Both Sandra and Paul spoke about the many ways that the Church has failed in its health as a body. Much of the history of the Church reveals the tragedy of its inner conflicts. However, if a church or denomination claims Christ as its center, then we had better be prepared to be united with them!
Sandra and Paul were back this morning for our fourth week on reconciliation. This time the focus was on the unity of the Body of Christ, that is, the Church. Both Sandra and Paul spoke about the many ways that the Church has failed in its health as a body, and as Paul described, a body that divides loses life and is left crippled or worse.
Sandra’s “math lesson” is important for us to consider. Should the church be a “bounded set” or a “centered set?” That is, should we be defined by our boundaries and who we consider to be in or out? Or should we be defined by what is at the heart, the foundation of the church, Jesus Christ? Clearly the Apostle Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 2:2 is clear in this regard. Paul decided to know nothing but “Christ and him crucified.” That is a clear statement of the center. The boundaries are ambiguous, but you know who is at the center. Not what, but who, and as Sandra mentioned, this is a dynamic living person who MOVES at the center, not a static set of propositions that forever define us as an exclusive group.
John 17:21-23 has been read in our pulpit many times over the years because it paints such a powerful portrait of what unity in Christ could, should, and must come to mean for us. But as Paul Eddy pointed out, this is not simply a unity for WHC. No, it is a unity for all who claim Christ a their center. Yes, that includes many denominations that we frequently dismiss as “dry, lacking life, dead, spiritually bankrupt, etc.” Who do we think we are to attack the body in this way? If a church or denomination claims Christ as its center, then we had better be prepared to be united with them! Otherwise we threaten to become a “cancer” ourselves and damage the overall body by our arrogance.
Both Sandra and Paul mentioned many things that reveal the tragic history of the Church and its inner conflicts. These things included: doctrinal disputes, wars over power, territory and beliefs, and more recently theological attacks on one another at the expense of our common claim to have Christ as our Lord together and serve him as one Church. No one seems to notice the irony that the more we have divided, the weaker our claim is to be the one “right-thinking/believing” church left on the face of the earth. “Bounded set” thinking will not survive, it will merely self-mutilate its way into complete irrelevance or worse.
There was hope in this message as well! We were reminded of heroic efforts to be united by Christ despite serious disagreements on things that really matter to people. For the sake of Christ and Christ’s name, people have been willing to overlook these issues. Sandra mentioned the fact that the early church grew phenomenally as the it welcomed people who were kicked out of their homes for fear of a plague. Christians took them in, cared for them, and sometimes nursed them back to health—though sometimes they did die along with the sick they took in. Either way, the church was obedient in its desire to care for those who are rejected, and God blessed them for it. Another example was found in the great revivalists, Wesley and Whitfield who were theological “opposites” by being an Arminian and Calvinist respectively. Despite this, they partnered together as the greatest revival team in the 18th Century! God used them to bring revival to both England and North America to such an extent that these names might be in your memory banks from secular high school history. Not all revivals make history to that degree!
Paul Eddy reminded us of some of the things God is doing through our own efforts here at WH to bring about further unity in the Body of Christ. Some of these included:
-some of our funds from the GITS campaign is empowering a fresh partnership between Vietnamese and Kheimer church bodies in Cambodia
-we are unusual in being a church with a designated “networking pastor” position to encourage otherwise overlooked connections and relationships, Chuck Fenrick is currently leading this effort at WH
-we are being intentional about new partnerships in youth, discipleship, outreach, welcome ministries, community and many other areas of ministry where mutually beneficial relationships with other bodies are being developed with local churches (like Open Door, Living Word, The Santuary, and so forth).
Why are we doing all of this? Aside from the direct answer found in the sermon preached this morning, we have made a formal commitment to this sort of bridge building in our value #7:
One With the Body of Christ: We are part of the one Church in this region and are called by God to always function as a team player. Assisting other churches has the same Kingdom value as assisting our own. Reconciliation across racial, gender, economic and other lines that divide God’s people is an essential part of affirming the unity of the Body of Christ. Therefore, we will actively pursue this until the Lord returns. Hide Extended Summary