Guest Blog – Does the World Know?: Christian Unity in a Fractured Age (3 of 3)

This is a guest blog from Jared White of Finite Calls Infinite. Jared is a musician, a Web developer, a photographer, and a Charismatic Christian who believes that the Spirit of God is moving dramatically across the world today and impacting entire nations with the Gospel of the Kingdom.

“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”  — II Timothy 2:22-26

In both of Paul’s letters to his young protégé, Timothy, he commands him several times to avoid irrelevant babble, myths, controversies, endless debate of genealogies (something that apparently was a huge deal in those times!), ignorant arguments over finer points of the law, and so forth. Over and over again, Paul entreats him to focus on the revelation of Jesus and the things that Jesus taught and the facts of His death and resurrection and ultimate authority in Heaven and on earth. Why is this important? Why does Paul ask Timothy to be a teacher and stand firm against false teaching and false doctrines, yet at the some time reinforce the policy that controversy, argument, and vain quarreling be avoided?

In Part 1 of this series, I referenced Jesus’ prayer that His disciples (which includes all of us who follow Him today) be one with Him and in Him just as He was one with the Father, and that we would be one with each other. In part 2, I broached the subject of Christian unity in a fractured age and how loving one another as Christ loves us will bring about Kingdom transformation in our local communities. The big question I want to address in this the final installment is: how can we have unity and fellowship together as Christians when our various doctrines and beliefs and traditions are all so wildly different? So many churches, so little trust — can that ever change? Should it?

The way I see it, there are three basic viewpoints on this matter. The first is that only certain denominations, or even one denomination, is the True Church and everyone else is in error or apostate in some significant way. For lack of a better term, I would call this the fundamentalist position. Unity therefore can only go so far — perhaps in some common dialog or charity work — but beyond that, fellowship barriers go up and congregational division must be maintained. I can walk into any number of Catholic churches today and be denied the Lord’s Supper due to the fact that I have not taken the steps necessary to be accepted into Catholic circles. And lest I be one-sided in my examples, there are numerous Protestant churches that refuse to have any association with Catholics and accuse their traditions and their leadership — especially the Pope — of honoring satan rather than Jesus. It goes far beyond that classic split — there are independent churches, often of the Charismatic/Pentacostal vein, that denounce all denominations as heretical and against the mission of Jesus. And there are inter-denominational squabbles that have wracked the Church in recent times, often over the issues of gender and sexual orientation. I don’t think this is what Jesus was thinking of when he prayed that we would all be one in Christ and love one another. As long as the Church is divided to such a wide-ranging extent, the world will not see the Kingdom transformation that Jesus died and paid for with His own blood.

The second viewpoint is the liberal, or universalist position, which basically states that all roads lead to the Divine, or at least those that make Jesus the hero, and we simply need to set our differences aside and work together on the important stuff, like feeding the poor or saving the environment or fighting government corruption. All noble causes to be sure, but doctrinal differences aren’t non-important. Feeding the poor is just as vital as establishing who Jesus is in relation to the Father or establishing the boundaries of sin when it comes to sexual relationships or upholding the rights of the unborn. Social justice, personal responsibility for holy behavior, compassion for those who aren’t following Jesus, and love of eternal truths, must stand together or else die apart. Actions alone can’t dictate spiritual reality — after all, Buddhists and atheists give food to the poor. There must be an additional element of governmental authority that Jesus Christ exercises over His people that absolutely sets the boundaries of right and wrong, and only with this reverential mindset can we hope to see real change in people’s hearts and minds and in the governments of this age.

Which brings me to my third viewpoint, which I don’t really know what to call. I prefer to name it the charitable viewpoint, in the words of St. Augustine: in essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, in all things, charity. This viewpoint is simple: if someone declares Jesus as Lord and Savior, co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and is not living an obviously sinful lifestyle (i.e., engaged in theft, murder, sexual immorality, slander, abusive behavior, etc.), then I will be glad to join hands in fellowship to worship God together in love. And when I am unable come together on that level of unity, I will still choose to be charitable and show compassion towards them as Christ commands — correcting my opponents with gentleness, as Paul says, and avoiding unnecessary and unfruitful quarrels. Now there are some who would say that I am naive to believe in this way, that just trying to be Mr. Nice Guy will result in a watering down of vital truths and in everyone hating me on all sides. And there are others who would say that my refusing to accept certain lifestyles or beliefs and daring to label sin a sin is still fundamentalist and that all the smiles in the world can’t hide my bigotry. I realize that I cannot please everyone. But my sincere hope is that when someone takes the first step to cut the ties and prepare for war, it won’t be me.

