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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 year or so I’ve been working my way through Michael Morales’ Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A biblical theology of the Book of Leviticus (Downers Grove, Illinois: Apollos, InterVarsity Press, 2015.). It is a fascinating book, bringing many things together about the Old Testament that I haven’t thought of before. One of the things he pointed out in expositing Leviticus 18 that really caused me to think was that God specifically gave the law to Israel so that they would be completely unlike those around them. They were to be distinct from all the other nations around them, pointing to the distinctness of Yahweh. So I began to ask myself, what makes us Christians distinct?

My search led me to John 13:34-35, where Jesus says, “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (HCSB – emphasis mine). Thus, the outwardly most distinctive element of being a Christian is found in our love; first and foremost for other Christians (1Jn. 4:7-8) and then for those who do not love us (Mt. 5:43-48). It’s no wonder Christians blow the world’s mind when they stand up and forgive those who have wronged them. We are to love with godly abandon, doing the right thing no matter what, making difficult decisions, accepting pain, putting others before ourselves and pouring ourselves out as God does. That will make people wonder what’s the matter with us.

Jesus also points out that our good deeds are a distinctive that draws people to God (see Mt. 5:14-16). Coupled with selfless love, these will make us as Christians very distinctive from the rest of the world and cause them to question, to wonder, to seek what makes us different from everyone else. So, how are you doing at being distinct from the world today?

Image Credit: Flazingo Photos | flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Jayson Georges

Self-Published, 2016

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