Unity in the Body of Christ

Posted: February 28th, 2019 | Author: James Early | Filed under: Body of Christ | 4 Comments »
unity in the body of Christ, Different interpretations of the Bible, is Christ divided
Is the salt on the right or left? It depends on which side of the table you are.

So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Romans 12:5

Have you ever wondered why there are so many hundreds of different Christian denominations?

If we all believe in Jesus, why can’t we agree on everything else? How can two people, two churches, or two theologies, look at the same Scripture and come away with completely opposite interpretations? Then add to these two divergent views hundreds more. It seems sometimes Christianity has splintered into so many warring camps, each claiming they are the only true believers.

How does this happen?

If you want to know how, study history. I think the more important question to ask is: Why does this happen?

There are lots of reasons, one of which is the attempt, consciously or unwittingly, to mingle the pure teachings of Christ with man-made doctrines and the ways of the world.

But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I think it’s also a function of human nature. The human mind believes what it sees. But it also sees what it believes.

Imagine you and I are sitting across from each other at the table with the salt and pepper in the middle. To me, the salt is on the right. To you it’s on the left. Vice versa for the pepper.

We could playfully argue with each other about whether the salt is on the right or the left, but we would understand it’s actually a matter of perspective that determines what we see.

Now imagine that the “salt and pepper” is actually a theological issue but we don’t realize we’re looking at it from different perspectives. The argument is no longer in jest, but becomes heated and judgemental. I don’t know if you’ve ever had those kinds of theological discussions, but they are no fun. Both sides think they are right and won’t budge an inch. Neither side realizes that the other person is looking from a different viewpoint and therefore sees something different.

Once I had a “conversation” with someone who used the very same Bible verses to prove his point that I used to disprove it. That was a real eye-opener. We were obviously sitting on opposite sides of the theological table.

Different interpretations of the Bible

How can Christians disagree on important Biblical teachings?

There are two basic reasons: the filter or lens we look through and the perspective, or point of view, we look from.

You’ve probably heard the joke about the lady who looked out her kitchen window and noticed that her neighbor was hanging up dirty laundry to dry on the clothesline. This went on for several days. She got pretty judgemental of her neighbor until one day her husband cleaned the kitchen windows. Miraculously, the neighbor’s wash was clean that day when she hung it up to dry.

The dirt was not on the laundry but on the window. Duh!

It’s hard to notice when we have “dirt” on our mental windows. It colors the way we see things. We think something or someone else is the problem.

If you grew up in a church that preached God was wrathful and merciless with the tiniest sin and was ready to punish you any and every minute, that view will color the way you interpret the description of God as Love in the New Testament.

The challenge is to wash away all the cultural, sociological, and religious “dirt” from the way we look at ourselves, the world, and especially the Bible. It’s not always easy to realize there is dirt on our windows. We just see what we see. We believe what we see. Then we end up seeing what we believe, sometimes even after the dirt is washed off.

All this affects the way we interpret the Bible.

This is why baptism, not with water but the Holy Spirit, is vital. It washes away dirt we don’t even realize is there.

The other main reason we disagree on what the Bible says is that we are looking at it from different perspectives.

Let’s say I have six iPhones and strap them to my body, one on my head, one on the shoulders, one at my waist, one at my knees, one on my foot, and one on my back. If I turn on the video camera on each and walk down the street, what happens?

Even though my body is only doing one thing, each video from the six cameras will show something different, especially the one facing backwards.

If I come to a cat, in the video taken from the camera on my foot it will look like a monster, but to the others it won’t be so intimidating. If I go up to a waist-high wall, the cameras on the feet and the knees won’t see anything but the wall. The video taken at waist level may just be able to see something over the top, the videos from the shoulder and head will see a wider view and the one from my back won’t even see the wall.

And yet my body is in the exact same place.

In his letters to the Christians in Rome and Corinth (see Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12), Paul addresses the simple fact that everyone in the church has a different place and function. He metaphorically describes the church as “the body of Christ.”

