Babel – A False Unity Part 2

Tower of Babel – Unknown

Last time we asked the question of why God would break unity when he shows us and teaches us to be united in him?

The story of the Tower of Babel can be a confusing one for us moderns. The unity seen in the people looks like the unity God promotes throughout his scriptures. Why did God disperse the people and make them break their unity?

The Book of Jasher is a non-conical book assumed to be ancient re-telling of the events described in the Bible. It is not scripture, but, it gives us insight into how Israel understood the events that took place.

In this book there is a warrior king named Nimrod who went around conquering peoples through war. He became king and ruled cruelty, denying God and worshiping idols – much like the kings of Israel and Judah in the Old Testament.

In Scripture they said to one another, “Come on, let’s build ourselves a town and a tower with its top in the heavens and make a name for ourselves…”[1] The Book of Jasher adds, “so that we may reign upon the whole world, in order that the evil of our enemies may cease from us, that we may reign mightily over them…”[2]

The goal of the people was to “reign upon the whole world” and to oppressed the people. They also sought to build the tower to fight God in his own territory, the sky, and set up their own gods.

During the construction of the tower it is said, “if a brick should fall from their hands and get broken, they would all weep over it, and if a man fell and died, none of them would look at him.”[3] This gives us insight into what the people valued. They valued their tower more than they valued the people around them. Their priorities were backwards.

Unity that seeks to oppress people and degrade their value is not the unity that God calls us to. The unity that God calls for is to build up people, to lift them up out of their circumstances, and show them they are valued.

Leithart says, “Though God made humanity to be one, he scattered a humanity unified in opposition to him, a humanity unified by coercion, fear, or slavery, all efforts at unity that impose uniformity on the human race…Babel was a perversion of God’s own intention for humanity…”[4]

What this tells us is unity for the sake of unity is not the goal of the Church. There is a unity that transcends simple ecumenicalism. It is a unity that seeks the good of our neighbors, the good of the Church, the good of humanity.

Click here to read Part 1

[1] Old Testament quotations comes from John Goldingay’s translation of the Old Testament called “The First Testament”
[2] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/anonymous/jasher.iii.ix.html
[3] ibid
[4] Peter J. Leithart: The End Of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church

Babel – A False Unity Part 1



The Tower of Babel – Pieter Bruegel the Elder

No one questions that Scripture teaches unity for the Church and humanity at large. It is the intention of creation. It finds fulfillment in the end when Jesus unites all things under his authority.

What is interesting though are the stories that show God dividing the people. The word of God divides (Heb. 4:12). Jesus brought a sword that would divide (Matt. 10:34-36). One story in the Old Testament is particularly striking: the story of the Tower of Babel.

The story begins in Genesis 11. The first verse says, “Now the entire earth was of one language and common words.” [1]

This brings to mind exhortations of Paul who says, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”[2]

The people came together, united, to build themselves a city and a tower. They were united in purpose, had the same mind, the same judgment. This unity of mind and purpose seems to align with the unity that is taught throughout scripture. Why, then, did God divide these ancient people?

Leithart says, “Division and false union come together in the tower of Babel episode, the great biblical story of false unification and final dispersal.”[3] The intentions of the builders of the tower were judged by God as being anti-unity. What were the builders doing that made God disperse them and break their unity?

We will look further into this later this week.

[1] Old Testament quotations comes from John Goldingay’s translation of the Old Testament called “The First Testament”
[2] 1 Cor. 1:10 KJV
[3] Peter J. Leithart: The End Of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church

Jesus’ Prayer


The End Of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church written by Peter J. Liethart.

Jesus’ prayer in John tends to be a the text promoting unity in the church. Jesus says, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 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.” (John 17:20).

Will God answer Jesus’ prayer?

Currently I am reading, The End Of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church written by Peter J. Liethart. He believes God will answer Jesus prayer. He says, “The Father loves the Son and will give him what he asks. He does not give a stone when Jesus asks for bread. When Jesus asks that his disciples be one, the Father will not give him bits and fragments.”

In light of the current situation in the Church today this is a bold assertion. If God will answer Jesus’ prayer when will it happen? The last 2000 years has shown the exact opposite. We are more fragmented than ever before.

I believe ultimately we will all be one in the new heavens and the new earth. We see in Revelation a picture into heaven where there is a “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes, and people and languages…” (Rev. 7:9). We could add from every denomination, tradition, and creed.

Leithart has ambition in his hope. He says he is laying out a plan in order to bring unity among the church, to see the end or Protestantism as we know it. We shall see as we move through his book.

UMC Tradition

Last week the United Methodist Church voted to not change the exclusion language of their book of discipline regarding homosexuality. This was one of three paths the UMC was to decide upon. One path was to change the language with full affirmation of homosexuality. Another where the church would allow local congregations choose how they handle the situation. The one chosen, called the “Tradition Plan” was to keep the language intact and to allow those congregations that choose to leave to leave with their property in hand.

