Posts Tagged ‘unity’

I am pretty sure I always enjoy lunch. But it is possible that I have enjoyed it even more the past several weeks. I met with Mike, Harry, John, Frank, Daryl, Steve, and Jeff at the Rusty Rail. I met with Joe and Joe at Buffalo Wild Wings. I met with Mark and Tim at Schmidt’s Sausage Haus. I met with Bowles and Frank at Susquehanna Harvest.

I am pretty sure I enjoyed the food during each of these meals. But it isn’t the food that has stuck in my mind. It is the conversation. Aside from the fact that I am pretty sure I’ve been dining with geniuses, at every one of these gatherings we talked about things we should be talking about.

It is so easy to avoid talking about things that do not seem to be in front of us at the moment. Even when we know others are affected by certain issues, we can step around them if they do not seem to be affecting us directly. Some of our sister churches have entered some of these conversations, not all the them in helpful ways. It is time we enter the conversations. It is not good enough to say “we don’t believe in that” or “everyone else is wrong.” It is not good enough to pretend there are simple solutions to issues that become very complicated.

Conversation will prepare us to talk as a united voice. It will permit us to allow some diversity of opinion without becoming defensive. It will help us when the day arrives that we feel confronted by the issue directly. It will assist us as we attempt to support others in the universal church. It will assist us in the ways we attempt to love the world.

Obviously, this isn’t one issue. We could form an entire list of things we should be talking about in more formal settings than lunch. Some of the things that came up from my genius friends during these lunches include;

  • Violence (for some this means guns, I think it’s bigger than that)
  • Women in Ministry (even if we don’t understand why this is an issue at all)
  • LGBTQ (a population that thinks the church is mean?)
  • Race (how can this even remain an issue? But silence will not help)
  • Politics (will we ever understand that “Jesus is Lord” is our political phrase?)
  • Systematic theology (why do things meant for good divide the Body so severely?)
  • I suspect there are many things we should be talking about and are not…

We didn’t talk about all of these issues at any one of the above gatherings. I am not proposing that anyone is expert on any of these issues. I am simply suggesting it would be wrong to isolate ourselves from them and that we should be talking about them. Let’s talk…

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Peter Oakes has uncovered a house church in Pompeii. Not really, but he does give some valuable information about who might have worshipped in a first century house church. He tells us that the church may have looked like this;


        A craftworker who served as host, along with his wife and children, some male slaves, a female slave, and a dependent relative.

        Tenants who lived in the house along with their families, slaves, and dependents.

        Some family members of a householder who does not participate in the church.

        Some slaves of owners who do not attend.

        Some homeless people.

        Migrant workers who have rented some small rooms in the home.


It is helpful for us to get this picture of a first century Roman congregation. It helps us to see the diversity of social class, economic class, and ethnicity of this people who were considered as One in Christ. Scot McKnight makes a reference to Oakes study and later goes on to say, “The church is God’s grand experiment, in which differents get connected, unlikes form a fellowship, and the formerly segregated are integrated… They are to be one in Christ Jesus.”

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Most church affiliations hold a general gathering where business is conducted on a regular basis. Ours, held earlier this year, came with a theme “One.” I am not sure if it was the program committee or some other genius who came up with that theme, but I loved it. (Personally, I hope it becomes our ongoing theme). It certainly should become our ongoing prayer.

To call it timely would be an understatement. If there were a competitive match going on pitting unity vs. division, division appears to have the upper hand. Each day we wake to discover someone in the world is at odds with someone else. We seem to be surrounded by division. This makes it even more important for a church group to take “One-ness” seriously.

Truth is, we shared differing opinions right there on the council floor. Emotion was felt in the room. I am writing as one who is glad we are bold enough and respect one another enough to state opinions when we do not see eye to eye with one another. I write as one who is glad we are able to share differing opinions and yet walk out as “One.”

I pray that we are becoming “One.” I pray that our “One-ness” will not be of some petty tribal variety but will spill over into other sectors of the church. I pray we will work with the larger body of Christ in ways that we share in areas where we are strong and learn in areas where we are not. I pray we will work with our sisters and brothers in the church universal to reflect the ways of God in the world. I pray the church will be a witness of “One-ness” in a world that is otherwise divided.

Truth is, if the church does not demonstrate “One-ness” – who will? May our “One-ness” communicate that the hope of the world is in Christ and demonstrated in His church. Perhaps we are called to be catalysts for the church to become “One.” May we be a divine illustration that unity can be achieved – but only through a God-filled people.