You see, I believe that Jesus’ prayer that we all be one so that the world will know that Jesus was sent by God is not unanswerable. I believe it will be answered, and it has been answered in part already. The importance of unity in the Spirit, of coming together not because of doctrinal agreement and common creed but because of mutual identity as children of God saved from wrath by grace and righteousness, is because of the importance of the mission. The Great Commission that Jesus gave us wasn’t that we would all fully agree with one another, but that we would go out and make disciples of Jesus. The Lord’s Prayer isn’t that His Denomination would come and His propositional truths be sung, but that His Kingdom would come and His Will would be done. It’s not about us, it’s about God. His Kingdom. His plan. His mission. His love. His grace. The more we realize that the world isn’t seeking truth in statement, it’s seeking truth in life, we will realize that we teach sound doctrine largely by living out the Christ-life that Jesus modeled for us.

I could go on, but as this post is already quite long, I want to close by answering my original question. Does the world know? Does the world know that God sent Jesus to us? Does the world know that God loves His people just as He loves His Son? Has Jesus’ prayer been answered? Has the vision that He laid out in this prayer come to pass? If not, why not?

Jesus’ prayer has not been answered only to the extent that we fight against it. If we really believed that Jesus desires that Christians be one with the Father, loving one another as Christ loves us, we would model our churches differently. Denominations would be about common purpose and the beauty and inspiration of traditions that have gone before us, rather than about exclusivity and creedal affirmation. Independent churches would be about a vibrant expression of local culture and a willingness to be on the cutting edge of missional outreach, rather than a rejection of all that is rooted in the past and a mindset of isolation apart from the wider Christian community. Church networks would be about reaching the unreachable and loving the unlovable, planting Kingdom churches in a variety of settings and contexts, rather than building commercial enterprises and entertaining the masses with superficial glitz instead of teaching the timeless truths of the Jesus way.

People may be buzzing about the “missional church” a lot these days, but the concept is nothing new. Jesus founded the missional church 2,000 years ago. We are called to be missional, but only when we come together in unity and fellowship can we see the mission of Jesus come to its fullest expression in all the earth. Love covers a multitude of sins (I Peter 4:8), so let us love one another as we seek to step into our glorious destiny as children of the Lord Most High.

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” John 17:1b-5

Guest Blog – Does the World Know?: Christian Unity in a Fractured Age (1 of 3)

This is a guest blog from Jared White of Finite Calls Infinite. Jared is a musician, a Web developer, a photographer, and a Charismatic Christian who believes that the Spirit of God is moving dramatically across the world today and impacting entire nations with the Gospel of the Kingdom.

John 17:20-23

20  I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
21  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.
22  The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,
23  I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Commentary by John Wesley on this passage:

Verse 21

“That the world may believe” — Here Christ prays for the world. Observe the sum of his whole prayer, 1. Receive me into thy own and my glory; 2. Let my apostles share therein; 3. And all other believers: 4. And let all the world believe.

Verse 22
“The glory which thou hast given me, I have given them” — The glory of the only begotten shines in all the sons of God. How great is the majesty of Christians.

I’m honored to be able to guest blog for my friend Andrew Conard. We have only corresponded through blogging and e-mail to date, but I’ve greatly appreciated reading his thoughts and his viewpoint as a Methodist seeking renewal in his denomination. I felt it would be apropos to include John Wesley’s take on the verses I shared above, though I’m sorry to say I have not studied the life or writings of John Wesley as well as I should.

This series is titled Does the world know? with the subheading Christian unity in a fractured age. Before I delve into such a weighty topic, let me give you a little background on my perspective. I was raised Christian and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior from around five years of age (I am now 25). However, I never really loved or appreciated the Church as a whole until only a few years ago. My experience growing up was of dead churches, church hopping, and home churches isolated from a wider community. By the time I reached my mid-teen years, I was convinced that the Church was a dying entity and I had no particular reason to get involved with a local congregation. God was up there, I was down here, I would try to make the best of it, and someday it would all get sorted out in the Great Beyond.

I don’t have time to go into into the backstory of how God brought me out of that bleak mindset. You can read a facet of my life’s testimony (http://www.callsinfinite.com/blog/2008/03/27/god-is-the-ultimate-travel-agent-3-direction/) at my blog Finite Calls Infinite for further insight. Suffice it to say, along with finding a local church which is one of the most beautiful things I have ever found, I grew to understand what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ worldwide and the Christian Church which Jesus Christ calls His Bride. Even more than that, I grew to have a deep desire, a holy longing, to see the animosity and the “sideways” energy expended between different sects, denominations, and churches dissipate as Christians come to realize the glorious purpose for which God has created them.

A crystal clear moment in my life that launched me into this calling of praying for and seeking Christian unity was a dream I had in late 2006. In this dream there was a beautiful pure white curtain that had been torn, but I laid my hands on it and in a flash of light it became whole. The Lord revealed to me through this dream that the white cloth represented the Church and I would be a catalyst for unity as a function of my ministry.

