Restoring Unity is what the Christian Message is all about!

Christ's Message to the churches (Revelation)

In the first century churches, the first generation, there was already considerable misunderstanding about the essence of the Church which Christ was building & nurturing- His Kingdom community. Much of the Apostle Paul’s ministry as the Apostle to the Gentiles, had to deal with opposition from the Palestinian churches and their leaders. It should come as no surprise to those who read their Bible that much of his writings include elements of this division and his attempts to heal them. In his letter to the Ephesians it is the major theme- the purpose of God’s pleasure to “unite in Christ all things”; but it is also an integral part of his letter to the house churches of Rome.

In the last century, missional leaders from many diverse church traditions saw that our divisions were directly affecting our task in the world and that the time had come to move the theme of unity to the front burner of our efforts. This effort came to be known as the ecumenical movement and many gains were made by those that participated. But many churches, because of convictions, did not participate. Some condemned the efforts outright, some observed at a distance.

In the new century, much has changed for the churches; or has it? We find ourselves still in the midst of the same world with the same assignment from our King: preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, make disciples of all nations, and above all, live out the new life Christ has inaugurated. Some refer to a “new” ecumenism because it seems that many of those that were not officially a part of the “older” effort want to be distinguished from them. I personally feel this is wrong-headed and counter-productive to the very thing we’re focused on -unity. I love, respect, and esteem some of those who were leaders in bringing into being the World Council of Churches.

I just happen to be reading another book written by W.A.Visser’t Hooft, the first General Secretary, who served the churches with love and dedication for many years. Like another of his books, The Pressure of Our Common Calling, which I posted about earlier, this is a sound theological basis for the Church’s mission, edification, and unity. It is about the perennial importance of renewal grounded in the very character of the Church of God as the new creation in Christ.

I want to quote him at the place where he emphasizes that the whole Church-all the churches, must heed the imperatives addressed to the new creation. To me that means we can never settle for anything less than Biblical unity and diligently work towards that as a goal, knowing that it will come at the consumation of our redemption in Christ.

The need of the whole Church for repentance and renewal is most clearly shown in the second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation. It has often been pointed out that the seven churches to whom the letters are addressed represented the most flourishing part of the Church at that time. But more important is that according to the symbolic language of the author the seven churches clearly represent the Church as a whole. For seven is the figure of totality.

In these letters the whole Church is addressed. This is underlined by the fact that each letter is concluded by the solemn warning: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”. The warning and promise received by each church is meant to be overheard and passed on by other churches and so to reach the whole Church.

Now it is significant that five of the seven letters are in the nature of calls to repentance. For that means that the Church as such is called to live the life of metanoia, of constant readiness to turn away from the path of this world and to let herself be renewed. And once again it is clear that renewal means living by the power of the new age. In the letter to the Church in Sardis repentance is identified with awakening (3:2,3). To be awake is to be ready for the Day of the Lord. ‘ Lo, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is he who is awake’ (16:15).

The churches are called to remember from what they have fallen (2:5) or what they have received and heard (3:3). That is to say they are to realize again that they represent the new creation. If they do, if they turn resolutely away from the old age, then they will receive the new name (2:17 and 3:12) and be counted as belonging to the new Jerusalem (3:12). Such a metanoia is in this world never a completed process; it is to be actualized and implemented every day anew. – The Renewal of The Church, p.47 (1956)

Restoring or renewing the unity of the Church of Christ is never easy work. Church history for almost 2000 years will tell us that. But progress in recent decades has been made- perhaps more than at any other time. This is what our Lord intends and if we are serious about following Him, we have no other path. Unity is not optional for the Church nor for any indivdual Christian. All of us must make it a part of our prayers and efforts by the grace of God and for His fame on earth. This season of Eastertide is a great time to make this a priority in our spiritual journey of faith.

see “Reasons for Neglecting God’s priority

October 16-25

CAPE TOWN LAUSANNE CONFERENCE – OCT. 16-25 – The final world gathering in the spirit of the 1910-2010 World Conference on Evangelism this year will mark much more than the beginning of a global movement. In reality it will signal the movement’s advance into the future with renewed determination to obey the mandate of the Church of Jesus Christ given to her by the King of Kings Himself. My friend John Armstrong has remarked about new generation that is taking the torch from those that led the advance in the last half of the twentieth century.

One of the unique things about the Third Lausanne Congress will be the diversity of participants. A large percentage of those in Cape Town will be young and ethnically diverse. The generation of Billy Graham and John Stott, who were the key leaders in the formation of the First Lausanne, is now retired or with the Lord. Leaders my age now realize that young leaders must be equipped and supported for a new age. To this end 4,000 church leaders from 200 nations will gather in October.

