Monday, July 11, 2011

Unity, not Uniformity

In our Thursday morning Men's Group we are studying the Book of Ephesians. And this week's lesson includes Ephesians 4:3, the unity verse. It reads:

Unity in the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:1–3 (ESV))

4 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.


So in verse 3 we see Paul's instruction to Christians that the Church be eager to maintain "unity". With three main braches of Christianity (Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant), how can the call given Ephesians 4:3's for unity when we have (according to Christianity Today) over 38,000 different denominations today? I am a Protestant. I am also a 'Lutheran' Protestant. Protestant's tend to place more emphasis upon Scripture than the other branches of Christianity – sola Scriptura is one of our battle calls. Yet nearly all of the 38,000 denominations that exist today are from the Protestant branch. So how come Protestants have so blatantly ignored this call for unity?

The reason I am writing today's post is that I do not think that the divisions in Christianity are such a bad thing. Yes, I know the primary reason for so many denominations is human pride. They might say, I know this better than you do, so if you won't follow me, then I will start my own Church. This is pure arrogance, and this attitude clearly flies in the face of Ephesians 4:2's call for humility. But each denomination has something different to offer, that when taken together shows the beautiful bouquet of the "flowers" of faith that are in the different denominations of the Body of Christ:

Roman Catholics – Who fights harder for marriage and against abortion than the Catholics? They also tend to be more freely giving of their time and effort to help those in need;

Baptists – No one loves the Holy Scriptures like the Baptists. Their love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel is second to none.

Lutherans – I see Lutherans as the most "normal" of those who call themselves Christians. And many times, normal is important – they cherish family, the Protestant work ethic, and volunteering their time. All good things. And the Christians I I respect the most for their proper understanding of God's Grace, are Lutherans - Simultaneously saint and sinner.

Pentecostal – The faith of Pentecostals is fun. They believe in miracles, answered prayer, and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. There is joy in their worship of God. And they really believe God hears their prayers, and that their prayers are answered. If I want someone to pray for me, I want someone with a Pentecostal background doing that prayer.

Eastern Orthodox – The incense, the beauty of their Church and services, and the seriousness they take the mystical worship of God. There is a lot to be said for going to the same place of worship that has been around for hundreds of years.

Anglican – I don't know much about the Church of England. But I watched the wedding ceremony of William and Kate on TV. And I loved the preaching, the message that gave the royal couple, and the singing of their choirs.

Christian Liberal – The social Gospel, of helping those in need. They help the poorest around the world to have food, water, clothing and shelter. Their compassion has changed how the world responds to disasters.

And yes, there are many more denominations, but I hope that you see my point. And I understand these are generalizations, and that I am painting with a broad brush. But the point I want to make is that if we see fellow members of the Body of Christ, those who call themselves Christians, and we focus on the positive things that they are doing, then we don't have to worry so much about the differences we have in our faith. Let God sort out on the Last Day the mistakes in our interpretation of the Bible, and the misunderstandings we have of salvation, forgiveness, missions, the work of the Holy Spirit, etc. If we turn this over the God, then we do not have to worry so much about pointing out the problems in other's faith, and instead concentrate the positive things that we see in their faith. Is it possible if we focus on the good things in others faiths, then perhaps we can start incorporating all of the positive things in the faiths of those around us. Do you want a Bible verse that teaches this? How about Philippians 4: 8:" Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." In other words, let our brains tune into pure, excellent, good things, and stop thinking about things that are wrong with others.

So my take away this week is look at the different denominations of those around you not as a sign that Christians are hopelessly divided, and that unity is impossible. Instead, try looking at the other Christian faiths as part of wonderful bouquet of flowers, with all different kinds of smells and looks, coming together in a wonderful way. And the individual beauty of each comes together with the others to show the glory and majesty of the One who made these flowers – the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

God please bless us in our upcoming week. Thank you for your sending your Son. Amen.

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