Just as each part of the human body has a different place and function that coordinates and contributes to the whole, so in the body of Christ, all believers have a unique place and a function that no one else can fill, different gifts, talents, and abilities. He encourages them all to work together in harmony and appreciate how all the different gifts work together as a whole.

Just as a cat may appear as a monster at foot level, so a challenge may appear to some in the body of Christ as a terrible demon that is about to devour everything that is good. But to others, the same problem is just an opportunity to express love.

Just as the feet and knee videos can’t see over a waist-high wall, some members in the body of Christ may say, “We’re just not meant to understand these things.” And as the video from the back doesn’t even see the wall, some Christians just don’t even see something as an issue.

Perhaps some of our theological differences are not so much in disagreement with each other as they are differences of perspective in looking at the same thing.

We still need this message today

I used to get all up in arms when I found someone I disagreed with theologically. I was a nitpicker. I knew the salt was on the right of the pepper. End of story. No discussion necessary.

As I have matured in Christ I, have come to love all members of the body of believers, even if I radically disagree with some of their theology. I can appreciate that they are part of the whole and am grateful for them.

Maybe you are in a church that is the very right hand in the body of Christ. That doesn’t mean that everyone else has to be just like you.

But isn’t that how many Christians think? They know they are sincere Christians and falsely assume everyone must be just like them in order to be Christian. They have defined “Christian” as being the right hand. They even have their suspicions of the left hand: “I mean really, they have everything backwards.”

The body of Christ is not a giant right hand. There are many members or parts and each has a unique place, perspective, and function. Each has something different to offer to the whole that no one else can.

What if all those who believe in Christ could appreciate all others who do? Instead of arguing over our differences, we need to appreciate what everyone else is bringing to the table. Instead of arguing over whether the hand or the foot, the knee or the elbow is right, we need to rejoice in the wholeness and unity of our faith in Christ.

“Is Christ divided?”

Paul asks this exact question (see I Corinthians 1:13). How would the world respond to Christ if it felt the unity among the members of his body instead of all the bickering that sometimes goes on today?

The problem arises when we look at things from our perspective on the body of Christ. Your body does not have eyes on its shoulders, waist, knees, feet, and back. Your eyes are in the head. So it is with the body of Christ.

Christ is the head of the body, the church. We must give up the assumption that the perspective from our place in the body is more valid than what Christ sees. We must subordinate our view to see what Christ does.

This is how Paul could say in humility, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” (I Corinthians 13:9, 10 KJV)

In other words, we only see part of the picture from our own place in the body of Christ, but when we let Christ show us what he sees, we will see the whole picture and our partial view will disappear.

To answer Paul’s question, I have realized that the true body of Christ is not divided. We are not a bunch of body parts flopping all over the place. We cannot operate as separate parts or without all parts combined in one. The unity of Christ’s body already exists. We just need to notice and appreciate it.

An invitation: Even if you disagree heartily with a fellow Christian’s theology, I invite you to appreciate their place, function, and purpose in the body of Christ. Maybe you even question if they are even Christian. But you cannot see their heart the way God does.

We may not agree on whether the salt is on the right or the left, but we can agree that the salt and the pepper are together.

We may not agree on every detail of doctrine, but everyone who believes and confesses that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God, I will cherish as a member of the body of Christ. I hope you will join me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about the body of Christ. Please leave a comment below.

Blessings,
James


What Happened on the Day of Pentecost?

Posted: June 2nd, 2018 | Author: James Early | Filed under: Body of Christ | 4 Comments »

the pentecost, what happened on the day of pentecost, the holy spirit at pentecost, the holy spirit came on pentecost, pentecost and the holy spirit, coven tongues of fire, pentecostal fire, speaking in tongues holy spirit, people speaking in tongues, the gift of speaking in tongues, gioft of speaking in tongues, Bible study on speaking in tongues, baptism of the holy ghost, speaking in other tongues, receiving the holy ghost and speaking in tongues

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to hear Peter preach on the day of Pentecost?

