofar as it served as the system by which His people were made clean of sin so they could do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.

Jesus’ sacrifice makes peace between us and God the same way that the animal sacrifices of the ancient Israelites did for them, but it’s not because there’s any obstacle on God’s end of the relationship to His full, perfect love for us. Our sin simply keeps us from entering His presence with any degree of integrity or confidence without the assurance of the sacrifice that He has made on our behalf. We hate the light and flee to the darkness when our deeds are evil (John 3:19), so God provides a means through Christ for us to walk into His light without shame and with a purification that we don’t have to provide for ourselves.

The dividing walls that keep us out of God’s temple today are not anything that humans have built. They are rather walls within our hearts that keep us from coming clean before God. Many different walls are possible, but there are basically two types. Walls of pride are built out of our accomplishments and acts of piety when they serve the purpose of proving our faithfulness to God and hiding our sin and inadequacy. Walls of shame are built from the piles of our failures and obvious embarrassments; they keep us from believing we could ever be worthy of God’s acceptance.

Both walls of shame and pride share a basic misconception: that God expects us to be good. No one is good except for God alone. We are only good to the degree that we have allowed God to overpower us and accomplish His good through us. God doesn’t expect us to be good; God longs for us to be clean. He wants to take away all the bad blood and hidden ugliness that we have accumulated by washing our hearts clean in the blood of Jesus. Yes, it is a bizarre concept in our science-shaped world: that blood could make people clean, but there’s a truth to the logic of ancient sacrifice that has been proven through the witness of millions of Christians throughout history whose lives have been changed utterly by Jesus’ sacrifice.

How does Jesus’ blood tear down the walls of the Jerusalem temple? By changing the entire concept of temple from a place where you go to make yourselves clean before God using His prescribed ritual sacrifice to the place in all of our hearts where Jesus comes to take our sins away and make us clean again. It is only because of Jesus’ sacrifice that Paul can say, “He is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). Peace is not something that can be established on the basis of rational discourse. We will always be able to come up with reasons why our adversaries are the ones who will not make peace with us. Peace is made between people who have been made clean by God, and that kind of piece makes all of us into one body and one temple where the God who we were created to enjoy can be glorified through our worship.

~Morgan Guyton

Related Post:  June 15, 2012: The Ground is Level at the Foot of the Cross

March 3, 2012

Aiming for Inter-Connectedness

I invite you to begin today by slowly and meditatively read the words of Jesus in these four verses from the NLT rendering of John 17:

(11) “Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.”

(21) “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.”

(22) “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one.”

(23) “I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”

In the part of the world where I grew up, the rumor was that if you were preparing song-sheets for campfires or transparencies for overhead projectors, you should not use the song which states,

We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord

The story — which I never could confirm — was that the copyright, which was owned by “the Fellowship of Evangelical Laymen” was the most prosecuted for copyright violation and that church lawsuits could name pastors, church staff, board members and music committee members. Whether or not the “Laymen” were so litigious, I always found it ironic that a song proclaiming that as the Body of Christ, we hold all things in common, should be subject to a mentality that prevented its widespread use.

In the part of the world where I live now, we’re closing in on the annual Good Friday service. All of the Evangelical churches get together in the largest auditorium they can find, which for the past few years has been a hotel ballroom. This is a high point of the church year here and it’s always exciting — and a little bit distracting from the day’s primary message — to see people from different churches coming together to worship.

For the one day, we truly are “one in the Spirit.” 

But the rest of the year, not so much. We break off into our individual assemblies and congregations for the other 364 days, and while the pastors themselves get together monthly, the rest of us don’t get to experience that blessing of Christian unity except at the one annual service.

The point is, we have a lot to offer each other:  Video resources, teaching materials, children’s programs, church libraries, men’s breakfasts, women’s retreats, marriage enrichment, etc.  We also have a lot we can give together more effectively than we can give individually: Respite for families with young children,  support for pregnant teens and young single moms, networking on behalf of those seeking jobs, service projects for shut-ins, community meals for the poor and the lonely, advocacy for marginalized individuals and groups, etc.

Inter-connectedness needs to be intentional.

It needs to be our goal, our aim, and most important, our desire.

But beyond church resources and neighborhood projects, the thing we best have to give each other is ourselves.

The problem in the Body of Christ is that we don’t really know each other. We might know names and occupations, but we don’t know the heart of each other and we have no meaningful shared experiences. We might work together on a specific project for a limited time, but our fellowship is really just task-oriented. We don’t dig deeper to get to know what makes the other person tick, and we certainly have never taken the time to hear their story.

