I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life

14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; [1] believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? [2] 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (Gospel of John, ESV Bible).

Take a fresh look at this text from what we call the “Upper Room Discourse”; the intimate conversation Jesus had with his disciples, following the inauguration of the New Covenant and just before he went out to his enemies to be crucified.

What did Jesus mean when he said,” I go to prepare a place”?

Why was it necessary that he ascend into heaven for the duration of this present age? What is he accomplishing in his new role at the “right hand of the Father?” These are very important questions to meditate on and see what answers you can come up with in the Biblical narrative. You can start by reading Revelation 5 and get the heavenward perspective. Here are some more starters-

  • His office/function as our Mediator between the Father and humankind.(see Hebrews)
  • His perfect communion as the beloved Son on behalf of his followers on earth.
  • His role as carrying out the Father’s Kingdom rule as he told his disciples: “All authority has been given me in heaven & on earth”.
  • His role as the Head of the Church which he actively engages in through His Spirit (see letters to the 7 churches of Asia minor of the Apostle John, and the Ephesian letter of the Apostle Paul).
  • His role of judging the nations (see John 5:16-47).

These consequences, and much much more, directly flow from the victorious Christ above to us here on earth because he did win the decisive victory on planet earth & then ascended into heaven to carry on the battle:  ” Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when he puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign till he has put all enemies under his feet!”

The tragedy is, The Ascension is probably the most neglected event in the Church’s liturgy. Please don’t neglect it on May 9, 2013!

see related post: What is Jesus Doing?

see also the article at Wikipedia

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

January was a much needed Sabbatical @E4Unity

I don’t know if you missed me, but I sure missed posting for you. I have been busy refilling the tank, as they say, by reading a lot of blogs and tweets and adding new friends.

from phoenixmasonry.org

So now I think we’re ready to get back to blogging about humankind and the universal conditions we’re all faced with in the new year. To start us off, with an eye to the Lenten season coming up fast and the present situation in Egypt and the mid-east, I hope this will interest you. Comments from the Letter to the Hebrews:

The preacher finds in these antitheses the basic truth of the matter. His weakness in dying defined his power in ruling. With all other New Testament witnesses he was obsessed with the paradox of the passion story. It was by sharing in flesh and blood that Jesus became a faithful and merciful high priest; it was by being tempted that “he is able to help those who are tempted” (2:18). The devil had tempted him to fear death and thus to become enslaved to the devil; but by resisting this temptation Jesus had received power to free men from that fear, that bondage. So, in the sequence of images by which the preacher gave tribute to Jesus’ glory in 1:1-4, we must give full weight to the mention of the “purification for sins”. This action of expiation explains Jesus’ power to uphold the universe, his work in the creation of the world, his appointment as heir of all things.

Paul S.Minear writing in “God’s Glory in Man’s Story”.

 

 

The Lausanne Conference of 1974 went unnoticed by most of the world and in fact by many of the world churches. But it ignited the fires of world evangelization for a new generation. Listen to Samuel Escobar, one of Latin America’s outstanding evangelists and church leaders discuss the movement that followed.

As Lausanne III comes to a close in Cape Town, South Africa, a much larger part of the global church is prepared to face the challenges of the task in the new century. As one young participant from Japan said,

“this is no longer seen as a western-led movement where leaders from the western churches are seen as the teachers, but it is now a dialogue among the whole global Body of Christ,  united around the person of Jesus Christ and his mission to the world.”

Related essay on a basic motivation for every Christian.

A warning about over-dependence on the western churches: to-catch-the-wind– Alex Araujo (2008)

Celebrating today with Sir Beethoven’s help.

The Ascension of Christ is an integral part of the Biblical story of the Incarnation; it’s public knowledge or what is referred to on this blog as “the open secret”. I am in the process of reading two books that I want to post about before the Day of Pentecost. One was written 100 years ago, the other in 2004, but both have the same objective: to encourage the revival of the Festival of the Ascension in the churches where it has been neglected or is unknown. They both are rich in the meaning the Biblical writers attach to the historical event and what it means in the spiritual life of the Christian Church, tracing it through church history. The festival indeed continues!

