“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.”
Jesus, John 17:20-21
One of the keys towards unity in the Church, indeed, one of the most oft missed even glaring possibilities, is found here in Jesus’ priestly prayer for unity. I know, I keep coming back to this verse. Maybe because it is so powerful, so compelling, I hope this prayer comes true.
Jesus prays that we would be one just as he and his Father are one. The oneness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the model of oneness Jesus prays we have. This oneness goes deeper than our facades, our creeds, and our steeples. It goes to the heart of what it means to be in fellowship and community.
It means there is intentional diversity in unity.
The Athanasian Creed gives us an idea of the diversity yet unity within the Trinity. The Father is not the Son is not the Holy Spirit. Yet, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. In the same vein, it could be said, The Lutheran is not the Presbyterian is not the Pentecostal is not the Baptist…ect. Yet, the Lutheran is the Church, the Presbyterian is the Church, the Pentecostal is the Church, the Baptist is the Church…ect.
The Church is not God, yet, the Church is made in the image of Christ, the image of God. The Trinity becomes the model in which our lives in the Church should model.
Henri Blocher says, “If the pattern is trinitarian, the unity is not obtained to the detriment of the diversity… [it is ] a unity “harmoniously differentiated… The divine trinity is not only a pattern, but a foundation of that marriage of unity and diversity which holds under suspicion all enterprise of bureaucratic uniformity.”
In other words, the unity the Church receives by the Spirit of God will not transform us into churches that all look the same, feel the same, and worship the same style. Rather, the unity that God gives keeps our diversity intact. This means bringing each church and tradition under one head, one managing organization, is not only foolish practically, but, is not the work of God. The work of God is many members, one body. Just as the Trinity is three persons yet one God.
My blog’s headline, “One Body, One Faith, One Baptism,” comes from the book of Ephesians 4:4-6.
“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Paul is talking about unity in these passages. He wants all Christians in Ephesus, even Christians today, to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 3).
A recent article from Lausanne Movement points out how that unity is achieved. Henri Blocher says, “…the unification of all believers belongs to the real mission of the Holy Spirit. ‘One body’ first depends on ‘one Spirit.’ He goes not to say this is the main point of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21. There Jesus prays, “…for those who believe through me… may all be one… so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
In John 13-17 we get much of our insight into the person and the work of the Holy Spirit. In this context Jesus tells his disciples to love one another (13:34). Then Jesus says he will send a Helper (14:16) in order to help us follow his commandments to love one another, and to love Jesus and the Father. He will teach us all things and bring to remembrance all that Jesus taught (14:26). He will speak all truth and glorify Jesus in his people (16:12ff). Then Jesus prays that those who believe in him will be one in the same love that flows between the Father and the Son (17:20-21).
The fulfillment of Jesus’ promise came 10 days after his Ascension. While the disciples were in the upper room the Holy Spirit came upon them like a rushing wind and fire. The Holy Spirit indwells every believer unifying them in a unique way not seen outside the Church. Blocher says, “This order of events [in John 13-17 and then Acts 2] invites us to understand that the unification which will follow the fulfillment of the word of Christ and the coming of the Spirit are one single event.”
Jesus prays for unity among his people. And then he sent the Holy Spirit in order to answer his own prayer. The empowerment of the Holy Spirit in our lives is the key to unity among the churches.
Carol was the new pastor in the area. He was young, energetic, and had big dreams. The dreams he had for his church went beyond the four wall. He wanted to reach out to his community and see the lost saved, the broken healed, and people come to know Jesus as their king. With such big ambitions he knew he could not do it alone. What was needed was all the churches uniting together in seeing their communities changed and transformed for the good.
Carol sought out the different ecumenical groups in his area. One was a ministers association. But it was strictly for the pastors and ministry leaders of the area. Other groups were devoted to mercy ministries: homeless shelters, food banks, soup kitchens, and thrift stores. These are all good organizations that the churches should be involved in. But, there was minimal interaction between the churches as a whole. During the holidays there were many ecumenical services. But even then, the various churches only partnered with others churches that had the same worship style and familiar beliefs.
These ecumenical groups, organizations, and services are not wrong. They are good and are much needed. However, when it comes to unity in reaching the lost these are only touching the surface. Carol was frustrated and almost gave up.
