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.

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

Could Denominations Be A Good Thing?

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” 1 Co 12:14 (ESV)

Kenneth Samples at Reasons to Believe has a five-part article answering the skeptic’s question, “Why should I seriously consider Christian truth-claims when Christendom is so deeply divided?”

Our disunity is an embarrassment. It hinders our witness and does not completely represent the image of Jesus Christ. Because of this some will complain and criticize denominations. They have gotten a bad rap through the years. But could there be a good side to denominations? Samples gives us positive reasons for denominations: the fullness of the faith, critique, and protest.

“Fullness of the Faith”

We are fallen human beings. Our thoughts and desires are mired by sin. We are not perfect, therefore, our thinking, our theology, and our interpretation of the Bible are imperfect. This is why we have many denominations. But the positive side to this is with all the churches together we get a more full view of the faith. Where one denomination is lacking the other will fill in. Because we all are different, together, our diversity shows the whole picture of Jesus Christ that no one denomination can full show.

“Diversity Can Provide a Needed Corrective”

Because we are imperfect we need the diversity of the body of Christ in order to give correction when needed. I’ve often seen the blogosphere be ignited in a firestorm over certain issues. There are many voices and several good arguments. They buffet and correct each other. The key in this is humility and the patience to hear correction. By having multiple denominations and traditions we can discuss, challenge, and perhaps even shape each other closer to the image of Jesus Christ.

“Principled Protest Has Its Place”

There are times with denominations do go well outside the realm of orthodox Christianity. When a denomination changes its creed, teaches a different gospel, or denounces essential elements of the faith, they have fallen away. This leaves many faithful people within that denomination no choice but to splinter off. They are separating in protest. Much like the Protestant Reformation, when the doctrines of the faith are lost, we need to seek our reformation, and maybe even separation.

In spite of our differences, we can still be united in the essentials. We can come together, work together, and grow each other in the faith.