That They All May Be One

It is very clear from John 17 that Jesus intended his church to be one. Indeed, that is also a theme in Paul. There is not to be a Jewish-Christian people of God and a Gentile-Christian people of God, but one people of God, for all barriers have been removed (see, among other places, Eph 2). But Jesus made it clear that this unity is to be observable. In fact, this unity will indicate to “the world” that God really sent Jesus and will lead to the world believing. If they cannot see it, they cannot believe it. Therefore our thousands of denominations are not just a scandal, but an offense against the spreading of the good news. Yet, granted that this is true, what is someone to do about  it? Let me suggest three hopeful signs that even when we may feel helpless, God is at work doing himself what we have not managed to do (indeed, what we have often messed up).

First, there is the relatively recent news about Pope Francis’ reaching out to the Orthodox, taking steps towards bridging a 1000 year division. This is not new for this pope. He was involved in such bridging before he became pope. But it looks like significant steps forward are being taken. One event spurring these steps on is the persecution of Christians of all types in Syria and Iraq, among other places. Standing together is not a luxury in such a situation.

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The Problem of Authority: Who Interprets the Bible?

The evangelical movement has always prided itself, as has Protestantism in general in the past, on being Bible-based. The group I grew up in eschewed any creed or doctrinal statement, saying that we just believed the Bible. Other groups have doctrinal statements, but they are studded with Bible verses to show that they are Bible-based. But who says? Which person or group arbitrates what the Bible “really teaches”? After all, for many of the founders of the USA it endorsed slaveholding, and for those on the Mayflower it endorsed the genocide of the indigenous peoples. For one denomination it “proves” that one should organize a church this way, and for another that way. Evangelicals are notoriously fractious with church and denominational splits not uncommon.  Continue reading

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