When the churches practice ecumenicism it tends to be exclusive to the leadership. “These [leaders] come to enjoy a professional camaraderie that is warm because of what they endured together…” . Hardly ever do you see ecumenism working on a large scale among the laity. Why is that?
Many conferences in the past has brought together people from various backgrounds and traditions for a single purpose. Consider the Promise Keepers movement, marriage retreats, and even musical concerts. These single purpose events brought together many different people from different churches and denominations in order to worship together and be encouraged together. But again, this approach has its downfalls. Rarely are these events evangelistic.
Perhaps a large scale ecumenism service is impossible. However, I believe ecumenism can work in order to reach our communities for Jesus Christ. The first step is coming together intentionally with that purpose in mind. Carol needs to pray, network, and slowly build in the minds of the people in his community what is possible when they all work together.
 Rene De Visme Williamson, “Negative Thoughts About Ecumenism.” Christianity Today XX (August 30, 1968) p. 1131
I pulled the plug from social media. I deleted all my social media apps from my phone. The moment I did it I felt an ease come over me. I didn’t want to feel the constant pull to check the feed. I didn’t want to be bombarded with the constant up and down each post forced upon me. Maybe you should do the same.
I couldn’t totally delete my accounts though. Because I manage The Refuge Homeless Shelter I also manage the social media accounts for this ministry. Facebook is a huge tool when it comes to communicating with our volunteers. So I can’t totally unplug. But, I can limit my access.
Why would I limit my access? Isn’t everybody on Facebook? I too look at people weird when they tell me they are not on Facebook. But, I kind of envy them too. It seems social media is constantly screaming, “Look at me!!!”
After I deleted my apps I stumbled upon a podcast describing how social media works and how it preys upon our worst emotions. What you see in your feed, whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and even your search results on Google, are determined by an algorithm. The algorithm is designed to give you content that is catered to you and your interests. It seems like a perfect model to give you what you want. However, the down side is every post you see, every advertisement you see, is made to elicit an emotion in you. When you respond to posts you tell the algorithm you want to see more of this same content. So it feeds you more of the same content to your feed.
The problem with this is the most easiest emotion to elicit is the fight or flight response. In social media it turns into anxiety and rage. The end result is you see many things that you’ve responded to with anxiety. You respond, which changes the algorithm to give you more of the same, you respond again, which changes the algorithm to give you more of the same, rinse and repeat. Soon you find yourself anxious all day due to the constant barrage of anxiety ladened posts from people and advertising. Social Media Anxiety Disorder is a real disorder. The number of people diagnosed rises daily, and many more go undiagnosed.
Perhaps I had the disorder and didn’t know it. I do feel less anxious just in the three days I’ve deleted the apps from my phone. I have resolved only to go on social media once a day from my computer. I also resolve to only be on social media for ten minutes at the most.
If you are feeling anxious, distracted, and have that constant feeling to always be checking your feeds, perhaps you need to think about unplugging for a while.
I am excited to tell you about a new venture I am doing with my brother Jon. Together we have started Sky Daddy Radio. It is a podcast where we talk about Christian theology, news, and culture. We’ve got a few episodes in now. The introduction is just what it sounds like: we introduce ourselves and what we hope to accomplish with the podcast.
Episode 1 we talk about the Norte Dame fire and why seeing the cathedral in flames effected us protestants in American.
By the way, you will hear us refer to the podcast as “The Nitty Gritty.” Apparently there are several podcasts with that name. Who knew? So we had to change the name. Why Sky Daddy Radio? You’ll find out in episode two. In this episode we discuss the Sri Lanka bombings. Such a sad event to happen on the holiest day of the year.
I am interested to see where this podcast takes me. I am proud to be working with my brother and chatting about our faith and how we are to live that faith out in our world.
(Really, I think it is a way for my brother and I to have fun chatting while still calling it “ministry.” Nonetheless, give us a listen and have some fun with us.)
You can find us on the link below on Podbean. Look for us on iTunes and Spotify also. If you like what you hear subscribe and give us a review.
I recently watched a video called An Evening with Tom Wright on “Paul: A Biography”. It was a very good introduction to N.T. Wright’s book on Paul. I would highly recommend the video.