Your Church Is Too Small: why unity in Christ’s mission is vital to the future of the church. (Zondervan) 2010

A personal review of this new book on the 130th anniversary of the birth of my maternal grandfather, Henry Thomas Young. Personal, because I need to admit upfront that the vision that is so clearly and concisely stated of the Christian church as she has entered the third millennium, the vision of ACT3 is the same vision behind E4Unity Institute.

John H. Armstrong, Director ACT3

The author has placed his life-journey out on the table for all to see. In doing so, he shows us what a passion for Jesus Christ, his church, and the divine mission they are on together in this present age looks like for the eternal blessing of the nations.

My personal sense is that perhaps the best way to describe what we have in this book is a “handbook for observing the unity of the church” in her relationship to the Christ of God. John Armstrong has gone to great lengths to tell us exactly where we are and where we have come from and remind us who we are and what we have been called to both be and do on planet earth. This is the reason, he tells us, why he wrote this book and why he believes that the greatest scandal of all is our disunity before our neighbors and our watching world.

Handbook for promoting Unity

Here is a very wise collection of the realities of our divisions set in the larger context of the vision of  our oneness in Christ and his mission. It’s obvious that John has discovered for himself something of the incredible bigness and largeness of the Christian church. With the help of a glossary of terms we will need to understand the vision, the author takes us through a personal narrative in a helpful and logical progression for the reader to follow.

Beginning with Jesus prayer for our unity (John 17:20-23), John gets into the heart of the issues involved: love-our greatest apologetic, the essential nature of the church (four classical marks), all the while stressing Christ alone as the Biblical focus. The reader is at once aware that the author is deeply involved with a much larger conversation and celebration than what most of us are accustomed to. He is listening to a host of others from the first century church to the contemporary one. He is conversing with brothers and sisters from multiple traditions and denominations such as Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Pentecostal, and of course his own Reformed tradition.

He tells us about those who have been some of the helpers along his journey to seeing the vision of unity. Men like J.I.Packer, Francis Schaeffer, and Leslie Newbigin. John is honest with us about how hard it was to begin to see the ecumenical movement of the twentieth century in positive terms. But he insists that the church will need all the wisdom and experience of the saints in previous generations to equip us for the advance of the Christian gospel and the Kingdom of God that is now before us.

The one thing I probably liked most about this book is that it lifted my own heart to new levels of expectant hope in what God will yet do in and through the community of His exalted and beloved Son. I think he has nailed the major obstacles to “growing up into the fullness of Christ” together. These barriers are not really those outside the church but ones inside us all. In the very beginning he stresses that it is our own vision problem “our common penchant for placing limits on Christ’s church…”. One of the greatest challenges that confront us is that which John describes as “sectarianism”, or the evil that equates the one church with “our own narrow views of Christ’s body”. There is a brief but excellent treatment of this and the topic of “the true church” and this is one of those themes addressed directly on this blog. We simply cannot continue as we are- separated and disobedient to the clear imperatives of our Lord. There are answers for the one who seeks them and this is a good place to begin if you are not already wrestling with this part of the Biblical narrative.

I can think of no better way for every Christian to join the celebration of one-hundred years of world mission advances since the Edinburgh World Conference of 1910, than by making this book your handbook. For the last one hundred years have also seen the greatest labors toward true ecumenism that the church has seen since the earliest councils. Yes, John, unity is vital to our future. Thank you for your journey and the gift it represents to the churches of the twenty-first century.

p.s. Happy birthday grandfather. It is a joy to remember your own life vision and faithfulness to the New Covenant in Christ’s blood.