I don’t feel that I’ve been able to perform this role yet to a great extent, but when I was considering what I’d blog about for Thoughts of Resurrection, this subject came to mind, and I knew instantly that it would be the right thing to address. And so I will, but in the interests of time, I must continue my train of thought in next installment in this series. To whet your appetite, however, I want to leave you with the following question:

Does the world know?

In John 17 verse 23, we see Jesus praying to His Father for His disciples before the time of His betrayal, and His prayer is “that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” As we read previously in verse 20, Jesus’ prayer isn’t just for those who followed Him 2,000 years ago, it’s for us here today. And so again I ask: does the world know? Does the world know that God sent Jesus to us? Does the world know that God loves His people just as He loves His Son? Has Jesus’ prayer been answered? Has the vision that He laid out in this prayer come to pass? If not, why not?

Could it be that in order for the world to know Jesus, we need to become perfectly one? Could it be that in order for the world to know God’s love, Christians need to love one another? Could to be that in order for the world to know that Jesus was sent by God to do a mighty work, that He was vindicated in glory and given authority over all things under heaven and earth, the glory of Christ must shine “in all the sons of God” as John Wesley puts it?

Come back next week for a deep dive into these profound questions!

Guest Blog – Praying for a Better Prayer Life

This is a guest post from Kyle Holt of The New Parables and The Bible in Rhyme. From his blog: Each person is called to use the talents God gave us; to be a voice of one calling out in the desert, “Prepare the way for the Lord. Make straight paths for Him.”

I fall short in my prayer life. My wife says the same, as do a lot of my friends. Despite the fact that we are called to be in prayer constantly, it is a struggle setting aside time to speak to and listen to God. I feel like a poor example of a good prayer life. But I have a great mentor.

He’s not prideful. He is not vain. He is probably the happiest and most faithful person I know. However, he can be really, really selfish. But that can be excused, as he is only two years old. He is my son, Noah. One of the most beautiful and inspiring things about my son is that he reminds my wife and I to pray. At every mealtime he holds his little hands out to each side and says, “Prayers?” And he wants to make sure we say the right prayer, the one he is familiar with:

“God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food.”

We had Pastors Andrew and Nicole over for dinner one night, and I began saying a different prayer. Noah was having none of that. He started trying to interrupt me so that we made sure we said his prayer. It was important to him that he participate. And it was wonderful to see that prayer was important to my son so early in life.

At nap time and bedtime, Noah knows that after we read our third story, it’s time for prayers. So he stretches out his hands again, and we say a different prayer. It’s a modification of a prayer my parents taught me as a little boy.

“Dear God, we love You. Protect us. God bless Mommy and Daddy, little Noah, grandmas and grandpas, Uncle Bryce and Aunt Amanda, cousins and friends, and everyone in the whole wide world. And all the puppies. Amen!”

The ‘puppies’ part was imperative to him, and the Amen is always emphatic.

Christ tells us that we must be like little children when we come to him, and in my son I see how true this is. His faith is unwavering, unquestioning, unintentional, unrelenting, unshakable, and undeniable.

If my faith were but a mustard seed, I know I could move mountains. My son’s faith shakes the ground I walk on. If each adult I knew prayed with the fervent intensity that I see in my son, his little friend, or the masses of children I see at church, I guarantee this world would be a better place.

God, I ask that You help me pray like my son. That You forgive me for not giving You the time You deserve. And God, help me not forget those puppies too.

AMEN!

Guest Blog – Psalm 68 in Rhyme

This is a guest post from Kyle Holt of The New Parables and The Bible in Rhyme. From his blog: Each person is called to use the talents God gave us; to be a voice of one calling out in the desert, “Prepare the way for the Lord. Make straight paths for Him.”

I really appreciate that Pastor Andrew invited me be a guest blogger. I was trying to think about a couple of different types of blogs I could post, and this was the first one that popped in my head.

I mentioned in a previous post about my work on The Bible in Rhyme (www.thebibleinrhyme.com). I have Genesis 1 on the website, but I thought I’d post another section here. After you read this, I encourage you open up the Bible and compare it to Psalm 68 in the Bible. My hope is that The Bible in Rhyme will be a portal to help people open up and explore the Bible in total. I welcome your comments (good, bad, and ugly) here or on my blog, http://thenewparables.blogspot.com.

Psalm 68

May God arise and scatter his foes.
The wicked will perish as everyone knows.
Sing to the Lord who rides on a cloud.
Extol your praises, crying aloud.
A father to orphans, the widow’s defender;
He honors believers and cuts down pretenders.
We marched through the desert with You as our guide
and gained our inheritance, though we were tried.
Great was the glory of those who announced
God and His name, but those who denounced
His honor were struck down, peasant and king.
But all who have seen His power now sing.
God sends one thousand chariots out
and crushes His enemies. Now who will doubt?!
The twelve tribes have come proclaiming a song.
Egypt and Cush will submit to the throng.
Announce that He’s come across all the earth.
All who know Him know what He is worth.
Wherever we tread and wherever we trod,
He will be with us. Praise be to God!

