the gospel ultimately destroys all division

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:26-29

We in Christ all belong to the household and family of God. We’re one. That doesn’t mean distinctions no longer exist, though the seeds of abolishing slavery are clearly in the New Testament, in this passage, in the book of Philemon, etc.

The gospel destroys all division in the sense of people not being united. We are “in Christ” and therefore united as one in him. That seems so obvious, a truism even, except that it hasn’t always been played out that way. African slaves were baptized when they responded in faith to the gospel. Yet they remained slaves, as if the family status was somehow only spiritual. That flies in the face of the meaning of the gospel, the good news in Jesus. It’s essentially a family, household thing, full heirs of God’s promise in Christ, as the above passage points out. Likewise females who were often either considered inferior to males, or treated as such are equal in being heirs and members of the family.

We are bereft with deep divisions in the world today. And they only seem exacerbated as people live more deeply and advocate their own common unity, or community. It would be good if by common grace people from diverse backgrounds: racial, religious, whatever could find common ground so that they could live well together. But that kind of unity could never approach the unity that is in Christ. It is good and important in its place, but it’s certainly not a full unity.

The unity in Christ does not destroy the diversity present. Women are still women, men, men, cultures, ethnicity is not changed. And such diversity will be a challenge at times. We are one in Christ, in one household, of one family in him, the family of God. Yet living in that one family will require humility as we learn to grow together. And surely the diversity is used by the Spirit to help us grow up in Christ in ways we otherwise would not. We can see diversity as all gifts from God for the whole, similar to the thought in Ephesians 4. To help us toward full maturity in Christ. That same passage tells us that though we are united in Christ, we’re to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. So to live well within that unity, to not become divided is not automatic.

We have to let this unity have its full effect, and that is both passive and active. We receive all God gives us in Christ by the Spirit. And we contribute our part, in return. In love in the unity that binds us all together in and through Jesus.

Advertisements

God’s peace together

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Colossians 3:15

God calls us, his people to unity in heart and mind. But it’s a unity that’s centered in the gospel. And always in harmony with the gospel, the good news in Jesus.

We need the ministry of the Spirit in our hearts for sure, but it’s never just as individuals. We need to work at being at peace with each other.

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:3

So many things can and do divide us as humans, even as God’s people.

We need to work through our differences, oftentimes laying them aside in agreement on what is central, and really transcends all, even though it does impact everything. God’s peace for us in this way is present and will persist to bring us into that reality. We have to let that peace have its way. It is meant to help us be united not only to Christ, but to each other. Actually to live out who we are in Christ: one body (see NET note on this verse).

It is a challenge any day, but maybe especially these days. This has to be part of our passion, so that we are satisfied with nothing less. It is a unity in the gospel. Its basis in scripture in the revelation of the Spirit to the church. In and through Jesus.

working through disagreements

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Philippians 4:2-3

If you think at all, you won’t always agree with others. That is life. It’s not that the others are always wrong and us right, or vice versa. It is simply a case for a host of reasons of us having different opinions and perhaps even convictions on some things.

I think a key for us as Christians is to listen well to each other, really listen. Try to hear what they’re saying in its entirety, and ask questions for further clarification when needed. If we have serious disagreements, we can then express our concerns. But at a certain point in order to maintain the relationship, we have to agree to disagree, and agreeably so, in a way in which we can get along well with the other, and maintain good fellowship together in our Lord.

The key for me from the passage quoted above is the idea of being “of the same mind in the Lord.” It is where we’re united that we need to land on, and we as Christians are one in Christ. And in that union, we’re to find, I take it, something like a consensus in which we find agreement in a relational, functional kind of way, which is willing to set aside whatever disagreement remains for the sake of peace and for the sake of the gospel. And with a dependence on the Lord that he will see us through.

The idea expressed in this passage of a Christian leader mediating is of course of great value, and part of God’s word for us here. God can give that third party wisdom and an objectivity which is not possible for the parties in disagreement.