Lausanne will address things like the rise of rapid people movements, the advance of other faiths, political violence, techno-driven ethics and lifestyles, increasing preference for visual images and the spoken word and a parallel virtual universe. Twenty years ago none of these would have been high on an agenda regarding world evangelization. Make no mistake about this fact, we are living through a time of rapid change.

LAUSANNE movement  website – read and listen to the beginning by Billy Graham and other world leaders.

Best time to see with the eyes of faith and understand the “Church Letter”-Ephesians; which happens to be the Scripture passage chosen for the main addresses. Those attending the conference in Cape Town have been studying and praying through this letter for the last year.

EPHESIANS STUDY GUIDE pdf

I am so glad there is an interval of days between the Ascension of Christ and the Day of Pentecost. I admit that in the past I have not paid enough attention to Ascension Day. And if I did, it was to focus more on the disciples, what they were doing in obedience to their Lord’s instructions.

By continuing now to give my spirit free reign to roam through the narrative looking for additional ways the Ascension is referenced by the Biblical writers, I am finding all sorts of treasures. Some of these I have added as comments on the previous post.

Gifts of the Ascended Christ

Since this one deals so directly to the theme of E4Unity, the unity of the universal Church of Jesus Christ, and the necessity of that unity as related to the perfecting of the Saints, I want to post this separately. Read how the Apostle Paul, reasoning from the historical Ascension of Christ, emphatically states how the Church is to perfect herself in this present age: Ephesians 4:7-16

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”

 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?  He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)  And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds  and teachers,  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,  to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,  so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

This I believe, is exactly what the Apostle had in his spirit and in his prayers for those first recipients of this letter (see chapter 3: 14-21). This is the vision the Father has allowed me to see for most of my adult life- the vision of His purpose for His new creation, not the race of Adam but the race of the last Adam, even Jesus Christ.

Paul’s concentrated vision of the Church in the eternal purpose of God: what every Christian should know about the Church.

 

St. Paul's Ephesian Vision of the Church

I recently had an opportunity to present the E4Unity vision to a local assembly of Christians. It gave me a chance to do a personal review here in 2010 of where we have been with this blog and where I want to focus on going forward.

My thoughts as well as my main speaking points came from the first three chapters of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I was reminded once again at just how concentrated the Apostle’s thoughts are in this particular letter regarding the over-riding vision that gave direction to his own sense of purpose and responsibility.

In those first three chapters, the major subjects seem to me to be- 1) The eternal purpose of God that He has designed for His own pleasure and including all things, both in heaven and on earth (Ephesians 1-3).       2) This purpose centers in His Son Jesus Christ whom He has made Lord above all authority, and in whom God has determined to sum up in Him all things (Ephesians 1:10).      3) Finally, there is in this plan a unique place and function for a People that God has determined to have for His own dwelling place and this People is created and sustained in dynamic union with God’s beloved Son. Christ alone is given the responsibility for accomplishing everything to build this living Temple from His own works of redemption(Ephesians 3:10,11).

Now I realize that what seems relative simple about these three major themes are not so easily grasped by everyone who reads and studies the Bible. It’s one thing to state as Curtis Vaughn did in his introduction to a Bible Study guide for Southern Baptist churches in 1963 on Ephesians,

The most comprehensive statement of the theme of Ephesians is this: the eternal purpose of God and the place of Christ and His People in that purpose”.

It is entirely another thing to then proceed to study that letter keeping  these three themes always in view. The one thing we need to know about the Church all too easily gets lost in the details and discussions because by default, we are always trying to fit it into “our” own church tradition.

To catch the vision Paul was passing on to his readers of the first generation of Christians as it concerns the Church is the only place I am convinced we have any hope of living out the unity of the One Church. I made the observation in my address that seeing this vision includes both the individual Christian life as well as the pattern for every local church. But the critical thing is to grasp what God says about this People and that seems to be where all our difficulty continues to come from. Grasp what Paul says in this Ephesian letter about this People whether he refers to them as God’s household or the Church and you will then be able to relate your calling to live out the new life in Christ and your place in a local church. By focusing either on yourself or the life of the Christian or what a local assembly is supposed to look and act like, and you’ll have endless confusion.

The vision of E4Unity is the larger Church inseparable from the Christ; God’s new humanity, His new creation, His eternal Temple and dwelling place. Everything else is secondary, part of this fleeting life that is passing away. Only what God has done in Christ has eternal meaning and value.

Scripture reading: Ephesians 3:1-13

Read James Fowler’s excellent comments about the inseparable union of Christ, His Church, and the Christian.

