Another Great Read for the New Year!

I first read this article in January of 1997, in First Things magazine. I immediately knew that Neil Postman, the author, had said some things I too had discovered and that I wanted to bookmark. I knew that E4Unity blog (that was still in embryo at the time) would want to review this at least once a year.

Science & The Story that we Need

But in the end, science does not provide the answers most of us require. Its story of our origins and of our end is, to say the least, unsatisfactory. To the question, “How did it all begin?”, science answers, “Probably by an accident.” To the question, “How will it all end?”, science answers, “Probably by an accident.” And to many people, the accidental life is not worth living. Moreover, the science-god has no answer to the question, “Why are we here?” and, to the question, “What moral instructions do you give us?”, the science-god maintains silence. It places itself at the service of both the beneficent and the cruel, and its grand moral impartiality, if not indifference, makes it, in the end, no god at all.

Into the breach has come still another contender—the offspring of the science-god—the great god of technology. This is a wondrous and energetic story which, with greater clarity than its parent, offers us a vision of paradise. Whereas the science-god speaks to us of both understanding and power, the technology-god speaks only of power. It refutes the promise of Christianity that heaven is a posthumous reward. It offers convenience, efficiency, and prosperity here and now; and it offers its benefits to all, the rich as well as the poor, as does Christianity.

To Read entire article at First Things

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

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2: 9-11)

The Reign of the Lord’s Anointed- Psalms 2

2:1″ Why do the nations rage [1]
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”

4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”

7 I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You shall break [2] them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

See also John’s Revelation, 5: 9-12

Read the Prayer of Saint Paul for enlightenment.

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