Christianity 201

May 15, 2017

Focusing More on What Unites Us

NIV John 17:20-21 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,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…”

Today we’re again paying a return visit to Done With Religion by Jim Gordon. If you click the title below and then click the banner at the top of their page, you’ll see that this is a blog written from the perspective of ones who left the institutional church. I think they do a better than average job of presenting that perspective and that’s why I’ve chosen them to return here today. Besides, to think otherwise would be to completely miss the spirit of today’s devotional!

Divisions in the Body of Christ Should Not Be

It is sad that Christianity is divided into so many different groups. We all have a little different interpretation of the bible and a little different understanding of doctrine. Obviously, we are not going to agree on everything but we certainly should be able to love one another and accept each other even when we differ on these things.

It is hard to understand why this is when God tells us we are to be one as Jesus and the Father are one. Yet, we understand that we are human and it is easy to lose sight of our first love. If we could only stay focused on Christ, listening for his voice and the guidance of the Spirit, loving God and loving others as God intended, then we could begin to look past our differences.

The problem seems to be that we are unwilling to see any other viewpoint other than our own. There are those such as my wife and I that do not attend an organized church. There are those who attend a church every time the doors are open. Some attend a house church, some meet with fellow believers at cafés, parks or restaurants and others meet in their homes over dinner. We should accept these differences and love one another rather than argue over who is right and who is wrong.

There really is not a right or wrong way to assemble together and we need to stop expecting everyone to do things exactly the same way. We should respect others viewpoints and focus on loving them rather than expecting them to see things our way.

Things will not change until we start focusing on what is common in our lives rather than the differences. The common focus should be on Christ, the head of the body. After that we should focus on loving others rather than arguing about the differences in interpretation and doctrine.

We also need to keep in mind that we are all constantly changing as God brings new truth to us. We are all learning and changing as we are ready to accept new truths. The interpretations I had five years ago are completely different from some of the interpretations I have now. I am sure in another five years they will change again as God leads me into more truth.

Sometimes we are afraid to accept others interpretations because we feel if we do not hold to our way of thinking we are compromising and not standing up for what we believe. We do not have to give up how we interpret the bible, but neither should we think everyone else is wrong. Besides, we really are not responsible for convicting people of sin or leading them into truth or even saving them. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. We are told to love God and love others.

When we realize we are each equally important functioning parts of the body and Christ is the head, we can start to change how we feel about those who do not see things exactly the way we do. We can begin to accept the differences in our brothers and sisters in Christ as we realize we are all following after our Father and our goal is to show His love to all people.

 

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.

 

June 5, 2013

When Secondary Things Become the Bond that Unites Us

Although the largest scripture passage in today’s reading actually is found at the end of the reading, as I looked at this topic, I was already determined that this definitely merited inclusion here at Christianity 201.  This is from the blog of Eric Geiger who blogs mostly for pastors and church leaders, and appeared recently at his blog under the title Gospel Continually Forms.

Though the believers in Philippi had been brought together only because of the gospel, Paul knew that the gospel must continually form community. The Christian faith is and has always been an interdependent grouping of people rescued by Christ. But because of our sinfulness, we tend to drift away from that, toward either dependence or independence.

Some are more likely to move in the direction of dependence. This occurs when we find our identity, security, or worth in someone else. Maybe the pastor, a friend we feel we must have, a certain teacher, or a person we don’t feel we can do without. Unhealthy dependence is actually a form of idolatry, finding ultimate fulfillment in someone other than God.

Equally destructive and on the other side of the spectrum is independence. Some foolishly attempt to live an isolated faith, recklessly believing that the Christian life can be lived in one’s own might and merit. Independence shuns community and refuses to lean on others for maturity, growth, sharing, and serving.

The gospel says differently. It pulls us back to interdependence.

Paul reminded believers to keep the gospel as the impetus for their community. He challenged them to “[stand] firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27 esv). He encouraged them because of Christ to have “the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (2:2 esv). He pleaded with them to submit to one another as Christ submitted to death, to have the same humble attitude as His (2:5–8). Paul knew that contrary to Jesus-centered community is the thinking that some believers are at a different level of righteousness than other believers, that some believers are “better.”

In 1983 an educational commission appointed by President Ronald Reagan released a study that influenced common practice in schools. It chronicled how America was no longer the leader in education, and that one of the reasons was because its smarter students were being held back to accommodate the ones who couldn’t keep up. Thus began an emphasis on “gifted” classes—students who were set apart to learn at an accelerated rate apart from the rest of the school population.

If you were in school during that time, you may remember the sting when particular students got pulled out of your class and assigned to special accelerated classes. The thought behind it was this: “The dumb guys are holding down our best and brightest. So we should pull out the smart ones. Let those guys color, and teach these other guys calculus.” It was a bit painful and demotivating. Perhaps you thought, They’re gifted and talented, so obviously I’m not.

Unfortunately, some of this idea has seeped into the Church. Some act as if there are levels of Christianity, and when you hit the gifted level, you don’t mingle so much with people who aren’t there yet. After all, they’re slower than you are, they’re not as motivated as you, they don’t understand what you understand, and they’re not as serious about pursuing the things of the Lord as you are. But the concept of “levels in Christianity” is not a concept built on the gospel of Christ.

Levels are only possible if there are levels of righteousness. And those levels simply do not exist, because we all possess the same amount of righteousness—none. The only righteousness any of us have is the righteousness God freely gives to us in Christ.

Some may be more mature than others in their understanding of the righteousness that’s been freely given, or in how they live in response to it. But no one in the community of faith is more righteous than another. Nobody.