Last week I wrote my hopes would be they choose the middle plan, what they called “Connectional Conference Plan.”

Each side believes they are fighting for truth. Each side believed this vote brought all their disagreements to a head. But, it only brought about more division.

Staying together would have been more beneficial for both parties. Together they could have done so much more. Together they could have sough the truth. Together they could have worked it out.

Now lines have been drawn. Each will now go to their perspective bubbles and echo chambers. They will choose to exclude and not include their fellows brothers and sisters in Christ when what the Church really needs is unity in the faith.

Prayer is all I can do from the side lines in this event. Prayer is much needed.

United Methodist Schism?

Trinity United Methodist Church Lapeer, MI

United Methodist are currently in conference – probably one of the most important in the denominations history. So much is riding on this conference. This conference may very well split the denomination.

For 20 years there has been a growing support to remove language in The Book of Discipline “the practice of homosexuality … incompatible with Christian teaching.” The value and worth of such persons is not in question. – just the actual act of homosexual practices.

There are three paths they will vote one:
1. One Church Plan – full acceptance of homosexual behavior and full inclusion of such persons to leadership and clergy
2. “Connectional Conference Plan” – maintain an “umbrella” over all the churches and leaving the issue of homosexual persons fully be up to the discretion of individual pastors and churches.
3. “Traditional Plan” – keep the language concerning homosexual practice intact and allowing churches who disagree to leave the denomination with full rights to the property held by the local congregation.

I am not part of the United Methodist Church. I have no immediate skin-in-the-game. However, I think this has overarching consequences for the church at large. I believe this will result in yet another denomination schism.

Both camps, the progressives and traditionalist, will not want to share space with each other. They will choose to exclude rather than exist together and work together towards the truth. I may be wrong. I pray I am wrong. We should choose to be united and work out our differences as a whole rather than build up walls that further divide the Body of Christ.

Pray for the United Methodist Church that God will give them wisdom during this conference.

What do you think? Do you think the United Methodist should split and stay together and work it out?

Building the Kingdom is a Group Effort

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Last week there was an excellent article written on The Exchange. It spoke to the heart of the work I do here in my home city Lapeer. The goal has always been to see the churches work together to evangelize the large unchurched population in our city and county.

I’ve written about the loss of opportunity when churches act and work as if they are the only church in the community. They ignore, or even out right criticize, other churches and their ministries. We lose credibility among the the community when they see us in disunity and competing against each other. The gospel is not owned by one single church. It is the good news of what God has done through Jesus, the story that every church should be telling.

Jeff Christopherson writes, “There are numerous geographies where the harsh reality is mutual antagonism and distrust amongst spiritual leaders…For whatever reason—either botched ecumenical experiences or deep personal pain—some pastors find it difficult to align for broader kingdom purposes.”

When we distrust each other in our common mission we will fall short. We will miss the mark time and again. When we align ourselves together for the common mission we will see our city, our county, our communities, come to know the living God.

What will it take to unite our churches to see the kingdom advance? Is there pride we need to repent of? Hardness of hearts towards our follow workers? Favoritism towards people groups or traditions?

Christopherson ends the article with this: “If we hope to move forward in the evangelization of North America, kingdom collaboration will to have to become the norm.” Amen, and amen.

If we want to see God move in our people, if we want to see people come to the faith, if we want to see the kingdom of God advance in our community, we need to unite together.

My Life in Posts

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

If you were ever on Google+ you got an email recently announcing they are shutting down their platform. Back when it was implemented both Twitter and Facebook had been around for a number of years. Google wanted to be all things to all people and jumped into the social media market. They had a snazzy app that I loved but a small community. It stalled and never grew up to be the force that Twitter and Facebook is today.

I went to my profile today and perused my timeline. The last time I posted to Google+ was August 1, 2016. The first time was July 29, 2011.
It was interesting to see the progression of my life during that time. I posted about workouts, diets, movies, and vacations. I also posted links to my writings that no longer exist in the blogshpere.

I found it fascinating to see the subjects that I wrote about and what interested me. Many of my first posts involve apologetics with titles like, “My Gut Feeling: God is Out There,” and “The Euthyprho Dialog.” Later I wrote about the ministries that I was involved in like Abide, a 20s and 30s group I was pastoring in my church. Also, First Mission, a mission organization that I had started in 2012, one that I recently retired.

Around about 2014 I started to write more about peace and mercy ministries. I started to search out how a follower of Jesus seeks out to live his life according to his teachings. The titles of some were, “What About Self-defense?” and “The Dogs on the Border.”

Looking at my life in these posts I see a progression regarding my thoughts and beliefs through these years. People change, they grow up, and my posts attest to my maturing in life and theology. My 38 year old self is not the same person as the 28 year old I was.

