One Body… One Spirit


Berlin, Museum Europäischer Kulturen, Fleckelteppich NIK

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.”

Ephesians 4:4-6

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.

Is Unity in Evangelism Possible?

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…” [1]. 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.

[1] Rene De Visme Williamson, “Negative Thoughts About Ecumenism.” Christianity Today XX (August 30, 1968) p. 1131

Multiplex Wisdom of God

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

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.

Pastor, You Need Friends

Photo by Eber Devine on Unsplash

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?

Non-Charismatics

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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.

One such is Thomas R. Schreiner writing for 9Marks. His article is titled, “Why Charismatics and Non-Charismatics Can Get Along.” Indeed we can get along. In fact, I would argue we need to get along if we are to be of any use in advancing the kingdom of God.

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.

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?