FIRST SUNDAY of ADVENT

Around the world in many different traditions of faith, Christians this Sunday will all be worshipping in keeping with an accepted calender that designates it as the beginning of a new liturgical year. Literally millions of Christians will be “united” in spirit and that makes me very happy. Of course that does not include all Christians and by no means all traditions of the Christian Faith and no you won’t find this anywhere in the Bible. For instance the Orthodox Churches celebrate a different calender and then there are many non-liturgical churches that do not follow any christian calender.

LITURGY: What do I mean by the word?  liturgy

 Not infrequently in Christianity, a distinction is made between “liturgical” and “non-liturgical” churches based on the elaboration and/or antiquity of the worship, but this obscures the universality of public worship as a religious phenomenon. Thus, even the open or waiting worship of Quakers is liturgical, since the waiting itself until the spirit moves individuals to speak is a prescribed form of Quaker worship, sometimes referred to as “the liturgy of silence.” Typically in Christianity, however, the term “the liturgy” normally refers to a standardized order of events observed during a religious service, be it a sacramental service or a service of public prayer.

As a religious phenomenon, liturgy is a communal response to the sacred through activity reflecting praise, thanksgiving, supplication, or repentance.

I was not always aware of this reality simply because I was not brought up in a liturgical church. But over the years as I have become more and more aware of the other faith traditions, this one has greatly enriched my understanding of the universal christian family on earth. It’s a good thing; one of my sons is an ordained minister in a liturgical church and as a Chaplain in the military is recognized with a “liturgical” classification in contrast to non-liturgical Chaplains.

Most liturgical congregations also follow the Lectionary as a common source of prescribed Scripture readings for each Sunday of the Year insuring that there is a world-wide harmony on any given Sunday if not on the theme of the worship service, then at least in the Scriptures being considered.

As I looked at the orientations that are on the internet for the new Lectionary year and Advent Sundays, one especially caught my eye and I heartily recommend it to anyone who might want to join a large part of the Christian family in the season of celebrating in a special way, the Incarnation Event-the birth of Jesus, God’s anointed redeemer. The site is the worship page over at the United Methodist Church.

Worship well as you begin the New Year. adventseason

THE BOOK of FAITH INITIATIVE of ELCA

In joining the Book of Faith Initiative, your congregation or organization is committing to becoming more fluent in the first language of faith, the language of Scripture, in order that we might live into our calling as a people renewed, enlivened, and empowered by the Word.

The UNITY that is advocated in this blog is one that already exists. It exists in Jesus Christ as He is witnessed to by God in the Bible. It just seems to be a no-brainer then that all Christians of every tradition would be empowered to understand and bible-2celebrate this unity before the watching world as they become more and more fluent in the “language of the Christian Faith”, which is the Bible itself.

Here in Madison County, Kentucky, there is only one Lutheran Faith Community. But I think this five-year initiative of their denomination, the ELCA, is one that could have great blessings for all of us as a necessary step towards greater practical unity. It was of course MARTIN LUTHER who provided one of the greatest contributions toward restoring the Christian Faith of the Bible. Others that went before him all shared a common conviction (such as John Wycliff) that the Bible must be put into the hands of every Christian in their mother tongue.

So I applaud what this initiative is doing for believers in the ELCA tradition and I heartily recommend it to every Christian as one of the necessary ways for all of us “to grow up into the fullness of Christ” for the great blessing of our world and for the glory of GOD.

“THE PURPOSE of The Book of Faith Initiative is to increase biblical literacy and fluency for the sake of the WORLD”. BOOK of FAITH SITE

ST.THOMAS LUTHERAN CHURCH  (Richmond,Kentucky)

DIETRICH BONHOEFFER on READING the BIBLE

RESOURCES ABOUND 

 Once we choose to deliberately set our own cherished orthodoxy into the background and concentrate on celebrating our unity, we will find a rich and varied treasure chest in the traditions of other Christians. Perhaps at this point I need to make an apology to those who are not a part of the Western tradition, especially Anglo Saxon and white. I am very aware that there are rich resources outside the of those usually posted on American blogs. Having speant years in Brazil, I have learned how limited our own life experiences are and how much we need to deliberately seek out those beyond our own horizons. In a limited way I have tried to include some of those both on my Blogroll and in my E4Unity toolbox as well as on the Saints Gallery pages.

