Monday, January 14, 2013

Christian Unity

We are coming up on Christian unity week again. It is so important. On the one hand we see great progress. The change in language from Vatican II calling non-Catholic Christians separated brothers rather than calling them heretics is paying off. The focus on what we have in common is slowly sinking in. Then there is the next step. If we are all part of the body of Christ then we all called to be united. We are called to hold to one faith. But if God asks us to do that then how are we to obey that command? What would obedience look like? What would disobedience look like? It has to be more than just being nice to each other and respecting each other. We are called to do that with unbelievers. With believers we are called to more.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 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 us all, who is above all and through all and in all.   Ephesians 4:1-6
So what does it look like? One body means one head or one church administration. One faith means agreement on key doctrines. One baptism means a sacramental unity. So we are not talking about getting together once a year for some happy talk and a few songs. This is about really being one church. If God commands us to do something He gives us the grace to do it. Catholics say that is the grace of the apostolic office and petrine office. That is the blessings given to the apostles and the blessing given to Peter are, to some degree, still here today in their successors. Protestants reject this but they don't have a real answer to how God intends us to achieve this unity. More and more protestants are starting to see this problem. That their the body of Christ is bigger than their tradition and that maintaining separate traditions is sinful.

The flip side of this is a cause for concern. People are more and more aware of the different Christian traditions and because of this the damage done by Christian disunity is growing. People still feel the call of God in their hearts. When they do they look around and see a confusing picture of Christianity. Lots of groups out there making all sorts of truth claims. The first temptation is to write it all off. It used to be that most people were kind of attached to one tradition and that is where they went when they had questions about faith or morals. That is breaking down. Now people use Google instead and who knows what they will end up with? Some of it might be compelling but the overall message is confused.

Christians simply need to get their act together or they are going to get destroyed by modern skepticism. People are very quick to write off Christianity so if we start offering up a mass of contradictory theological opinions many people won't listen long. As Christianity becomes more and more counter-cultural evangelism will mean asking people to make a big sacrifice for Christ. They might lose friends. They might lose job opportunities. People who used to respect them as serious thinkers might mock them. Paying that kind of price is going to make you ask a lot more questions then you would if you were just going to church on Sunday morning and giving them a few dollars.

People are going to want to know why your church is better than other churches in town. Why is it more likely to be reflecting the truth of Christ? Everyone claims to be biblical so that is no answer. What do you have that is worth dying for? As society gets more and more hostile to the faith that question will not seem overly dramatic.

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