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I open the bible and read a passage like Genesis 15.13 and it is obvious that God knows in advance Israel will serve as slaves to Pharaoh. Further into the Genesis narrative (chapter 41) I read that Pharaoh has a dream and it is obvious that God knows things, in fact God can make things happen. Malachi 3.6 says clearly, “I the Lord, do not change.” I love these portrayals of God. They make it clear that God is sovereign and is actively involved in history. But please, do not call me a classical theist.

I also open the bible to read Exodus 4.24-26 and find that God planned to put Moses “to death.” But Zipporah intervened. The prophet Isaiah tells us that God “expected” his vineyard to produce good grapes and it instead produced worthless ones. The prophet Jeremiah quotes God to say “Perhaps they will listen and everyone will turn from his evil way, that I may repent of the calamity which I am planning to do to them because of the evil of their deeds.” I love portrayals of God that remind me of God’s interest in creation and relationship with his people. But please, do not call me an open theist.

Both classical theists and open theists claim biblical support for their positions. This reminds us of the complications that emerge when we attempt to answer questions the text is not asking. Neither classical theists nor open theists use the bible faithfully when they use it as a manual to support their claims. The bible is clear that to walk in relationship with God is to experience both sovereignty and surprise.

Traditionally the church has always had a diversity of opinion about multiple matters, including the sovereignty of God and the free will of humans. While not all of us have ever agreed with all proposed positions, we have continued to consider these views within orthodoxy. I am puzzled why some think it necessary to think differently about open theism.

Put me on record as saying those who lean towards open theism would benefit from conversation with those who have a stronger view of sovereignty. I also think that classical theists would benefit by being challenged by those who emphasize free will. And we all should allow ourselves to be challenged by biblical texts that raise these questions.

The church will be strengthened by honest conversation about our differences. This becomes very important. Our witness demands that we demonstrate what such conversation looks like to a world that does not talk about different opinions very well. We must be careful not to label something a heresy because it is different than the way we think. It would be preferable and certainly more Christian if we were able to see differences as opportunities for learning to disagree in ways that are in line with what we teach.

The bible is clear that God is in charge. God is aware of our eschatological futures. God has a plan for the world. On these things we can agree. But it is not our place to tell God what specifics God knows or to convince ourselves we have God figured out. Quite frankly, it is difficult to find the God of systematic theology debates very interesting. I prefer the God of the bible who appears to do whatever he wants and who surprises us with the way it is done.

Open theism and classical theism are both attempts to explain God in ways that make sense to the explainer. It is complicated to address something with clarity when it may not be intended for us to be clear about it. That is why we must constantly enter and reenter the muddy waters of the text. Acknowledging we do not know everything that is under the surface. We want to be a people willing to walk into the text and stay there – no matter what happens.

For those who think that to not argue for one side or the other is to settle for contradiction. I submit we should remind ourselves the bible does not appear to be bothered by this. Perhaps we shouldn’t be either.

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We are brought together by a God who is bigger than any petty differences. We are family. We carry the news that can save the world. Yet, we still fall for the voices of culture. We not only listen to them, we hold them in high esteem. And it divides us. Our news has always been clear that the ways of the world are unable to save the world. Yet we continue to act as if they can.

It is no easy task to resist the pressures of culture. It has always been difficult to resist principalities and powers. Yet, this is not optional. When we give in to cultural pressures we choose sides and we become divided. We choose lesser, artificial, and temporary ideas about important things like salvation and community. And our choices lead to partisanship in the body.

Interestingly, the word evangelical has become news. And not the news the word evangelical is intended or accustomed to sharing. Flip on the television and find someone trying to convince you that evangelicals are an important voice in the current political landscape. Turn the channel and find someone trying to convince you evangelicals are irrational, hateful and a cancer. Whenever we begin to listen to these voices as a voice for us we are mistaken. Spoiler alert, these voices are not neutral. They say what they say to pander to whoever they think is listening.

The president has become part of the “evangelical” news. And the voices of culture are attempting to draw a line and put you on one side or the other. It is true the president has said some rash things. The president has made some ill-advised decisions. But it isn’t the president’s behavior that worries me most. It is ours. The bickering that is going on inside the church only lends credibility to the misguided ideas that salvation will come through Washington D. C. and our allegiance depends on which side of the aisle we are on.