Towards the end of the video Wright is asked a series of questions from Martin Bashir, a British Journalist. He asked Wright, “What would Paul say about the multi-denominational and fractious nature of the modern expression of Church?” I like Wright’s response and I post the transcript for it here below:
Martin Bashir: You
talked earlier about Paul being concerned about holiness and unity, and how
combining those two is the challenge of every pastoral minister, male and
female everywhere in the world. A question is asked, what would Paul say about
the multi-denominational and fractious nature of the modern expression of
Tom Wright: I think
he would hang his head and say you need to go back to square-one and start
Tom Wright: After I
wrote “Paul and the Faithfulness of God”, I was on the road doing
various lectures and so on, and again and again people said, ‘What’s the big
thing Paul would say if he could see us today?’ And I said, ‘Not only that we
are disunited but that we don’ care about it.’ Or if we do, we go an ecumenical
meeting once a month and kind of solved our consciences that we have shaken
hands with our Christian brothers and sisters down the road. Well that’s better
than not. I mean, a hundred years ago the Anglican bishops were sending angry
letters to any of their clergy who dared to preach in a Methodist church. Where
are we now tonight? This would have been unthinkable. We’ve come a long way and
let’s enjoy that. But, there still a longs ways to go.
Tom Wright: Now I think the tragedy is this: in the 16th century the Reformers rightly insisted on worship and scripture in their own language. But, once you say, ‘Okay, have it in your own language,’ then you get the Germans worshiping in German, and the Dutch in Dutch, and the French in French and the English in English. And then as theological divisions emerge those churches embrace different ways and then they say, ‘Oh, they’re heretics down the road,’ where’s in fact they were just speaking a different language and it may turn out there are theological differences. I am not saying theological differences aren’t important. Believe me they are hugely important. But, if we remain disunited and don’t even care then the principalities and powers are still running the show.
Tom Wright: Ephesians 3 Paul says, through the church the multiplex wisdom of God… the many colored, many splendid wisdom of God might be made known to the principalities and powers. This is the point. Caesar would have loved to had an empire in which people of all sorts were happy in one big family. It never worked. He tried to impose it as a Roman uniformity. Paul is saying, the glorious multi-colored variety of the church is supposed to be united. And when that happens Caesar will know that God has called time on his oppressive empire.
At The Gospel Coalition’s National Conference Platt preached from Mark 2:1-12. Ironically this is the very passage I thought about when I first saw the headline. It is the story of Jesus healing the paralytic who’s friends lowered him down through a roof to see Jesus. Looking at the man Jesus says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” But some of the scribes and Pharisees begin to question to themselves how one who is not God can forgive sins. But, Jesus showing that he could forgive sin heals the paralytic.
Platt claims, though the man had two urgent needs, healing and forgiveness, the two needs are not equal. He says, “This man’s spiritual need was ultimate. More important than even his physical paralysis was his spiritual malice… this man was a sinner, which meant that his ultimate need was not healing from God, but holiness before God.” This is why Jesus did not first heal the man but forgave him his sins.
But, the message of this passage is not we need forgiveness of sins. The message is that Jesus has the power to forgive sins. Jesus knowing his audience has scribes and Pharisees in it (See Lk. 5:21) first said to the man that his sins were forgiven. He knew the Pharisees would question it. It was believed then sickness and disease were a result of sin. Even Jesus’ own disciples thought this (John 9:1ff). If Jesus was to prove he has the power to forgive sins, in the eyes of these scribes and Pharisees he’d have to heal the sickness.
Which is easier to say after all? “Your sins are forgiven,” or “Be healed”?
Your particular sin may not have caused your sickness. But, sickness and disease is a result of sin in the world. If Jesus can forgive sin, save us from our sin, then why is it a “false gospel” to say you can be healed by Jesus? After all, healing is a significant part of the atonement (Is. 53:5).
Platt said, ““The Gospel is not going to Africa and saying ‘trust in Jesus and your HIV/AIDS will be gone. The Gospel is not going to America and saying ‘trust in Jesus and your cancer will be gone.’” This I agree with Platt. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not “believe and be physically healed”, but, “believe and be forgiven.” However, to disassociate healing from the gospel all together is not how the Bible portrays the work of Jesus, his ministry, or the ministry of the Church after his ascension. By our saving faith we are healed, either in this age or the age to come. What is there to hope for if we are not ever healed?