Listen to “The Occupation of All Things” from The Jesus Manifesto.

Overcoming the Myths about unity in the Churches.

In 1998 when I began the E4Unity advocacy here in Madison County, Kentucky, I put down eight reasons I was often hearing from Christians why they had neglected the imperative of God. I think it is now time to put that document on this blog and I can’t think of a more opportune time to begin than now, as we approach Passion week 2010.

It has helped me tremendously, to go back to one of the most basic distinctions to be made in reading Scripture; the distinction between the indicative and the imperative voice in the original text. In the great indicatives, God tells us what in fact He has accomplished! All the imperatives that He then requires of us are simply the response of obedient faith in what He has declared to be true- what He declares to be the true and eternal reality in Jesus Christ, His beloved Son. Listen for the imperative statements in this video.

Because of blindness and just plain old ignorance of what God has said, great numbers of those in the Churches, including many leaders, continue to deny the imperatives of God, continue to insist that Christian unity is not really important- not really a divine imperative.

But unity is number one on the Apostle’s list in Ephesians, chapter four, when he begins to give us God’s imperatives after giving us three chapters of indicatives of what He has accomplished by the death and resurrection of the Christ. Everything we need to know about how to live a life worthy of our calling in Jesus Christ starts with the call to treat one another in such a way as to maintain the unity of the Spirit that He has created for all peoples and nations.

I see no possibility of the Church fullfilling her kingdom mission and her calling on earth without addressing obediently God’s priority. To read my complete lists of urban myths GO HERE.

The Open Secret of The GOSPEL

It could easily be argued on the basis of the content of the New Testament writings which became the basis of Christianity that these two Apostles contribute a major part of that faith-tradition. In addition to the fact that both were Orthodox Jews and began their lives in the bosom of that faith-tradition, what was their relationship to Jesus of Nazareth?

scrollOne American churchman who understood both men and their contributions more clearly than most in the Twentieth Century, gave them a prominent place in his 1950 exposition of the New Testament Gospel in a classic called,The Kingdom and The Power“. (reprinted in 2004, Westminster John Knox Press)

He began that exposition by considering these two men as ‘prisoners of the Lord’, late in life writing to their respective Christian congregations for the purpose of strengthening their fragil faith for the battle they saw just ahead. The Apostles themselves were very aware they were passing beyond this present age into the age to come and out of the context of their beloved churches. The two letters are known to us today as The Revelation and The Epistle To The Ephesians.

I can not do justice to Minear’s full thesis here, but see if you can catch the sense of the strategic contribution they were intended to have in their original context as messengers of the Head of The Church himself to his faithful, tempted followers.

Whatever may be the reactions of the reader to the visions in Revelation and the beattitudes in Ephesians, he should remember that these are messages from prisoners who are risking life itself for these convictions. In their minds, they are words whose truth measures the distance between irretrievable ruin and indestructible hope.

Even their adversaries must admit that there has never been a claim more colossal in its audacity than such claims by the prisoners of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of these claims may hold little meaning for many readers, whether ancient or modern. Some may appear entirely unjustifed. For one reason or another, men have hesitated to accept their truth on the basis of these ancient documents alone. But these hesitations should not conceal the fact that these are the claims and that they are expressed with complete confidence not only by these two prisoners but by the New Testament as a whole. Whether it be trusted or not, their proclamation is as astounding as any that has ever been uttered.

If this seems an exageration, consider again the facts. Each of these prisoners was powerless, despised, and alone. Yet each announced that God had committed to him a secret hidden from the beginning of time. He insisted that others might grasp this secret only on the terms that God had laid down. He declared that the character of this secret had been unveiled in the crucifixion and resurrection of an obscure Galilean. He asserted, with unwavering conviction, that all future developments and all human situations lie within the span of this one mystery.

What daring! What madness! How unprecedented! How offensive! Each prisoner knew that the Lamb had been slain by the powerful and the wise. He knew that the Lamb’s followers received little but ridicule and resistance. (His imprisonment kept him from forgetting that.) He knew how intolerant it sounded to exclude unbelievers from this saving knowledge of the eternal purpose of God. He knew that others viewed the glorious dreams of the Church as pathetic megalomania. Nor was he himself immune to the arrows of doubt and the torment of aloneness. The stronger his faithfulness, the more it was tested by the tensions in the midst of which he lived. Yet he was qualified by the testing of his faith to write to other disciples who were caught in the same dilemmas.

Those who first read the letters of John or Paul stood on the same battle line between Christ’s Kingdom and the world. They had accepted the fact that the Lamb had suffered for them, but they had not yet fully understood that the disciple of this Messiah must suffer with him. They did not relish the way in which the cross continued to tear them loose from the world. They were unnerved by a gospel that made them the object of derision and ostracism. Their hearts needed a daily ration of iron because what happened to their leaders might quickly happen to them.

