Thursday, October 4

We are One!

Hardly a week goes by except I hear or read from somebody that the Church is hopelessly divided into so many thousands of splinters and schisms, or someone speculating on just how the Lord is going to get all these factions back together. The current news items surrounding the Episcopal Church and its tensions with the larger Anglican Communion remind us of some encouraging answers.

The structure we see in “Church” today has developed since Jesus' day, and in some cases, a long time since. Does being newer or older make it bad? Not necessarily either one, but it does raise the question whether any of those structures could have been the picture His disciples were seeing, or that He was painting in His teaching and prayers as we have in the New Testament. I think if we looked closely we would see that the point was all about koinonia (fellowship and sharing), and not all that much about
hierarchy and politics.

From Church history we see that first there was the Church, and the deacons, elders, and bishops were all added as they were needed. The elders of a city, as the Church there grew, needed a pastor to help them guide the churches in their care, and chose one. Confusion, such as Arianism, arose to draw people away from, “the simplicity, which is in Christ,” and so these bishops met to work out the issues that were raised. A thousand years later the Church's leaders had generally become self-serving, so the Lord provided that other pastors could care for those who needed to get away from the machine the Church had become. In every case, the Church, the called-out Body of Christ, has come first, and developed particular government forms as best fit its needs.

No matter what "they" say, while there are so many different organizations of Christians, the
very fact that it is Christians comprising those organizations keeps there from being the kind of “division” as is supposed. Example: I belong to an Anglican church, and have preached to or taught Nazarenes, Pentecostals, Methodists, Baptists, C&MA, Calvary Chapel, and one rescue mission with a good reception each time1. Every Christian is united to any other by an uncommon love of God in each heart, and the guiding presence of the Spirit of God to bring us all together for His purposes. Each of us is at a different stage, learning different lessons, so we don't all understand everything the same, but Jesus is the Truth, and His love brings us together. For the greater part, the “unity” question with the leaders is not so much about re-organizing for a visible unity, but finding ways to best use the real unity we already enjoy. Churches in different cities join together for area events, two organizations cooperate to build a new church in an area where each has strengths and needs that can compliment each other, and whole denominations mobilize together to answer calls such as those from the Katrina victims on the Gulf Coast. Each of us has strengths, and each has needs: One has a strong sense of their place in the fellowship of the saints since Day One, another has a clearer vision of God in the "Right Now,” or of the future. Bringing these together can only strengthen each one's effectiveness, though it happens more over coffee at the Waffle House than at the House of Bishops!

Even in Church "government" there is cause for hope. In the past there have been a number of groups, for instance, to leave the American Episcopal church over different changes made by the latter. Over the years, each has existed as a separate denomination, each one of a number of “Anglican” presences in the US. This last month a convention of such groups, with other groups more-recently formed, drafted a charter detailing plans to find ways to live and work together as members each of the same Body and Lord, turning the 500-year-long trend of “denominationalism” around in the other direction. Is this a trend to do away with all denominations? Probably not, but more importantly, it shows these bishops know something far more important: We already are one!

1One exception: addressing a certain group of preachers, I referred to 1st Cor. 1 about God having chosen the weak and foolish to teach the wise, remarking in my introduction, “Isn't it great that the Lord chose to use fools like us?” Not a one seemed to hear another word after that, but they still fed me a good lunch afterward!

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