Another pastor quoted in the article is Kevin DeYoung. He said the key to Jesus’ ministry is not to “transform social structures,” but to proclaim the good news. He says, “There is not a single example of Jesus going into a town with the purpose of healing or casting out demons… The reason He came out to public ministry was to preach.”
Excuse me Kevin, have you read the gospel of Luke? Because this is what the gospel of Luke is all about.
Both Platt and DeYoung miss the point of Jesus ministry. He himself told us what his ministry is all about in Luke 4:18-19.
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus came to preach? Yes, to preach good news to the poor. And if Jesus did not come to “transform social structures” then how is forgiveness of sins good news to the poor? Especially since people in all social classes has access to this same forgiveness? Also, Jesus was to deliver people, heal people, and set people free. Many want to over-spiritualize this passage. But, how does Jesus fulfill his God given mission? In the real world, during his earthly ministry.
Jesus did go about casting out demons (Luke 4:31-37) setting free the captive.
Jesus did go about healing (Luke 4:38) including the blind.
Jesus preached against the leaders of his day for not considering the poor, and for keeping people from experiencing God (Luke 11:37-54), proclaiming liberty to the oppressed.
Yes, Jesus was sent to preach the gospel, but he was also sent to bring “the good news of the kingdom of God” too (Luke 8:1). He preached the good news AND brought about the kingdom of God by healing, casting out demons, and proclaiming liberty to those oppressed.
One of the most valuable and precious relationships I have involves other Christian leaders and ministers in my local community. I’ve made it a priority to cultivate these relationships in order to promote unity and see the kingdom advance further.
Though these relationships promote unity they have been a great blessing to me both mentally and spiritually.
Brian Boyles writing for Facts and Trends says, “I [have] friendships with other church leaders in the community. These… were vital to my personal and spiritual growth…” When things go wrong in pastors’ lives, they need someone to turn to, someone that will pray over them, someone to speak words of encouragement.
Many see the pastor as someone who has it all together, as someone who cannot have any faults or problems. If the pastor did it would prove God is not with him. In spite of this being utterly false many pastors and leaders face congregants that think and act this way. Most pastors feel alone with no one to talk to. 70% of pastors do not have someone they consider a close friend. They have no one in which they can talk to, vent to about ministry, or work through problems about congregants, families, and even their own marriage.
70% say they constantly fight depression. Boyles says, “You need another person in your shoes to walk with you through times like this and other difficult things you’ll encounter in ministry—things you can’t bring before friends you have within your own congregation.”
Though I don’t have a formal congregation, as I am managing a homeless shelter, I do still look for and value the friendship and support of local pastors and ministry leaders.
Thinking through this I am drawn to Jesus. He himself had his select disciples whom he called friends (John 15:15). When he was tired from ministry he sought refuge with his friends saying, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place so we can rest” (Mark 6:31). When Jesus was facing his greatest trial he took his closest friends and asked them to pray with him (Luke 22:40, 46), to sit up with him in the night and keep watch over him (Mark 14:36). Jesus fellowshipped with his friends when he was tired. He leaned on them at his hour of suffering. He even needed his friend, whom he loved, when he was upon the cross (John19:25-27).
If Jesus ,our great shepherd, had need of friends who would fellowship with him, pray for him, and look after his personal wellbeing, how much more do we, his under-shepherds, need friends who will do the same?
Promoting unity is one of the goals of this blog. I want to see unity among the churches in order for us to be the light that Jesus has called us to be. I look for others that promote unity in the faith and am thankful to see people from many denominations and traditions writing and encouraging unity between those of different traditions.
Schreiner is charitable and highlights the need to be united where we all agree: primarily the gospel and the Scriptures as the word of God. I agree with Schreiner and carry the same sentiment. However, I have one point I disagree on and one question I’d ask Non-Charismatics.
Schreiner says, “When this life is over and we live in the new world that is coming, there won’t be any theological disagreements.” There will be no more debates, no more disputes, there will be an agreement on everything. I think this assumes that our diversity is a result of sin and not a result of our infinite Creator. The creativeness of our God is found within the diversity of gifts found within his people. Even including our differences in understanding.
