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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

Recently I had the privilege of preaching at Pentecost. The Lord put it on my heart to preach about the Holy Spirit, which is a rather controversial topic at the international fellowship we attend. After much prayer and some resistance, I followed the Spirit’s leading and dug into the topic. As I worked through Scripture and supporting materials, I discovered a few interesting things about what it looks like to be “filled with the Spirit”.

In Acts, those who are filled with the Spirit are steadfast and courageous, speaking about Jesus forcefully and wisely, calling sinners to repentance. They are recognized as people who live righteous lives.  There are several other lists in the Epistles, which tell us what a Spirit-filled life should look like. I looked at four of these in Ephesians 4:2-3; Galatians 5:22-23; 2 Peter 1:5-7, which list attributes of Spirit-filled people, and Ephesians 5:18-21, which lists actions Spirit-filled people take. In these lists, the one thing that is mentioned four times is love (for thoughts on this amazing love, read my blog entry about “Amazing Agape”). Peter mentions love twice, once as philadelphia and once as agape. Philadelphia is often rendered as “brotherly affection”, “brotherly kindness” or “mutual affection”, suggesting that when we are filled with the Spirit we will actually like our brothers and sisters in Christ, whom we are called to love. That is not always a given, but it is a mark of what love looks like, namely the emotional as well as the volitional. The second key attribute of a Spirit-filled person that is emphasized by three repetitions is self-control. God obviously wants us to walk in a controlled manner, displaying the other attributes of humility, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faith, humility, unity, knowledge and endurance while we praise and thank God and encourage and submit to our brothers and sisters in Christ. So how does each of us measure up to this list? We need to each ask God for His Spirit to be active in us to bring about the attributes, so that people will see our righteousness and praise the Father.

Here are some thoughts on what each of these attributes entails:

  • Humility – having a right understanding of who you are with all your weaknesses and strengths.
  • Gentleness – measure strength applied properly.
  • Patience – expressed both in personal circumstances, which is expressed by Peter’s word “endurance”, as well as with others around you.
  • Love – as God loves. That means loving, knowing we’ll be hurt. Accepting the person across from us, no matter what the hurt, enduring patiently, pouring ourselves out for them. “Brotherly affection” speaks to the liking of those whom we love. It’s beyond the choice to the emotional bond between us.
  • Unity – zealous for the unity of the Body of Christ, a peacemaker.
  • Peace – in us personally and held out those around us.
  • Joy – This is different from happiness. Joy is an abiding emotional undercurrent that bubbles to the surface. It will inform how you go about your life, even, and especially when things are difficult.
  • Kindness – What you say and do is done in a manner that is not abrasive, not backhanded, but thoughtful and focused on the well-being of the other.
  • Goodness – What you do is good. What you say is good. It is in line with God’s desires.
  • Faith in God and faithfulness to Him – This word can swing either way, because our abstract faith is exhibited in through our very concrete faithfulness in life to God.
  • Self-control – You do not explode in anger or do whatever you feel like. You do not easily get swept away by the moment. You know when it is proper to let go in worship and when not.
  • Knowledge – always seeking to learn more about God, what He desires and how to apply this to daily life. Being open to hard questions, seeking answers for ourselves and giving them to others.
  • Endurance – bearing up under persecution and pain, under slander and reviling, under rejection and being ignored; knowing where our true home is and that in this broken, fallen world we are called to shine Christ.

Image Credit: Logos Bible Software

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