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Unity and Division in the Church Part 2 - Division

As much as the Reformation is the rediscovery of salvation by faith through grace, it is also the story of how Christianity became increasingly fragmented. By the time the Reformation came about, the Church had effectively been split into four wings: the Byzantine Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, the Nestorians (north-eastern Asian churches) and the Jacobites (Monophysite south-eastern Asian churches). The Nestorians and the Jacobites were in the process of being wiped out by pagan and Muslim powers in the east, so that to this day we have pretty much only the Armenian Orthodox and Thomasites in India representing the Nestorians and the Copts and Assyrian Orthodox representing the Jacobites. The Roman Catholic church birthed the Protestant church by ejecting those whom she disagreed with and who would not submit to her rule without questioning it.

As the Protestant reformation movement progressed, the main leaders assembled in Marburg, Hessen, in October of 1529. Called together by Prince-Elector Philip of Hesse, these men were asked to draft a joint statement to unify the diverse theology of the Protestants, so creating a united front against Emperor Charles V and the Roman Catholic church. What got off to a good start came to a screeching halt when Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli of Zurich could not agree on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. The sticking point of the argument was that Zwingli saw the Lord’s Supper as merely symbolic, whereas Luther believed Christ was actually present in the bread and the cup. The argument got so heated, that Luther (being Luther) is said to have carved the word EST (Latin for “is”) into the table with his pen knife. The two great men could not get over this point and so the attempt at unifying the Protestant movement failed. This failure led to more and more divisions within the Protestant movement, eroding a central authority and bringing us to this day where one cannot use a term to define Christian movements without a qualifier.

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Pondering the Master

Over the last several months I have been pondering the relationship of God’s sovereignty and the ability He has given us humans to choose for and against Him. I am referring to every choice we can make for or against Him; not only saving faith. Even we as born-again Christians will frequently choose things God does not want, whether this is due to a desire for comfort or control or is caused by cultural conditioning; and each choice comes with a cost. In his book Discipleship1., Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes eloquently about the costliness of God’s grace and the cost of following after Jesus. Giving us grace cost God everything. Truly following after Jesus likewise should cost us something. We often just don’t think about it or choose to count the cost (see Lk. 14:26-33). We like the easy life and we’re often promised that God’s blessing is found in that easy, comfy life. When things get difficult it means we’re out of the will of God. But we live in a fallen and broken world, whose desires are diametrically opposed to those of the Triune God. Living in this world means that difficulties will come not because we’re living against God, but because we’re living for Him. Because we’re usually more interested in our own perceived well-being than God’s plan, God often reaches His goals not through us but in spite of us, as our choices as Christians thwart what He wants to accomplish in this world. Perhaps that is part of why it has taken about 2000 years for Christ to return.

So recently I’ve been asking myself, what is my walk costing me? Am I cognizant of the great value of the grace granted me through faith in Jesus Christ? Am I willing to risk everything to follow after Him? Am I willing to count the costs of following Him and staying true to the Word of God in the face of cultural pressure, of Christian pressure, of personal pressure? These are hard questions and I know that it is easy to ignore them or fink out and compromise when I shouldn’t. I’ve often talked about being velvet steel: unbending in one’s convictions, yet gentle enough so that when someone strikes against us, they are not injured, but rather challenged. I know I am not there yet. I’m more often a rusty stake, sloughing off the velvet to make my point rather than God’s. So, I pray that he will clothe me in His costly grace, so I may be that velvet steel in my interactions with all, whether they follow Jesus or not. And I pray that each of us will come to a deep realization of what that grace cost God, so we will bind ourselves to his Word and live it out, no matter what it costs us in this dark and twisted world.

Image: Dietrich Bonhoeffer | Image Credit: Unknown

  • 1. Originally published under the title Nachfolge (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1937), an English translation is available as the 4th volume of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works collection (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000)

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Lord Patrick Kinross

New York: Morrow, 1965.

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