Therefore, any attempt to build community on something more than the grace of Christ becomes a subtle move away from grace, a move toward pseudo-community that only puffs up and fails to transform. If something other than the person and work of Jesus becomes the foundation for a group of believers, that “other thing,” whatever it is—economic level, social manners, music preferences, common life experiences—becomes what they use to differentiate themselves from others. And it immediately becomes a point of boasting, a way to feel justified.

In the Galatian church, the issue became “circumcision.” Those who were circumcised only fellowshipped with others in the same condition. In churches today, perhaps it’s “we’re the deeper group” or “the homeschool group” or “this zip code group.” While there’s nothing wrong with people wanting to go deeper, or meet in homeschool groups, or make friends in the same zip code, we must be careful. Because of our sinfulness, these commonalities can become the bond that holds us together instead of the gospel. And worse, these commonalities can become prideful distinctions that repel others from a community that should be open and inclusive.

The commonality of the gospel is something believers share that will never change. Whether we are single or married, with children or no children, hyper-religious or irreligious, young or old, all believers in Jesus-centered community have a common place to stand together. In fact, if your small groups, journey groups, life groups, Sunday school classes, Adult Bible Fellowships, or whatever you call them are not centered on the common need for and common experience of grace, then they are actually doing more harm than good to the gospel movement. If groups are not gospel-centered and gospel-fueled, they are merely a social outlet for people, and they lack the power for transformation.

So what does community centered on Jesus and His work look like . . . practically?

The apostle Paul spent the first eleven chapters of Romans unpacking the fullness and the glory of the gospel. Then in Romans 12, he moved to our responses in light of the gospel, with the back half of the chapter containing some very practical but profound instructions that guide our pursuit of gospel-centered community. After clearly establishing that Christ is the One who forms community and places believers in one body (12:5), Paul issued this challenge:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Rom. 12:9–13  (ESV)

We featured Eric’s writing here a year ago at Church Life: What Matters Most

March 9, 2013

On Ethnic Heritage Churches

Today’s post is from the blog section of Theologyweb. The author’s name is indicated as elysian and it appeared under the title Connected in Community.

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NRSV)

Today’s question:
How does remaining connected with Christ, the Head, solidify your fellowship with others in the body, the church?

I have to admit that one of the things that turned me off to being part of a church when I took a hiatus from church involvement several years ago, was the whole socio-political aspect of most churches. I was already playing the status-to-win game professionally, and by the time I got home from work I was tired of people, and weary of office politics. I didn’t want to go to church and end up playing politics there too.

The one organization that should be relatively free of the cut-throat competition and dirty politics that permeates the world is the church. However, the church is made up of sinful people- people who put “me” first, people who don’t hesitate to use others for their own purposes, people who must be “right” at all costs, and people who seek the esteem of others to make themselves look and feel good.

The church where I was confirmed was an example of this. That congregation had once been exclusively a heritage church, which essentially meant you were of German ancestry, your parents belonged to that church and you were baptized in that church. The new pastor who had come to the church when I started going there in high school was trying to evangelize- to invite people to worship, to come to classes, and to participate in the community, but not everyone supported the pastor and his outreach.

The church became divided between the old-school faction who took a dim view of anyone who was not of German ancestry and/or not baptized into that particular church in infancy, against the pastor along with the evangelization faction who welcomed newcomers with open arms.

Since I was one of the newcomers, some of the old-school members weren’t terribly thrilled I was there. Neither of my parents are Lutheran, and most of my ancestors came from either England or Scotland. My English surname didn’t help endear me to the old-schoolers either (though I do have some German ancestry too.)

The battle in that church came down to a sad struggle: keep the community a small, ever-dwindling faction of ethnic Germans, OR open the door to the greater community. I am glad to say that the pastor, and ultimately the community itself, won out. Today it is still a small congregation, but it is comprised of a greater variety of people- people who are ethnic German, people who aren’t German at all, people who came to Christ as adults, and people who grew up in different traditions.

God never meant for the church to be a genealogical preservation society or an exclusive club. He meant the church to be a place for ALL people who are seeking, knocking, asking and striving to follow Christ.

I adhere to a very specific way of interpreting Christian faith. I am a confessional Lutheran. I belong to and participate in a Lutheran church that is a vibrant community that embraces people of all backgrounds and situations. I might not agree with everything my church does, but by and large it is a God-honoring community. The Gospel is proclaimed, the sacraments are given, and the congregation is committed to serving God.

My church is not perfect. I can’t say that I agree 100% with either of our pastors all the time. Just as in any other organization containing sinful humans, we have obnoxious people. I’m one of those obnoxious people. But the grace of God and the love of Christ are central in our church. Slowly I am learning that loving people is more important than being able to agree with them all the time.

The more that I stay focused on Christ, the more I realize I have in common with believers of other traditions. The more I stay focused on Christ and rooted in His word, I realize that I can forgive people who are sinful humans just like I am. I can love people and be gracious toward them even if I don’t particularly like them. I may not agree with all of the other Christian traditions’ doctrines or practices, but I can acknowledge their faithfulness to Christ and join them in loving and serving God. I can embrace other believers not only in my own congregation, but in the greater church as well, because I know that’s what Jesus would do.

I pray that God will keep me aware that there is no such thing as a “lone ranger” Christian, and that I need the greater community to grow in faith and grace.


Blog Flashback:

From two years ago, here’s a post for worship leaders and songwriters on taking a Biblical passage and “making it sing.”  Click here to read.