Now, add to this the diverse individuals that are around you in your community. Many of whom you’ve known for years. Are they the same people when you first met? Or did they also grow, mature, and change. It makes you rethink keeping grudges and holding on to resentment.

Knowing people change, knowing we are diverse, and knowing we all are different in many ways, we can approach people with a little more grace, and little more mercy, a little more forgiveness.

Church As Family

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Krish Kandiah writes for Christianity Today, “It’s time to reclaim the church as something we belong to rather than just an event venue.”[1] He argues our churches have become places you go to instead of a community to belong to. We have made our churches another consumer product that is marketing to the public.

He says, “…the American church is fundamentally shaped by free-market capitalism…Church leaders frequently act as salesmen, and evangelism strategies often resemble marketing campaigns. Churches end up competing with one another for attendees just like business compete for customers”

The competitiveness between the churches has been one of the major barriers to church unity. It has stalled many attempts to bring churches together to reach out to the community as one.

The solution Kandiah gives is changing our mentality when it comes to the Church. We need to see the Church more like a family. The Scriptures are filled with familial language calling people in the Church brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers. The Church is something that we belong to, something to BE. It is not a place we go to. The Church is family.

Sure, families are messy. We don’t always get along. And we certainly don’t choose our family members. But, we show grace, mercy, and love especially to our family. Let us learn to do the same for our Church family.

Galatians 6:10 (NIV): Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

 

[1] Kandiah, Krish. Church as Family. Christianity Today, January, February 2019. Print. 67

Conviction + Freedom = Denominations

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

Dr. Albert Mohler answers the question, “What about denominations?” The skeptic and church critic wants to know. [2]

He begins by quoting Sydney Mead, a church historian. He says, “Theological conviction plus religious freedom equals denominationalism.” It is a simple math formula that describes why we have so many different denominations in the world.

Mohler adds the caveats that the differences in theological conviction is not about the authority of Scripture, the nature and work of Jesus Christ, or the creeds and doctrines of the universal church. This is how we make a distinction between churches that claim to be Christian, i.e. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints.

Though there are many denominations with different theological convictions we do have a foundation upon which we all stand: Jesus Christ. Through him we all can come together, work tougher, and see the kingdom of God in our world. Our diversity actually helps us in bringing the kingdom of God to our world. Our different perspectives, different strengths, and our combine resources will go far in advancing the kingdom of God.

Bob Ekblad says, “It is urgent that people from diverse sectors of the global body of Christ humbly learn from one another and partner when possible. God’s kingdom will break in sooner and with more power to a desperate world as people serve each other in unity.” [2]

Working together will only bring about the good for the Church, good for our neighbors, and good for the kingdom. The time is now to begin to work together in unity to see the kingdom of God come.

 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZURPJvyXFc
[2] Ekblad, Bob A New Christina Manifesto: Pledging Allegiance to the Kingdom of God. Kindle. Loc. 179

Schisms in the Church

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

Schisms are nothing new to the church. There have been many throughout history. Most Protestants know of the Reformation where Luther posted his 95 thesis to the doors of the local church. But, what most people don’t know is most schisms throughout history have largely been a political schism and not a doctrinal schism.

The Great Schism of 1054 is often sited to be about the filioque, a Latin term that was added to the Nicene Creed. It describes the Holy Spirit as proceeding from the Father AND the Son, instead of just the Father. The church in the East disagreed with the church in

the West. Though this is one issue among many. The real issue was authority and control.

In 1054 Pope Leo IX declared that all spiritual authority and rightful head of the church is the pope in Rome. The Eastern church did not take to kindly to such decrees. The pope died shortly there after, but, he had sent his emissary Humbert of Silva Candida to negotiate with the Eastern church. But in the end the Patriarch Michael Caerularius was excommunicated by the pope’s emissary to the East. In turn the Patriarch excommunicated the pope’s associates! He rejected the claim of the papal primacy. This is when the church split between East and West.

It also didn’t help the West sacked Constantinople, the center of the Eastern church, in 1204. The Eastern church became known as the Orthodox Church and the Western the Catholic Church.

Fast forward to today and we see the same issue of politics disrupting church unity. On January 5, 2019 the Ukraine Orthodox Church gained its independence from the Russian Orthodox Church. Issues of politics, nationalism, power, and control, all played out and eventually led to the split of this great church.

I don’t know enough to say this is good or bad on the part of the Ukrainians or the Russians. I do know this is not the church that Jesus had called us to be.

The politics of this world are not the politics of Jesus Christ. The more we blur the two, the more we will be divided. The more we allow the politics to determine our practices, the less we will love our neighbor. We are to be IN the world, influencing it like leaven in bread. We are not to be OF the world having it influencing our practices and faith.

The church in the US will do well to learn this lesson.