“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)
I’ve been trying to focus my “agendas” at church. There are lots that could be mentioned, but here are some I’m trying to focus on:
- Have a church that is more like Jesus
- Help people to get closer to God
- Have a church that values unity over achieving personal goals
That’s a start. What points would you add to this “platform”?
After last week’s excursus, we’re ready to return to our examination of what the New Testament says about baptism. The next passage to discuss is found in Ephesians 4:
“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 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)
What’s the big deal about baptism? Why do some people talk about it so much? This passage helps us see why. When Paul wants to discuss the essentials of Christian unity, one of the seven things mentioned is baptism. In fact, we can go through the New Testament and note how many times baptism is mentioned compared with other Christian practices, like the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is mentioned much more frequently. Does that mean it’s more important than the Lord’s Supper? By no means. But baptism holds a central place in Christian doctrine.
One complication is the fact that the Bible mentions more than one baptism. There is John’s baptism. John said Jesus would baptize with the Spirit and with fire. Jesus spoke of his suffering and death as a baptism. Does that mean we can’t be sure of what Paul is saying here?
I think we can be sure. We’ve already seen that John’s baptism was superseded by baptism in the name of Jesus. And baptism in the Holy Spirit isn’t something we’re told to seek. God poured out his Spirit on all flesh, and we can now receive the Spirit in our lives by being baptized in water. Paul is talking about baptism in the name of Jesus.
It’s ironic then that baptism has often been a source of division, when it’s one of seven things that Paul points to that should be the basis of our unity. May we be drawn together through this reenactment of Jesus’ death, through this new birth into a renewed life. May the one baptism help us be one body.
Photo by Benoit Rochon
The Lord’s Supper is a perfect coming-together time for the church. Yesterday, I talked about some thoughts I’ll be sharing on how Jesus tears down walls. These thoughts will be delivered as communion thoughts, which is highly appropriate.
Christians around the world join in this remembrance. Our songs may sound different, our prayers offered in different languages, but we all take bread and drink from the vine.
Our churches often end up segmented by age groups, but the Lord’s Table marks a coming together of all ages. Longtime members and first-time visitors are on an equal plane. Gender differences melt away. All walls are torn down.
“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (1 Corinthians 10:16–17)
That’s why we work to tear down walls as well. The wall of enmity between brothers. The wall of unfamiliarity. The wall of political disaccord. The wall of doctrinal disagreement. The wall of rivalry and power struggles. All walls.
Jesus set an example, tearing down that incredible wall that separated Jew and Gentile. Now his followers continue that task, attacking and destroying the walls that separate mankind, preventing them from infecting the church.
See a wall? Tear it down.
Photo by Benoit Rochon
This Sunday, I get to share some thoughts about Ephesians 2:11–22. It’s a passage with powerful imagery about Jesus tearing down the wall between Jews and Gentiles. It’s hard for us to imagine today what that meant for them. Maybe if we imagine an Arabic couple, the man with a turban and the wife with her burka, coming in and sitting by a family of Orthodox Jews. What Jesus did in bringing all men together was truly remarkable.
I was thinking about the word xenophobia. We use it to mean fear of (or prejudice toward) foreigners. From what I know of Greek (which ain’t much, folks), that meaning could be extended to anyone who wasn’t a part of your immediate group. Anyone who was a stranger or an outsider. As far as I know, that word doesn’t appear in the Bible.
But it’s opposite does. Philoxenos, the love of strangers (or guests… interesting that the word for guest was also the word for foreigner). It’s translated as hospitality. It’s a laudable trait and a commanded attitude for Christians.
The world builds walls between people, walls based on race, color, ethnicity, age, gender, political outlook, religious opinion… many things. Jesus came to tear down such walls. He came so that we could truly say:
“Here there is no Greek or Jew,
circumcised or uncircumcised,
barbarian, Scythian, slave or free,
but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)
“There is neither Jew nor Greek,
slave nor free,
male nor female,
for you are all one
in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
I wanted to continue the discussion about “us” and “them” in the church. I think one of the greatest challenges that Christians continually face is this question of groups/factions/cliques/parties within the church.
On the one hand, let’s accept the fact that we are always going to find those with whom we feel more affinity than others. It’s okay to have friends. As I heard Lynn Anderson say once, it’s okay to have circles in the church if everyone is in a circle.
I’m talking about rivalries. That feeling that “they” are trying to do something that “we” don’t want them to. Sometimes it’s about language. Oftentimes it happens based on age. Sometimes it’s about outlooks. It can be about worship styles, preaching styles, songbooks or pew Bibles.
The problem is, for most of us, this suspicion of “them” arises time and again throughout our Christian life. It’s not a one-time decision, but a continual choice to NOT label, to NOT distrust, to NOT scheme to get our way instead of their way.
We need to emphasize the things that unite us, for they trump all that may divide. In Christ, there is no us nor them, there is only we Christians, we church members, we brothers in Christ.
I’d like to hear your suggestions as to how to overcome the natural tendency to be factious.