Monday, March 07, 2011

Sundering what God has joined together

Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. (Matthew 19: 6 KJV)

These are such familiar words, especially when rendered in the churchy sounding King James translation. Christians know these words and so do almost all Americans because we often hear them at the end of wedding ceremonies, even when the people getting married are not believers.

These are good words and sober words. Divorce is something that the Bible speaks out very strongly against and we should heed the words of Christ here. Marriage between two people, especially between two believers, is a sacred and binding covenant. For life. Period. Most Christians have no issue with what Jesus is saying regarding divorce, at least in theory.

However, I am not really looking to talk about divorce in this post. I want to talk about another relationship that God has joined together but that many Christians have little more than a passing concern about putting asunder: the Body of Christ.

It is without debate that the church of Christ is something ordained, inaugurated and ordered by Christ. It is the church that Jesus died for and He views the church as His Bride. The Church is His possession, His people, His blood bought Bride, given to Him by His father. He has brought us together and made us a people. Christians comes from all sorts of backgrounds, tongues, nationalities. Revelation 7: 9-10 paints the picture in vivid detail:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev 7: 9-10)

Christians from every nation surrounding the throne of the Lamb and in perfect unity shouting our praise to the Lamb who was slain!

Where our common ground is found is that we have been called out and adopted, chosen by Christ to be in union with Him and with each other. The Bible doesn’t describe a people who are endlessly dividing themselves into smaller and more exclusive sub-categories, it describes a single people united in purpose and in practice.

It is also without debate that the church of Christ is tragically divided. From denominational divides to church splits in local churches, Christians have a knack for finding ways to divide up what Christ has united. We divide ourselves into competing camps and continually find ways to label ourselves in ways that further segregate ourselves. We hold to this confession, you hold to that one. Divided. You baptize infants, we don’t. Divided. You are premil, we are amil. Divided. You use instruments to accompany songs, we don’t. Divided.

There is a lot of imagery in the Bible about the union of Christians, united to Christ and each other by our common faith. Ephesians is has a pivotal passage that speak to the union of Christ’s people.

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4: 4-6)

Paul is quite clear here. We have one faith. One Lord. One God and Father. We worship a triune God who embodies perfect unity of purpose. Yet we as His followers have spent hundreds of years not only arguing over differences but in many cases persecuting and killing fellow believers over those differences. This ought not be. God has brought us together as one people. Just as a loaf of bread takes many ingredients and forms one loaf, so His Body should be. Think how silly it would be to gather around the Lord’s Table and instead of a loaf of bread we would see displayed a bowl of flour, a container of salt, a glass of water and a packet of yeast! Our disunity makes a mockery of the loaf.

If God has eliminated the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles, a formerly insurmountable barrier, why do we see fit to erect new and higher walls between believers? Not only is the church divided but that division causes untold problems. It is fashionable to cavalierly remark that unity doesn’t mean uniformity. That certainly is true but being divided from one another and refusing to fellowship with one another has nothing to do with uniformity and everything to do with unity. In fact it is because of our desire for uniformity that we are so divided. Even in some local churches there is division when the same church offers an early morning “traditional” service to satisfy the preferences of the old fuddy duddies followed by a late morning “contemporary” service for young whippersnappers, essentially creating an intentional division within a local church. Yet we pat ourselves on the back for being so innovative!

Tomorrow I want to look at some of the ways our division is damaging to the church.

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