The author of Ephesians is therefore impelled to urge his readers “not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory”(ch.3:13). Realizing that such courage can be nourished only by a power not their own, he prays that God- “may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

This correspondence between the two prisoners and their friends serves to define the frontier that separated them from their contemporaries. On the one side was a tiny group of men united by loyalty to the Lamb. Their tangible resources were quite inadequate for carrying on a global conflict. But their intangible resources were known to be sufficient:  God’s Spirit in the inner man, Christ’s presence in the heart, a love that surpasses knowledge, a power to comprehend the heights and depths. Over against them as enemies stood everyone else, supported by tangible resources and made confident by the wisdom of the world.  – Paul S. Minear,  The Kingdom and The Power, pp.34-36

I highly recommend to everyone who loves the Gospel and the Lamb, these two New Testament letters, and this book which comes as close as any I know to capturing the original sense of their divinely inspired intended purpose among the churches.

See my tribute to Paul Minear in The Saints’ Gallery,Part 2

THE CROWN JEWEL of PAUL’S GOSPEL

Let Paul speak for himself: ACTS 20

Paul Speaks to the Ephesian Elders

17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by [1] the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

FULL Gospel in this post must be understood in the same sense as Paul’s words “The whole counsel of God” has in Holy Scripture. It does not mean what it means in that tradition which today is known by this phrase. See  FULL GOSPEL Fellowship    cma_logo

As often the case, the article in wikipedia leaves something to be desired. I was ordained in the C&MA having encountered the tradition not through any local representation of it, but through my exposure to the writings of A.W.Tozer and it’s Founder, Albert Benjamin Simpson. See my humble honoring of Dr.Simpson in Saint’s Gallery. I disagree with the identification of Simpson’s work as belonging to “the holiness” movement. I have found a number of folks down through the years that have done that, but I think they are mistaken and greatly miss the “hybrid” gift from God that he represented . Dr.Simpson did not come from the holiness camp but from the Reformed, the Scottish Covenanters. He probably fits best in what we call “the deeper life movement“(Simpson called it the Higher Christian Life) but that movement is also misunderstood by most American christians today.

I’m getting away from the CROWN JEWEL of the GOSPEL- but not really. It should be clear from the above text alone, that the Apostle Paul was deeply and emotionally involved with what he believed to be his life task given to him by the risen Christ. Fulfilling that task was a matter of being “innocent of the blood of all…” before Christ when he would meet Him at the Judgement. He describes that task here as faithfully delivering to others a message that had been entrusted to him. Sound familiar? That is how Jesus himself described his mission on more than one occasion :

My meat is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to finish His work.

I can of myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and my judgement is righteous, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the Father who sent me.

(see the entire discussion of Jesus with the Jews who were seeking to kill him-Chapter 5, St.John’s gospel)

The CROWN JEWEL of Saint Paul’s life task and his Gospel was of course JESUS himself, or as Paul says, Our Lord, Jesus Christ. He describes the message which testifies to this Christ in various ways in this passage thus calling our attention to the completeness or the fullness of this CROWN JEWEL in the redemptive work of God on planet earth:” repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ”,  “the gospel of the grace of God”, “proclaiming the kingdom “.

For me this fulness, for example that shows up big time in the Ephesian letter (see Chapter 4), includes all that Christ is and has accomplished as God’s love gift to the ungodly and rebellious race of Adam. The CROWN JEWEL of Paul’s Gospel is nothing short of the perfect redemption we so desperately need in order to flee from the wrath to come. The four-fold Gospel Dr. Simpson saw with the eye of faith, he described as -JESUS as SAVIOR, SANCTIFIER, HEALER, and coming KING. It not only includes what God does for the sinner in the beginning, as he hears the Gospel and calls in faith on God to save him, repenting of not only his sins but of the entire life style of the sons of Adam living in rebellion, thereby repudiating the flesh and living according to the flesh; it includes also all that God begins to do in that believer both to will and to do His intended work of applying the full redemption which is in His Son, Jesus, and He will do this until the Day of Jesus Christ, the consumation of our salvation. He does all of this through His Son, the exalted King of Kings who is actively reigning TODAY.

I hope I haven’t lost anyone in the details-my apology to those reading this for example for whom english is not their mother tongue. You can see why I’m so excited about “The Year of Saint Paul” and the special opportunity this affords christians of every tradition to take another, serious look at this very special vessel of almighty God and the universal work of redemption that He launched in His Son Jesus Christ.

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