You are probably familiar with the story. Forty days after his resurrection and just before he ascended into heaven, Jesus promised the eleven remaining Apostles they would receive the Holy Ghost after he left them (Acts 1:4-8). But he told them to stay in Jerusalem until then. Ten days later, the Apostles, and perhaps some of the others in the group of those who believed Jesus was the Messiah, were together when something like a mighty wind blew through the house they were in. Everyone was enveloped in a bright light described as cloven (or divided) tongues that seemed like fire. How do you put into words something you’ve never seen before?

The result? No, they were not burned up by this Holy Fire. Those present were filled with the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak with other tongues, in different languages.

Jews from many different countries had converged in Jerusalem at this time to celebrate the Jewish festival of Pentecost, which was 50 days after Passover. Word got out that there were people talking in different languages. The odd thing was that these visiting Jews heard what the Apostles were saying in their own native language. People didn’t know what to make of it. Some even said the Apostles were just a bunch of drunkards. There were trolls back then too, they just didn’t have Facebook.

Peter took advantage of the moment to preach to the crowd that Jesus was the promised Messiah. About 3,000 of Peter’s listeners became believers that day. Not bad for one sermon!

There are so many things to talk about on the subject of Pentecost and speaking in tongues and it would be impossible to cover them all, so I’ll just make a few points.

Obey Jesus

First, the Apostles obeyed Jesus. They stayed in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit. You can’t live your life in disobedience to Jesus and expect to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said if we really loved him, we would obey his commandments. We like to think we obey everything Jesus told us to do, but when we take an honest look at the way we treat other people, we get a pretty good picture of whether we are following Jesus or not. Just read through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, Chapters 5-7). Are you merciful and meek? Are you a peacemaker? Do you love your enemies, pray for them, and do good to those who harm or slander you? Or do you judge and criticize others, condemn them if they disagree with you, and let your pride rule the day?

The problem is that sometimes what we think of as righteous indignation and holy behavior is actually our own self-justification and self-righteousness venting itself.

It take humility to obey all of the things Jesus told us to do. We have to give up our personal opinions and our self-will. The more we obey Jesus’ commandments recorded in the New Testament, the more we will hear Christ directing us in the specific needs of today. And then are hearts are more receptive to the descent and baptism of the Holy Ghost.

Unity

Jesus told them to stay in Jerusalem, and that included the idea that they would be together. In time, they would go into different parts of the world preaching the Gospel, but for now, they were to be together. But they were not just hanging out in Jerusalem going about their separate lives. When the Holy Spirit came to them, they “were all with one accord in one place.” (Acts 2:1) They were not just in the same room, but they were all in accord, or agreement, with one another. There was unity in their hearts. They had all seen the crucifixion of Jesus, talked with him after the resurrection, and witnessed his ascension. These were powerful experiences which bonded their hearts together in love for Jesus and the desire to carry out the commission he had given them.

They were also in agreement that Jesus was the Messiah. They didn’t just believe it. They were absolutely convinced. They weren’t debating theology or doctrinal points. It was enough to acknowledge that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. That was the simple litmus test of their faith. Why do we make it so complicated?

Could you be in a room with ten other Christians and be in absolute agreement on every point of theology and doctrine? Oh, it’s perhaps easier if they all belong to the same church, but even that is not a guarantee. What if you were in a room with Christians from a dozen different denominations, some of whom condemned the theology of others in the room? You would have the opposite effect from what happened on the day of Pentecost: disunity, the absence of the Holy Spirit, and no crowds in awe of and accepting your message. Who wants to be part of a divisive group? Not me.

What would happen in that same room of Christians if they all set aside their doctrines, dogmas, and complex theologies, and instead could unite on the simple, original meaning of what it meant to be a Christian, to accept Jesus as the Son of God, the promised Messiah?

Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good theological discussion. I love to find out what others believe and why. But endlessly debating the issues, trying to prove someone else wrong, and being unwilling to reexamine my own position is not productive. I learn much more from talking to people I disagree with than just being around those I do agree with all the time.

There are churches and theologies that condemn as heresy anyone that disagrees with them. A lot of theological mud gets thrown at others in the name of Jesus. This should not be.

I used to be the same way. I thought I was right about how I read and understood the Scriptures and that must mean that everyone else was wrong. But that was my own spiritual immaturity and self-righteousness at work.

But now, whether I agree or disagree with your theology is not the point. Do you believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah? I do.

What if all Christians would unite on this simple truth, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, the prophesied Messiah, the promised Christ? What if we quit arguing over dogma and doctrine, rituals, ceremonies, and traditions? If we could look past our own theological noses for a change and see all Christians, of whatever denomination, as members of the body of Christ, this unity would be fertile ground for the Holy Spirit to move upon our hearts and our churches and empower us to serve the Cause of Christ more effectively than ever before and usher in a new era of Pentecostal glory for the entire Christian Church.

The body of Christ is not divided. But some Christians and some denominations think they are the only true Christians and are overly judgemental of other Christians who do not think, do, and say exactly as they do. They think they are the right hand in the body of Christ and everyone should be just like them, everyone should be the right hand. But Paul rebukes this attitude in I Corinthians, Chapter 12, “If they were all one member, where were the body?” (v. 19)

Imagine a giant right hand without a body. How would it function? How would it get from one place to another? The hand needs the feet and the whole body to operate properly. And just so with different Christians. We all have different places in the body of Christ and different purposes. God did not create us all the same. We see things differently and we do things differently. But we work together will all other members of the body of Christ for the greater good. AND we appreciate all parts of the body instead of being so critical.

Speaking in tongues

When the disciples were in one place and in unity of mind, the Holy Ghost descended upon them, they began to talk in other languages. These were actual languages instead of some sort of gibberish no one could understand. People from foreign countries heard their own native tongues as the disciples were speaking.

Later in the New Testament it seems speaking in tongues has evolved into moments of personal inspiration that not everyone else can understand. There now has to be an interpreter. Sort of the opposite from the day of Pentecost. (See I Corinthians, Chapter 14.) And so today, there are different definitions of what it means to speak in tongues.

To me, to “speak in tongues” means to speak the language of love that everyone can understand. I know of people who speak in tongues during church and then go out and are nasty and mean the rest of the week. They are caught up in the ecstasy of the moment, but the inspiration doesn’t stay with them. Bit of a disconnect I would say. Not everything that is called speaking in tongues is necessarily the genuine thing.

To me the proof is in what the result is. Does it follow the model of the day of Pentecost where people understand God’s message in their own language? Or is it the later model when an interpreter was needed? Both are mentioned in the Bible but if the latter was as effective as the former Paul would not have had to admonish the church for speaking in tongues that were not understood.

All that said, I am not some ultimate authority on this topic. Who can say what will come out of someone’s mouth when they are moved with the Holy Ghost? We all must let the Spirit move us freely.

What does the Day of Pentecost mean to us today?

Let us join in unity with ALL our fellow Christians that Jesus is the Son of God. If we have different doctrines or theologies, so be it. Some people have more faith in their doctrines than they do God. Bu you are not saved by your theology, you are saved by God’s grace. I may be wrong on some points of theology, but I know Christ is my Savior. Even Paul had the humility to admit he didn’t know everything: “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.” (I Corinthians 13:10)

Even if we disagree on some theological points or doctrinal beliefs, I celebrate your status as a member of the body of Christ. I hope you will do the same. Let us cherish the unity of the body of Christ and we will be ready to experience more of the baptism of the Holy Spirit as on the day of Pentecost. Let us go forth and speak to our fellow man in words they can understand so their hearts can accept the Gospel message.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Pentecost. Please share in the comments below.

Blessings,

James