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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

The coming of the Passion Week and things we have been through over the last few months have caused me to meditate on pain and how God enters in to it. God brought the passage in 1 Peter 1:18-21 to my mind, in which it says that Jesus was “chosen before the foundation of the world” to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (see also Rev. 13:8). This led me to consider the concept that God foreknew who was going to be saved and how this reflects on the unfolding of salvation history, which brought me to this conclusion: God knew what creating this world was going to cost Him. He knew that to create a being that could truly love Him, He would have to give that being the freedom to reject Him. He knew that such rejection would be very, very costly, to the point of making him experience the unimaginable pain of rending the Trinity. And He did it anyway! For the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:11-14).

Reading the prophets makes it very clear how much it hurt God to see His beloved people wander away from Him. Especially Hosea and Ezekiel show us God’s pained heart, His laments, His sorrow, His suffering because of the rejection of the ones whom He chose. And He chose it with His eyes wide open, knowing the trouble to come. Yet, being the Faithful One, who is faithful to His character and His design, He chose to go through with it.

God experiences loss and rejection constantly. He has experienced the loss of his Only Son. The Bible makes it clear that He is not indifferent to the pain: He lives with it. He can sympathize with our pain, because we are like Him in having feelings; also, because He has lived every kind of pain when on earth. Asking, “Why does a good God allow suffering on earth?” is the wrong question. The right question is, “How much does God suffer because of the suffering on earth?” This realization has been working in me as we struggled through the miscarriage of our fourth child. Simply knowing He understands, that He is suffering with me and that despite being in constant pain over His beloved creation’s rejection of Him, He stands firm, holding out His hands until He has decreed that time will end. When He does, He will be fully within His rights to judge and punish, because He has suffered for millennia and He has paid the costliest price to make it possible for all who are willing to be reconciled to Him! What an amazing thought to ponder as we come up on Resurrection Sunday this year: God is willing to live in pain, so we can come to Him! As we suffer, let us rest in the truth that He is there with us. Let us praise Him and give Him glory for being with us in the darkest times we live.

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From Wolfhawke’s Reading List

Michael J. Behe

New York: The Free Press, 1996, 2006.

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