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.

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

Prepare for Persecution?

By Artist unknown

“ Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” Jn 15:20. (ESV)

Is the American Church ready for persecution? Some people scoff at the idea Christians will see persecution. Some say persecution will never come. We have the Constitution to protect us. There is no way our rights can be violated.

Recent history has shown us the gap that is between this world’s religion and our own faith, Christianity. Several cases have come up that have pitted Christian faith against the laws of this land. And many times the cases have gone through the courts siding on the side of the law and special interest groups against the religious freedom of the defenders. It wasn’t until the case went to the Supreme Court did we see some respite.

The Gospel Coalition has an article that comes out of Australia. The events there are not dissimilar to our own. Campbell Markham argues, in light of certain people losing their jobs over their faith and their beliefs regarding marriage, the church needs to prepare itself for more persecution. He is calling all churches in Australia to prepare their people for persecution. I’d suggest you read the whole article. It paints a picture not only of the grim reality we live in but also of the glory of keeping the faith even during trials and persecution.

I expect, within the remainder of my lifetime, that Christians will be legally restricted in their ability to speak out and live out their faith in the public sphere. ~ Campbell Markham pastors Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Hobart.

Even though Markham is speaking to Australia specifically, I think he speaks to all the Church in the West. We’ve not seen the persecution that the Church has endured in its history. The promise of Jesus is we will see persecution. We in the West have been blessed not to see what our forefathers witnessed and endured.

Will this blessing turn into a curse? Will we bend to the will of our state, our tormentors, when they demand we turn away from our faith, the teaching of our Lord? Will we endure losing our jobs for our faith? Our homes? Our church buildings?

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.

Unity By The Spirit

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Eph. 4:1-3

Are you “eager to maintain the unity fo the Spirit”?

We all need to ask ourselves this question. I’ve always heard unity preached through the years. But I wonder if we really want unity in the Church. Do we really want unity with those brothers and sisters we disagree with?

I want to note the translators of the ESV version chose to capitalize the word “Spirit” in verse 3. Most every modern Bible translations follows suit. In other words, verse 3 is referring to the Holy Spirit. This means, the unity of the Church is brought and worked out by the Holy Spirit.

What makes this interesting is the fact many churches are divided when it comes to the Holy Spirit and his work today. How is it that the very means of unity of the Church now has become the means of division?

A recent article on The Exchange speaks of a time after WWII where there was an explosion of missionary agencies that brought together different traditions in hopes of reaching the lost in our world. This brought together Charismatics with Cessationist in efforts to reach the world.

“Mission agencies of all kinds became new voices – InterVarsity, the Navigators, Youth for Christ, Young Life, and Campus Crusade, to name a few – bringing young people together in new kinds of missions and understandings. This generated inter-church activity, mixing those from Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal communities, breaking down walls.” – Brian Stiller

The Holy Spirit brought together people hungry to see lost people saved. Because of their faithfulness God moved in a huge way. A way that many said did not happen and could not happen. People’s doctrines were shook up.

“Into that mix came missionaries returning home and giving accounts of healings, deliverance from demonic oppression and miracles, this often to churches that assumed such manifestations had ceased. Deeply divided churches were about to discover what they had in common.” – Brian Stiller

What they had in common was the power and the work of the Holy Spirit in the world.

It is said, there are no atheist in foxholes. In other words, in the midst of war, in the trenches where the battle is most fierce, everyone begins to pray. When it seems all is lost many being to pray to the god they don’t believe in.

It is the same in the mission field: there are no Cessationists in the front lines of the mission field. In the mission field you will find out you are praying healing and miracles. When faced with a real enemy you will be praying to cast out demons. You’ll want to see God move in a miraculous and supernatural way. In the mission field there are no Charismatics or Cessationists. There are only people of God living out the kingdom in a powerful way.

Paul tells us humility, gentleness, and patience, as we all strive towards unity.

Are you eager for the unity of the Spirit?