Guest Blog – Taste Test: Coke or Pepsi

This is a guest post from a Christian named bart.

Do you remember the days of the blind taste test? There would be a table with a can of Coke and a can of Pepsi and the tester would try to guess which was which or which was better or something like that. I wonder how John Wesley would fair in such a test? Imagine we:

  1. Built a time machine
  2. Blindfolded and transported Wesley to the year 2008
  3. Removed the sign in front of a random UMC
  4. Removed the blindfold and let John hang out for a week or so
  5. Then we ask him to determine if he had been at an Anglican or Methodist church

I would guess his analysis might go something like this:
“The distinguishing marks of a Methodist are not his opinions of any sort,” (Character of a Methodist). The method is what distinguishes us so let us look there first. I will ask these questions allowing me to discern the answer.

  1. Do these people wish to flee from the wrath to come?
  2. Do they meet in small groups (class-meetings) weekly for examination of the state of their heart?
  3. Do they seek to do no harm, do all the good they can to all the people they can, and keep the Ordinances of God?
  4. Is this movement clearly lay lead?
  5. And finally do they avoid superfluidity of dress (were fancy clothes (1 Tim 2:9))?

How would Wesley judge your church??

Guest Blog – Deviant Monk

This is a guest post from deviant monk. I recommend both his blog and podcast. Would you like to guest blog at Thoughts of Resurrection?

If he were still alive, St. Augustine would almost certainly listen to the podcast

God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him (I John 4:16)

Charity is a word we use with very specific connotations. To speak of offering charity is usually to give some money or resources to somebody who is poor, less fortunate, hard pressed.

It is also fairly easy to abstract. We can involve ourselves in charity through organizations that are committed to such a thing, without really having to engage in the act of charity; the dirty work, so to speak, of offering it personally.

Charity comes from the Latin ‘caritas.’ ‘Caritas‘, however, doesn’t mean ‘charity’ as we think of charity, but actually means ‘love.’ The first three words of I John 4:16 are Deus caritas est– God is love.

Love, of course, is defined by many different people in many different ways- we speak of loving our children in one breath and in the next about loving our favorite kind of chocolate. It can be provoked by passion, prodded by biology, produced by sensation.

But Christian love- caritas– differs from many of the ways in which we think of love. Not necessarily by means of exclusion, but certainly by means of origination. To believe that God is love is to acknowledge a source of love, and to acknowledge that source of love is to recognize that, apart from it, there is no fullness of love, there is no fullness of caritas.

Pope Benedict says in his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est

We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction…Jesus united into a single precept this commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbour found in the Book of Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. Since God has first loved us, love is now no longer a mere “command”; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.

To love begins with the understanding that we have first been loved by God. But let’s not begin with abstraction- let’s begin personally. I have been loved by God. I am loved by God. The profundity of this is easy to miss, unless you stop and contemplate the complete gratuity of God’s love. In this gift of self to humanity, God has made us- made me- in His image. It doesn’t take long to connect the dots- if I am loved by God, and made in the image of the God who is love and who gives love, then the purpose of my image-ness is to love. And not only to love God, but to love the image of God wherever I find it.

It is in this realization that the abstraction we so easily apply to charity begins to be broken away. I can no longer be content to ‘give’ to charity; the act of charity becomes an image of God’s gift of love to us. Those to whom I give in caritas cannot be nameless faces- to truly realize my own image-ness is to truly realize theirs as well. Pope Benedict says:

Love of neighbour is thus shown to be possible in the way proclaimed by the Bible, by Jesus. It consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern.

Christian love pulls together two things that are often pulled apart- love for God and love for my neighbor. In my church we often use the language of holding together the evangelical gospel and the social gospel. However, in love that comes from God, it is impossible to have one without the other. You can’t simply love God without acting in love towards others; likewise, you cannot truly love others without having encountered the God who first loved you. James mockingly challenges our dualism when he says

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

In a similar manner, Pope Benedict says

If I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the image of God. But if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be “devout” and to perform my “religious duties”, then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely “proper”, but loveless. Only my readiness to encounter my neighbour and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbour can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me.

The kind of love, the kind of charity that God wants from us begins with encountering God, for Christian love can only come from God. Within this transformative union our charity burns with the fire of the love that God gave to us, and the love that God gave to us is is stoked by the love we give to others. In this life of love, we find a metaphor for the Trinity, as Augustine said:

If you see charity, you see the Trinity.

So may we love with the caritas that comes from God.

May we give ourselves to others in love, to find that we open ourselves to receive more love from God.

May we encounter the God of love, and allow the love he gives to us to blossom in our hearts and in our hands.