Multiplex Wisdom of God

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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 Church?

Tom Wright: I think he would hang his head and say you need to go back to square-one and start again.

Martin Bashir: Really?

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.

Eucharismatic?

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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.”

I whole heartedly agree.

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?

Conviction + Freedom = Denominations

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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