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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

Most nativity scenes display the three wise men who come to worship baby Jesus at the manger, though the biblical text does not say exactly when the Magi came to worship the infant (see Mt. 2:1-12). As I consider the scene, I ponder the gifts that they gave Jesus. Matthew writes in his Gospel, that “they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Mt. 2:11c). Much has been written about these gifts and some commentators have given them symbolic values, such as gold being for the riches of the king, frankincense being symbolic of deity and the myrrh referencing Jesus’ death and burial. Whether or not these thoughts were in the Magi’s mind as they brought the gifts is unclear. However, three things struck me:

First these gifts were very expensive, especially the myrrh.

Second, each of these gifts is connected to Kingship in some way. Gold is riches for generosity; frankincense can be the pleasant fragrance or the spiritual leadership of the king for the people; and myrrh would be a medicine for the healing of the people.

This last thing brings me to the third point of my ponderings. Myrrh is by far the most valuable of the three gifts. Everything I’ve read connects it more with the death of Christ, but what use would that be to Jesus as a king? King Jesus is a healer as well as a priest and ruler. Besides being used for embalming, myrrh was an ancient medication; it is still used in that capacity today! If we look at Scripture, it says of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; … But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (vv.5a,6 – ESV). As an adult Jesus Himself said, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). Truly, Jesus is the Healer and the myrrh He was presented with by the Magi was symbolic of our King’s gentle, healing touch. He heals us individually today; and one day He will heal the whole universe when He returns to rule.

Image Credit: Leo 65 | Pixabay

From Wolfhawke’s Reading List

Steven R. Lawhead

New York: Avon Books.

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