In the end we all need to work through and learn to live well with our differences because of and through our union with Christ. The gospel being the uniting factor from which we grapple with all the rest. So that even when our disagreements on other matters remain, our unity in Christ and in the gospel helps us to remain united in mind and heart. As we look forward to a better day to come beyond this life in and through Jesus.

simply Christian

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. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 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.”

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

1 Corinthians 1

It seems like it holds true to the present: there are a number of Christian denominations and traditions which remain essentially divided over this and that, sometimes what appears to be significant matters over the gospel, and yet in the end, they would acknowledge that the ones they are dividing from are likely in Christ.

What if we simply got rid of the idea that we have to be united over this or that nonessential? But for many, unless one believes that the bread of Holy Communion becomes Christ’s body, and the wine is blood, then they can’t be in any kind of fellowship and working relationship. Or churches remain divided over this or that. It seems impossible to break the division.

We need to center on the gospel, and live with our differences around that. Maybe challenge each other in the process, but make it a priority to be united, insofar as we possibly can for our witness to the world, as well as the good of our own faith.

Reports from China years back said that the church was growing exponentially until they began to get divergent directions from different Christian bodies in the free world. The simplicity of the power of the gospel, and God’s grace in that was disrupted by human made rules and tradition. The work of the Spirit was thus undermined, if not thwarted altogether.

When it’s not the gospel that is central, or when there are certain aspects of our participation in the gospel which end up dividing us, we have work to do. We need to make provision for all who are in Christ to be united as one in faith and practice.

That is what I’m coming to now. We might want to bring a believer along to understand and practice or even not think they have to practice certain things, arguably, but as long as they have faith in Christ, that should be enough for them to be fully united to us in our church body and witness to the world. The New Testament doesn’t know any believer who isn’t baptized, at least not as a rule, but differences there should not cause us to exclude each other.

What we need to press for is to maximize our oneness in Christ through the gospel. That needs to take priority over other matters. In spite of what differences we have, we ought to make provision for that. In the grace of God in and through Jesus.

hanging in there with each other

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good,to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Romans 15

Weak and strong have to do with the changes that were taking place with the coming of the new covenant in which many rules, even the schema of the old covenant, was being put aside since the fulfillment of it in Christ and through his death, had already come. It was not an easy time, a time of change. It was not like Christians at that time had to put all the old practices aside. But they had to accept the new reality that other Christians were not going to practice them, and would still be completely accepted by God, so that they too would need to accept them. They were the majority at first, but in a matter of a relatively short time would become the minority as more and more Gentiles would come to the faith.

We can apply this passage in a looser sense with strong and weak perhaps signifying scruples and religious practices. What might be out of bounds for some, might not be any problem for others. Of course I’m not talking about out and out sin, but rather things that might lead some, the “weak” into sin. What might not be a problem for me might be an occasion of stumbling for them, so that I won’t be acting in love if I flaunt my freedom in their presence.

Also I need to be careful not to judge others on things which in themselves are not sin, covered by God’s grace. I might possibly be termed as “weak” in those situations. God looks at the heart. Some practice might be better than others, and maybe it doesn’t matter. But oftentimes what we know is best for us, or what we’re accustomed to, we impose on others, and judge them according to those standards. Which might in fact not be helpful to them, even if they might possibly learn something from our own practice.

We must accept one another fully, even as Christ has fully accepted us, that we together might bring glory to God. A big part of that is simply learning to get along well with our differences, some of that contrast perhaps being uncomfortable to us like the sound of chalk on a blackboard. For this to happen, we need to pray, and be open to the work of the Spirit in drawing us together in harmony, so that in that, we might bring praise together to God. Getting along with each other is a high priority to God. And the essence of what it means to be “in Christ.” Of course as those who are seeking to live in the grace and truth of our Lord. In and through Jesus.

fitting in

One ongoing struggle in my life has been the problem of not fitting in. I am thinking in terms largely of thought from which practice or life formation can come. So I have ended up gravitating to churches which while taking a particular stance, the least being adherence to Christian orthodoxy, gave room to think within that commitment.