The church is not a political action committee. This is no lobby group. Perhaps the democrats and republicans are less evil than the Nazi’s, but to align ourselves with either of them is just as bad. We already have a King. And we’ve already been told there is no room for two masters.

Participate in elections. Encourage elected officials. Pray for them. But do not bow at their altars. When you agree with politicians and when you disagree – God is still at work. Even more, God is still in control. And when you start to believe otherwise, you are worshiping at the wrong altar.

It is time to stop participating in the divisive strategies of the world. The fact is, we cannot repair what is severed on our own. We need God. We must learn to listen, learn to disagree, and learn to resist in ways that are faithful. The church must stand together and recognize the opportunity right here in front of us.

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So John MacArthur is challenging N. T. Wright. He calls Wright’s writings “a mass confusing ambiguity, contradiction, and obfuscation.” (Extra credit to MacArthur for using the word obfuscation). He credits Wright with “academic sleight of hand.” In the end, MacArthur accuses Wright of propagating a false gospel. You can watch the video here… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZJEZiLfYHk

Regardless of whether one takes sides in this situation, we ought to ask ourselves how disagreement should be handled in the church.

MacArthur may come across as funny or clever when he makes a statement like “N. T. Wrong.” Still, to vilify our sisters and brothers does not communicate that we are one body. Even in our differences we are to communicate unity not division. Anything else hinders our witness.

I wish we could see disagreement as an opportunity to demonstrate how we are different than the world. Can we not talk to one another rather than about one another? There will be disagreement. Of that we can be sure. But the way we disagree becomes very important.

I admit to be influenced by a book I’ve been reading this past month. Perhaps I should send MacArthur a copy. Maybe he has read it. The title is I Corinthians. This book has had it with division. Every page is seeking unity. Throughout I Corinthians we are reminded that in a context of disagreement we will learn much about who we are. I Corinthians may not be against the world, but it is against bringing the ways of the world into the church. I Corinthians wants us to know the church is a different way to live. Why would the world be interested in what we say or do in our disagreements if we disagree the same way as everyone else?

Even our disagreements should insist on unity. The way we disagree matters much to not only our unity, but also our public witness.

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Missio Alliance is an ecumenical group that does not want to avoid the challenges of living as the church in the twenty first century. Because of that, they continue to make a serious effort to host conversation about how the church can engage in mission in a postmodern world. Many things are worth repeating following their recent gathering “Awakenings: The Mission of the Spirit as the Life of the Church.” Some of them are included below.

The conference began with conversation on “The Holy Spirit: Our Forgotten God.” The reasons we could forget the Spirit may be numerous but Todd Hunter suggested these reasons may include the explicit gospel we grew up with does not mention the Holy Spirit. And he thinks we equate the Spirit with weirdness and try to separate ourselves from that. Hunter reminds us the Spirit could be grieved by wacky excess or by being ignored. He concludes by telling us it was Jesus who said “it is better that I go away…” And that to be the people of God is to be connected to the Spirit.

Over the course of the gathering we were encouraged to look at the Spirit from different angles and through the lens of different traditions. This was a helpful exercise. Throughout we were in agreement that the Spirit intends to strengthen the church by the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit has no interest in promoting individual advancement. The Spirit is not interested in hierarchy, but unity. Not celebrities or heroes but community.

We cannot reduce the Spirit to mere gifts. To reduce the work of the Spirit to individual gifts is to miss the point. The Spirit is always about the Body. And the Holy Spirit is not only about the Holy Spirit. This is about God. And God in relationship. Trinity gives us a fuller picture of God. It was N. T. Wright who mentioned the Spirit weaves us into God’s poem. Some of us may be sonnets or haikus or limericks to help the world imagine His new creation. We are his workmanship, the masterpiece of the Spirit.

Other things I find scribbled in my notes include;

-There is a vast difference between believing something and living in the narrative of the people of God.

-From the day of Abraham it is evident that the people called to provide the solution are part of the problem.

-God gave the church the bi-vocation of worship and mission.

-The church is not the manager of the guest list, but the welcome committee.

-Church cannot be reduced to a utilitarian tool, it is a relational entity.

-The tabernacle is a small working model of new creation. God dwells here. We are the tabernacle people, the Spirit dwells within us.

-God is shaping the church to be someone who will show the world what Jesus is like.

-The church is following Jesus into the future, no matter what is out there.

A big thank you to Missio Alliance for this conversation!

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