Friday, December 5, 2008

That They May Be One

In his Priestly Prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus earnestly prayed to the Father that his followers might be one. Two-thousand years later, how are we doing? Miserably, I'd say. We are anything but one. Christ's Body, his glory, his witness, the church, is fragmented into thousands of little "camps." Some are built on distinctive doctrines, others more on distinctive practices. And, add to this that even within ecclesial communities, many of us have our pet beliefs. The root of Babble (as in the Tower of...) is the notion of confusion. The church is a towering Babble.

Certainly, I'm not writing to suggest that I have the solution that will unite us all and make us all think alike. Yes, it's been tried. Some with creeds, others with covenants, and yet others have attempted to use church discipline as a way of achieving the oneness Christ so longed for. Still, it hasn't worked. The church is less "one" than it's ever been. I don't know of any way to make us all think alike. Some might say back to the Bible. Aren't we all reading the same one now? What I purpose is a very simple platform. We will not achieve unity in all details of belief. Not now, maybe never. But I do think that St. Paul gives us some keys that may help us. In Romans 14 Paul tells us to accept each other and not pass judgment on others because we disagree with them about "disputable matters." I like the way The Message puts it, "Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don't see things the way you do." It's a bold statement. He goes on to give many examples. Some might say, "Hey, now wait a minute. That chapter is about disagreements about stuff like food, and keeping certain holy days. It's not about anything really important."

Maybe these folks will say that they only refuse to accept others that disagree with them about MAJOR, GIGANTIC things like, oh let's say: Abortion (I think it's wrong.), Warfare (I think the New Testament teaches Christians shouldn't bear arms.), The rapture (I think that idea is contraindicated.), Hell (Well, you can read the web page on that one!), The inerrancy of the Bible (I certainly don't accept this in the conventional sense.), The Christian Right ( I don't think you should mix religion and politics to create a "civil religion" and expect all to conform.), Women pastors (I'm all for it!).

My list could go on. But I think if I listed enough items, I could make about everyone angry. So could you! Now, some would say these are great BIG you are/aren't saved sorts of things. But, you see that's it exactly. To the early church food, Sabbath-keeping, and other such insignificant things were great BIG you are/aren't saved sorts of things! Maybe you think the early church had her act much more together. Forget it! I was a seminary student in Historical Theology when I first discovered the notion of universal reconciliation. Yes, it was widespread in the early centuries of the church. But, so was the belief in annihilation. Within a hundred years of the apostles, Justin Martyr was already making very clear reference to that belief. He must have gotten it somewhere! Hell was around too-- and I mean the eternal variety! I can't think of a church history textbook that does not admit that pacifism was widespread in the early church. Yet we know there were Christian soldiers. Beware of anyone that says "The early church (as in ALL the early church) believed...." It would be very nice. But it is not quite so neat as all that.

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