Inter-connectedness needs to be intentional.

We are one in the Spirit, and we should be able to say that without fear of copyright prosecution, but we should also be able to say it without fear of rejection just because we’re part of another faith family.

~Paul Wilkinson


WEEKEND BONUS: GO Deeper

Today we’re giving you an opportunity to dig a whole lot deeper into sermon videos from some of the larger North American churches.

What started out as a recommendation to a friend turned into a blog post today at Thinking Out Loud which lists links to Bible teachers at a dozen churches.

You can enjoy this for yourself, but you might also want to send the link to the list to someone you know who has been away from Bible teaching for awhile and needs to get reconnected. Or a teen or twenty-something who might relate to some of the younger communicators.

Link to list of sermon videocasts and live streams.

November 28, 2010

Words That Divide

So often in the Christian blogosphere we’re only interested in what someone wrote in the previous 24 hours.   This post however, is actually from June 2008.   (There’s a lot of good stuff online if you use limited search criteria; I was interested to see if anyone on WordPress had quoted Paul Billheimer, author of Destined for the Throne.)   It’s by BJ Rutledge at BJ’s Weblog where it appeared under the title, If You’re Gonna Walk the Walk, Then Talk The Talk.

Two months ago,  Janet and I attended a conference at North Point Community Church.  While there, we were reminded that a broken heart is usually what fuels your vision.  I think that’s why Sunday’s message on unity is so important to me.  I have a heart to reach people who do not know Jesus Christ and when anything hinders that, it breaks my heart.

I’ve never been in a church with a sweeter spirit than Grace Fellowship, and I want us to protect this spirit at all costs.  I also want us to protect the unity of the universal Body of Christ (the Church) in the same way.  One of the things that breaks my heart is when people – who claim to be followers of Christ – choose to do something totally contrary to His will by tearing down another church or church leader.  I hope you and I will never be guilty of that.  Jesus prayed for us to be “one” so that those who do not know Him could be “won” to faith in Him  (John 17).

When I was serving at another church in another state, I had a youth worker who asked us to pray for her husband who was not a believer and who never attended church.  As a first step, we began to pray for him to at least be open to coming to church and he did.  The Pastor had made some needed changes in the church and we were seeing many people make commitments of their lives to Jesus Christ.  This man began to come and was open to hearing the truth about Jesus.  About this time, two men in the church who were upset with the changes the Pastor had made talked to this man.  In that conversation, they began to rip the pastor apart.  When his wife got home that evening, he told her: “Don’t ever ask me to go to church again.”   His wife and daughter cried.  Those two men probably didn’t think anything about their “unsanctified” words.  That man remained lost without Christ.  I imagine that Satan laughed.

Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, wrote the Christ-followers in Rome these words: May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Romans 15:5-6)

A paraphrase of Eph. 4:29-32 says:   29Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. 30Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.  31-32Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.

The next time you’re tempted to be critical of a church, a pastor, or its members, remember Ephesians 4 and Romans 15.   If you have a legitimate issue or problem, Jesus said go to the person(s) involved privately (Matthew 18:15-17).  In Matthew 18,  Jesus wasn’t talking about matters of opinion, He was talking about sin.  In matters of opinion, you may have to agree to disagree, but be careful that your opinions are not used in some way to hinder the cause of Christ.   All of us have opinions, but a principle Paul outlined in 1 Cor 10:23-24 reminds us that even though we may have a right to something – it may not be profitable or help our neighbor.  {23 All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.  (1 Cor. 10:23-24)}

In Paul Billheimer’s classic book, Love Covers, he states that most problems in churches are not over essentials, but rather happen because of unsanctified ambitions, jealousies or personality clashes.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen this happen in churches and communities.  Whenever you’re around someone who is always trying to stir things up, be cautious of that person and their words.   Proverbs 16:28a says “A perverse man stirs up dissension.”

Billheimer also states he believes more souls have been lost through the sin of disunity than all other sins combined.  That’s a very sobering thought.   When we talk about other believers in a negative way instead of about Jesus in a positive way – those who are not yet believers tend to balk at the offer of putting their faith in Jesus Christ.  You never know who’s listening, so make sure your comments are used to build up others and to draw people toward Christ – not push them away.  None of us are perfect – we all make mistakes – especially with our words!  We don’t walk in perfection, but we can walk with direction.  So, If you’re gonna walk the walk, then talk the talk.

B.J. Rutledge is pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Paradise, Texas.