I am more than a bit wary of the idea that one can find a church tradition or even another person with whom they’ll see eye to eye with on everything. Such expectation is not only unrealistic but unhealthy as well. What is promoted is some sort of cookie cutter mentality. One can’t think or become settled into a faith of their own and therefore may have little or no faith whatsoever.

A crucial balance to this is to avoid the notion that what others think and believe doesn’t matter or is of little worth. When we become aware of differences that do seem significant what is then needed is some kind of discourse, ongoing conversation, talking it through. In the course of that there may be some change or modification of one’s thinking, perhaps a consensus reached with the other. But again how the church especially at large has read the Bible should never be dismissed. It at least should be respected even if it is not followed to the letter.

In the end finding our place in fitting into the whole is important.  Maybe we would be content enough to remain where we’re at, but for some reason we can’t settle in. Perhaps the Lord is seeking to nudge us in a different direction.

In this life I not only doubt that there can be perfect agreement on everything, but again I see such a hope as doomed to frustration. But by God’s grace in Jesus by the Spirit we can find our place to be planted where we can grow and bear much fruit with others. As the Lord’s church in and for the world to the glory of God.

 

a beef I have (on the fullness of the faith)

There is something I like (well, a number of things, actually, without me personally entertaining the thought of converting to it) about Roman Catholicism in theory, and that’s how it includes diversity. Of course within the core commitment to scripture and tradition. Something of the same can be said for the Anglican Church or Communion, which is a large tent indeed. And this is true in significant measure I think of our church, the Evangelical Covenant.

I am amazed and perplexed at how narrow other churches can be as to what is allowed in the church. If you think differently at all, you’re walking on thin ice, or maybe on no ice at all. I think of such matters as faith and science, perhaps accepting evolution and not creationism. Or American politics in which one might not rubber stamp the Republican Party or be libertarian. Even matters like the evangelical doctrine of inerrancy of scripture. How about hell as eternal conscious torment being replaced by something else which actually might end up closer to what scripture says? While we’re at it, we might as well mention the charismatic side, which one prominent evangelical has cast aside as practically heretical.

There is the great need for wisdom in all of this. We don’t do anyone any favors by emphasizing the differences we may have with them. In fact the emphasis needs to be in the opposite direction, on what unites us in Jesus Christ and God’s good news of grace and the kingdom in him.

For those who think out loud and try to work through difficult areas, who are willing to think outside the box within the commitment to the orthodox Christian faith, there needs to be a safe place. That safe place is not on a Sunday morning in the pew or in teaching or even in sharing later, certainly not as a rule. But space is needed. If one is belittled for suggesting something which on later thought they may well reject, the danger is that they will become defensive and driven to defend a position which rather ought to be refined or even disposed of. Even if we strongly disagree with what is said, we need to listen well and ask questions, as well as respecting the other person. One such issue today is gay marriage and gay affirmation including ordination in churches. That is a fault line, maybe not breaking communion among Christians (I don’t think it does), but making it much harder for churches to be united. I studied that issue some time back, willing to change if I thought scripture warranted it. But I concluded that the traditional understanding is solid. Even if other matters surrounding the issue are not, like the reality that there are gay Christians, those who experience same sex attraction, etc. Simply for entertaining such questions or deviating from any norm makes one a “liberal” to many, or at least not one to take seriously.

As I get older I want all the more to concentrate on the gospel along with the Jesus Creed of loving God and neighbor. But that doesn’t mean I won’t keep on asking questions. Of course we need wisdom. Knowledge and wisdom might be nearly synonymous in wisdom literature, but not so in our culture. We might “know” something and yet not love, even getting a big head. No, we need wisdom both for ourselves and for others. But we also need a wideness, to be able to take in diversity and accept differences within the faith which we hold together in Jesus.