I have found a rich supply in the Liberal wing of the American churches, especially in the first half of the twentieth century, which I am afraid, has been greatly ignored by Evangelicals. One example is Karl Barth himself. I have learned much from him and other outside my own tradition in regards to Christian unity. Here is a small excerpt from a study on Barth’s concept of the Preaching role of the Christian minister:

“The positive factor in the new development was this: in these years [the 1920s] I had to learn that Christian doctrine, if it is to merit its name, and if it is to build up the Christian church in the world as it needs to be built up, has to be exclusively and consistently the doctrine of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the living Word of God spoken to us men.  If I look back from this point on my earlier stages, I can now ask myself why I did not learn this and give expression to it much sooner.  How slow man is, especially when the most important things are at stake!… My new task was to rethink everything that I had said before and to put it quite differently once again, as a theology of the grace of God in Jesus Christ…  I have discovered that by concentrating on this point I can say everything far more clearly, unambiguously and simply, in accordance with the church’s belief, and yet far more freely, openly and comprehensively that I could even have said it before.  In the past I had been at least partly hindered, not so much by the church tradition as by the eggshells of a philosophical system.” – from PREACHING and BARTH

 

For those not familiar with Karl Barth and his contribution to the Church, here is an excellent place to BEGIN

 

 

ORTHODOXY as BARRIER to UNITY

If you’ve been observing Christianity for any time at all, you will have noticed all the divisions that have resulted from schism. This is nothing new, in fact the tendency was already evident within the Biblical narrative- in New Testament times. The sectarian spirit which is now in full bloom, can be a major barrier to the full realization of the Unity which is inherent in the Body of Christ-God’s new creation. But it doesn’t have to be a barrier; it can be instead a great source of strength in diversity if we can only recover the fulness of God’s original design. It is, among other things, a question of desire and deliberate choice to be obedient to God and to live by faith.

One thing should be abundantly clear by now: all of the various claims to “orthodoxy”, or “the right doctrine on paper” as Horton says in his previous essay, can not possibly have any legitimate claim on the universal Church. If we would all just dwell on that reality alone until it became undeniable to all, we would then be ready to confront the enormous challenge of agreeing to put our version of “orthodoxy” in the place of distant second to God’s Orthodoxy. No, I’m not going to tell you what that is, I only will tell you that it exists and does not equal any one that is out there “on paper” nor is it in any way “the sum of the parts”.

Here is William Dell speaking about the strength of the Christian which is the gift and function of Christ’s Spirit, who alone creates and nurtures (sustains) this Unity-

“And this unity of believers is their strength; and when GOD shall take away all prejudices, suspicions, jealousies, particular ends and interests, divisions, separations, and schisms, that are among his own people, and the people of GOD shall be reduced into this blessed unity among themselves, and the Lord be one, and his name one, among them all, then shall the church also be of invincible power.”

” So that all they that strive with it shall perish; and all they that war against it shall be as nothing; yea, then shall the Lord make the Church as a new sharp threshing instrument, having teeth, and it shall thresh the mountains,” (that is, the kingdoms of the world,) ” and shall beat them small, and shall make the hills,” (that is, the lesser common-wealths,) ” as chaff.”

“But till the churches of GOD attain to this unity, it shall not do any excellent thing, it shall not work any notable deliverance in the earth, neither shall the inhabitants of the world fall. When the Spirit of GOD shall be a Spirit of unity in the faithful, and shall heal all the sad dissensions that are now between them, then also shall it be a Spirit of admirable power in them. ”      – William Dell, Christ’s Spirit: the Christian’s Strength