In the age to come there will be so much more to discover, so much more to understand, so much more to see, concerning our infinite God and savior. There is no way our finite minds will be able to grasp the fullness of our God. Understanding will come just as it does today: through thought, discussion, and debate. The difference will be in how we debate. It will be done within the bounds of the full love of God. There will be no ill will, no misrepresenting people, no hate. Debates will be civil.
Schreiner goes on to say, “we can acknowledge and should acknowledge that churches that differ from us but subscribe to the central doctrines of the Christian faith and faithfully proclaim the gospel are good churches…I’m fairly certain, by the way, that I am right on spiritual gifts and that my charismatic brothers and sisters are mistaken.” Now the question I have for Schreiner is this: if these churches are good churches what do you think is going on when these churches practice the spiritual gifts? Are these churches deceived in thinking people are being healed when we pray? Are these churches mistaken when they receive previously unknown information in order to encourage one another?
He says, “I also think there are some important consequences which flow from holding a charismatic position, and I worry that the view of prophecy many charismatics hold can and sometimes does lead to inadequate views on the sufficiency of biblical revelation.” Of this I’d ask, are we to ignore the passages encouraging us to desire the gifts, especially prophecy? What are we to do with the fact that no where in Scripture does it say the gifts will stop? Is the mere existence of the Bible proof enough to render its contents void?
These question are not meant to further put a wedge between Charismatics and Non-Charismatics. I just want to understand the Non-Charismatics and how it “works” when churches unite in our common faith.
Managing The Refuge Homeless Shelter affords me the opportunity to see many churches with many different styles of worship and service. There are stark contrasts between churches who are charismatic and mainline churches.
I grew up in a Pentecostal church. So, I am more familiar with the laid back spontaneous style of worship. There are no creeds to recite, no written prayers, and communion is served only once a month.
Other mainline churches have creeds, liturgies, and communion served every week.
But what I want to highlight here is not the different styles of worship. I want to talk about the difference in how the spiritual gifts are practiced among the churches.
Last month an article written by Andrew Wilson called, “Our Churches Are Either Sacramental or Charismatic.” He says, “ It is an oddity of contemporary Christianity, at least in the West, that the churches that emphasize the sacraments generally do not emphasize spiritual gifts, and vice versa.”
And an oddity it is! The early church had a good mix of liturgy and charismatic gifts. It is strange that the Church today seems to be splintered between those who practice and those who don’t.
(I am not referring to cessationist. Here, I am referring to those churches that claim to believe in the spiritual gifts and yet do not practice.)
Wilson wants to see both the high-liturgical churches and the charismatics come together and practice together. He is looking for the churches to adopt “Eucharismatic” worship. He combines the words Eucharist and charismatic to emphasize the unity between high liturgical churches and the use of the gifts. They can be used together within worship.
Growing up Pentecostal I was told written prayers were not spiritual enough. You needed to pray from the heart, pray in the spirit, which is spontaneous.
High liturgical churches may feel if they allow the use of the gifts they would lose control of their services and create an atmosphere that is less reverent.
These are valid fears. There are times when prayer needs to be spontaneous. But, I have greatly been enriched by the use of written prayers. The book of Psalms is one of my go-to prayer books. Also, I’ve been in many services where a supposed “move of the Spirit” led to chaos and irreverent behavior in the service. But it is not the gifts of the Spirit, or the Spirit himself, that brings chaos. It is people mis-using the gifts. It is the task of the leadership and elders to correctly teach the use of the gifts and handle the service in such a way that it builds up the body of Christ.
I’d encourage my charismatic friends to consider using liturgy in your services. I would start by reciting the Apostles’ Creed during your service. It is a good start in getting your people use to reciting and praying together.
For my high-liturgical friends I would encourage you to create a space within your services in order for the gifts of the Spirit to be used. This means you’ll have to allow people to speak from the heart, to pray for others, and sing songs to each other.
Wilson says, “Worshiping God with both sacramental and spiritual gifts can deepen our joy, enrich our lives, and remind us that there are things we can learn from the worship practices of other church traditions.”