Friday, September 24, 2010

The unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace

Many times ecumenical movements are perceived to be the result of the spirit of unity rather than unity of the Spirit. This causes a great concern for some evangelicals. Quite frankly, there are many evangelicals that cannot get beyond this idea and, will not strive to unite with other believers that they perceive to be of a different doctrinal stance. As a result there are thousands and thousands of denominations and divisions. Wikipedia reports that there are 38,000 various denominations.

Yet, the apostle Paul wrote the following to the church in Ephesus. Eph 4:4-6 There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-- (5) one Lord, one faith, one baptism, (6) one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Okay.... is it possible that we can find the way to exercise the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? Is it possible to find a way that believers can be more inclusive, especially of each other? All of the divisions center on our reading and understanding of scripture. Those who use what Brian McLaren calls a constitutional reading of scripture, use this to take their various doctrinal stances that they then divide on.

Let’s just look at Ephesians 4:1-4: “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.” Walking worthy of the calling should mean walking in love.

What would we expect the Spirit to unify believers on? First of all, it should be evident that the Spirit would unite believers in the fruit of the Spirit. So let’s look at the fruit of the Spirit in bullet form:
  • Love (agape) selfless love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patiences
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Self Control
I’m sorry, I do not see doctrine, scripture interpretation... etc. Think about the definition of each word in the list above, realizing that they all together make up agape and, then ask yourself, about the fruit of those who divide, judge, accuse, condemn and demand doctrinal purity. It seems to me that by definition those who divide and condemn do not exhibit any of the above fruit.

Further, if one uses the scripture interpretation method of Jesus and his followers.... that is... a strictly redemptive interpretation.... and, I think that we have sufficiently proven over the entries in this blog... that in fact, that was Jesus method.... the one he taught to his followers always; And more than this, if you witness the inclusiveness of Jesus as he ate and interacted with sinners it should be crystal clear that he was focused on the fruit you see listed above. That should be the source of the unity of the Spirit.

Monday, September 20, 2010

God is Love; how I was recently chastised.

The apostle John tells us in no uncertain terms that God is love... However, he spoke something to me that hit me like a ton of bricks. I read 1John 4:8, Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. How many times and in how many ways do I NOT love? I think far too often. I don’t have a problem including the outcasts; for me, that’s easy, but, lately I have been confronted with the fact that I have been pretty unloving to those who I would say are religiously dogmatic. I’m sorry but I have struggled loving the self righteous... the judgmental. I have gone so far as to judge them and that is the source of my growing pains.

I hear the Spirit telling me this: “ My love is radical Joe... you are very correct, I love the outcasts; I love those who are judged and further, I am not judging them at all... I love them and accept them just where they are”...
Big smile on my face but, then, the Spirit goes on to say...” I love the judgmental also... yes indeed, I love the Pharisaic spirited person... I radically love all people and, that is why I was willing to go to the cross. I went there for the outcasts and, the self righteous.”
Whoa! ... that stings! I’m thinking to myself....”but Lord you yelled at the Pharisees!.”
The Spirit reading my mind says... “yes, I did but it was out of love.... why have you yelled at them?”

I immediately had to realize and answer honestly... “out of anger,” my head drops.
Then the Spirit asks, “Can you love from a place of anger?”
My reply has to be “No,” a little shame sneaks in.

Ok, I have bared my heart a little. I need to repent... If I have hurt you with my ministry please forgive me. Understand that when I begin to be critical from now on... I am going to try to be loving, considerate and, if I have to come from a place of anger... I am going to try to just be silent.

Still, I want to point out that God is Love. God is agape (ahg-a-pay). So what is this love that is what God is? I like this definition; Thomas Jay Oord has defined agape as "an intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which has generated ill-being” In other words, it is making the situation better. Agape has the highest and best outcome at purpose. This is the highest and best outcome for all people. This is radical love. This is the love that Jesus possesses and, guess what, if I truly have Jesus in me it should be the love that I possess. All of us who name the name of Jesus should have this love for all. This is not syrupy love. It is love that causes us to esteem others greater than we esteem ourselves.

Can I confess? Can I be honest? This is painful. This is hard. This will take some radical rethinking on my part. Pray for me as I seek the Lord’s help in cultivating this love.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Herod.

I can still remember my grandmother’s baking days. She made some awesome bread. It smelled so good when you walked on the porch and the closer you got the more inviting it became but, goodness gracious.... when you tasted it warm and buttery it was soooo good! The substance that made it rise and be airy was yeast, leaven. I have watched her make it from scratch. I have smelled the yeast in warm water just fermenting waiting to do its magic. When introduced to flour, water and other ingredients it took over. It permeated the entire batch of dough.

Jesus is warning that the doctrine of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians was just like my grandmother’s yeast. Except, instead of bringing goodness into the loaf it just would take over. Yeast, leaven is a metaphor that is used often in scripture. It is a metaphor that is used for sin and interestingly, the Jews were instructed to get rid of all leaven for the Passover meal. They could not even keep it in the house. It was a metaphor for sin and contamination.

Jesus went on to say that the leaven of the Pharisees was their teaching and, that it was hypocrisy. Mat 16:6-7 Jesus said to them, "Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." (7) And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, "We brought no bread."....... Mat 16:12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. In other words, Jesus said that the teaching/doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees was just like leaven. It would permeate and ruin the purity of the teaching that he had taught them. In Luke 12:1 Jesus called the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees hypocrisy and in Mark 8:15 he mentioned to beware of the leaven of Herod which was the leaven of the Herodians... that is, people who followed Herod.

Let me describe the historical context of each of these groups. The Pharisees were strict lawyers, self righteous and very judgmental. They believed in the imminent resurrection but they were very exclusive in their acceptance of people and extremely dogmatic about their beliefs and rigid with their understanding of God’s will.

The second group was equally religious and self righteous when it came to the Law of Moses but were far more liberal in the spiritual realm and, did not believe as much in the supernatural. They did not believe in an imminent resurrection. Likewise, they were not expecting the kingdom of God to be manifested in a supernatural way. They were the wealthy elite ruling class.

Finally, the third group was called the Herodians. They were followers of Herod who thought that co-operation with the government was the best way to aid the kingdom advancing. They wanted to see Herod in power and, believed that they could best advance the issues important to the Jews by supporting and, working with Herod and the Roman government.

I find it interesting that there are such close parallels to these groups within the church today. There are modern day Pharisees who are self righteous and exclusive. They are judgmental and claim to speak for God and exclude all who do not believe as they believe... do not interpret the scripture the way that they do.

Likewise, there are modern day Sadducees. They have removed much of the supernatural from Christianity. They self righteously tout the teachings of the sermon on the mount but, deny the power of the Holy Spirit and, the efficacy of the cross. They play down humanities need for redemption and the fact that Jesus put the world to rights for all by his death, burial and resurrection.

Also, we have the Herodians.... militia groups and saints that believe that we need to take over the government and rule by the Ten Commandments. They believe that the best way to change the world is to have government officials elected that have a biblical agenda.
Was it Solomon that said there is nothing new under the sun? In subsequent articles we will dig deeper into this topic.

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