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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

This month I had the privilege of presenting a survey of the prophetic books. I chose to present it in chronological rather than canonical order, following how God progressively revealed new things about Himself and His plan. It is also interesting to realize who came first and how the later prophets built on the content of their predecessors. All of these prophets’ writings are based on Deuteronomy, especially chapter 28 and 30:1-10. Keeping this in mind, here is a list of what each prophet adds to the progress of revelation in the Old Testament.

  • Joel introduces the concept of the “Day of the Lord” and the fact that it is a day of dark judgment, followed by blessing for all mankind.
  • Hosea first presents the idea of spiritual adultery and balances it with God’s deep longing for the people He loves.
  • Amos emphasizes God’s desire for justice and mercy in society.
  • Jonah teaches us about God’s love for the nations, especially for those whom His people view as their enemies.
  • Isaiah’s key new concepts are details about God’s plan for reaching the nations, revelation of the coming King (the Messiah) and details of his person and ministry and the promise of a new heaven and a new earth.
  • Micah, who was Isaiah’s contemporary, clarifies God’s expectation of His people (see Mic. 6:8) and pinpoints where the divine ruler will be born.
  • Nahum comforts God’s people with the certainty of God’s judgment upon those who oppress them.
  • Zephaniah tells us of the extreme joy God has in saving His people and how He exults over their reconciliation.
  • Habakkuk gives us the clearest expression that it is faith(fulness) that causes the righteous to live (Hab. 2:4b).
  • Jeremiah tells us how long the exile will be, that God is with the exiles and prophesies the new covenant, which will replace the Mosaic covenant.
  • Ezekiel reveals God’s obsession with His holiness and His determination to see His plan through, as well as fleshing out the details of the new covenant, especially with a new order of worship for Israel (see Eze. 40-48).
  • Obadiah laments the fall of Jerusalem and shows how those who curse God’s people will be cursed.
  • After Daniel realizes that the 70 years Jeremiah prophesied has passed, he prays, receiving a revelation built on what God has already revealed to Ezekiel. God gives Daniel a detailed look at His plans for the future, especially the time frame for the coming of Messiah. Daniel 12:13 contains the clearest expression of the resurrection in the Old Testament.
  • After the return to the Judah, Haggai prophesies that the second temple will be greater than the first and that Messiah will come from the line of Zerubbabel.
  • Zechariah builds on Ezekiel and Daniel, giving more details about God’s plans for the future and the coming Messiah, whom he calls “the Branch”, based on Isaiah 11:1-10 and Jeremiah 23:5-6.
  • Lastly, Malachi reveals the coming of the forerunner of the Messiah.

Certainly, there is much, much more to be found in each of the prophetic books, but this brief overview shows us how God chose to reveal Himself progressively, basing what His people know about Him on what came before. It is amazing to be able to look back and see how carefully He revealed things piece by piece and how each following prophecy clarifies the former.

Image credit: Breeze.Pics | Lightstock

From Wolfhawke’s Reading List

C.S. Lewis

New York: Harper Collins, 2002 (boxed ediition).

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