Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Those who depend on obeying the Law live under a curse… the Law has nothing to do with faith (Paul). If [faith] is alone and includes no actions, it is dead (James).
We have many parts in the one body, and all these parts have different functions. In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body.
Christ is like a single body, which has many parts; it is still one body, even though it is made up of different parts. God put every different part in the body just as he wanted it to be… There would not be a body if it were only one part! There are many parts, but one body.
What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror… What I know now is only partial… Meanwhile these three remain: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love.
So, then, let us stop judging one another… aim at those things that bring peace and that help to strengthen one another.
And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.
Accept one another, then, for the glory of God, as Christ has accepted you.
Above all, keep your love for one another at full strength, because love cancels innumerable sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Whatever gift each of you may have received, use it in service to one another, like good stewards dispensing the grace of God in its varied forms.
(Galatians 3: 10, GNB; James 2: 17, GNB; Romans 12: 4-5, GNB; 1 Corinthians 12: 12-13, 18-20, GNB; 1 Corinthians 13: 12-13, GNB; Romans 14:13 and 19, GNB; John 13: 34-35, GNB; Romans 15: 7, GNB; 1 Peter 4: 8-10, NEB)
Snoopy was typing a manuscript, up on his kennel. Charlie Brown: ‘What are you doing, Snoopy?’ Snoopy: ‘Writing a book about theology.’ Charlie Brown: ‘Good grief. What’s its title?’ Snoopy (thoughtfully): ‘Have You Ever Considered You Might Be Wrong?’
This points up a central Christian dictum: God’s truth is very much bigger than our little systems.
Our Lord often made the point that God’s fathering extended to all people everywhere. He bluntly targeted the narrow nationalism of his own people, particularly in stories like the good Samaritan. Here the ‘baddie’ is a hero. It’s a wonderful parable underlining the necessity to love God through loving your neighbour — and one’s neighbour is the person who needs help, whoever he or she may be. But note that love of neighbour is more than seeking their conversion, then adding a few acts of mercy to others in ‘our group’. Jesus’ other summary statements about the meaning of religion and life in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 involve justice too: attempting to right the wrongs my neighbour suffers.
‘Ethnocentrism’ is the glorification of my group. What often happens in practice is a kind of spiritual apartheid: I’ll do my thing and you do yours — over there. Territoriality (‘my place — keep out!’) replaces hospitality (‘my place — you’re welcome!’). I like Paul’s commendation in Philippians 2:19-21 of Timothy ‘who really cares’ when everyone else was concerned with their own affairs.
Sometimes our non-acceptance of others’ uniqueness has jealousy or feelings of inferiority at their root. You have probably heard the little doggerel, ‘I hate the guys/that criticise/and minimise/the other guys/whose enterprise/has made them rise/above the guys/that criticise/and minimise…’
In our global village we cannot avoid relating to ‘different others’. Indeed, marriage is all about two different people forming a unity in spite of their differences. Those differences can of course be irritating — for example when a ‘lark’ marries an ‘owl’ (but the Creator made both to adorn his creation).
Even within yourself there are diverse personalities. If you are a ‘right brain’ person, why not develop an interest in ‘left brain’ thinking?
The Lord reveals different aspects of his truth to different branches of the church. What a pity, then, to make our part of the truth the whole truth. Martin Buber had the right idea when he said that the truth is not so much in human beings as between them. An author dedicated his book to ‘Stephen… who agrees with me in nothing, but is my friend in everything.’ Just as an orchestra needs every instrument, or a fruit salad is tastier with a great variety of fruits, so we are enriched through genuine fellowship with each other.
A Christian group matures when it recognises it may have something to learn from other groups. The essence of immaturity is not knowing that one doesn’t know, and therefore being unteachable. No one denomination or church or group has a monopoly on the truth. How was God able to get along for 1500, 1600 or 1900 years without this or that church? Differences between denominations or congregations — or even within them — reflect the rich diversity and variety of the social, cultural and temperamental backgrounds from which those people come. But they also reflect the character of God whose grace is ‘multi-coloured’.
If you belong to Christ and I belong to Christ, we belong to each other and we need each other. Nothing should divide us.
Some wisdom from others:
Diversity is a hallmark of life, an intrinsic feature of living systems in the natural world. The demonstration and celebration of this diversity is an endless rite. Look at the popularity of museums, zoos, aquariums and botanic gardens. The odder the exhibit, the more different it is from the common and familiar forms around us, the more successful it is likely to be. Nature does not tire of providing oddments for people who look for them. Biologists have already formally classified 1.7 million species. As many as 30 to 40 million more may remain to be classified. [David Ehrenfeld, ‘Thirty million cheers for diversity’]
We cannot easily forgive another for not being ourselves. [Emerson]
I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following; but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you. [Shylock, The Merchant of Venice]
Truth is what people kill each other for. [Herbert Read]
After three days of discussion at Marburg, the Reformers agreed on fourteen articles, but could not be reconciled on the fifteenth concerning the Eucharist. This led to a division between the Lutheran and Reformed churches which continues to this day. It is reported that when Luther refused to shake hands with Zwingli in farewell, the Swiss reformer left with tears in his eyes. His attitude throughout had been most brotherly. [Arthur Gum, Ulrich Zwingli, the unknown reformer]
If Jesus ever came down to earth again, the Spaniards would dance with joy, the Italians would start singing, the French would discuss whether his visit was timely and the Germans? Well, they would present him with a schedule. [Cardinal Sin, of Manila]
Different groups within the Christian church are at odds with one another because their models of the Christian life, its beginnings and its fullness, are so diverse. One group of genuine believers can never remember a conscious conversion to faith in Christ; another insists that a datable experience of being ‘born again’ is essential; a third says that a second distinct experience of ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’ is necessary for Christian maturity. When we ‘test the spirits’ in the lives of representatives among these groups, we often find an equal level of spiritual vitality — or deadness! — in each sector. The Christian life is being offered in diverse packages, but what is inside is the same — newness of life in Christ. Nonetheless, the different groups enjoying this life are readily offended by another’s packages. One person’s piety is often another’s poison. [Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life]
Inevitably, law reduces things to a common denominator. Under grace, everything is completely different. Individual difference is encouraged.. Each Christian becomes an authentic witness, since each has their own experience of Christ, incommensurable with that of any other person, since all genuinely personal experiences are Individual and unique. Each has his or her own irreplaceable contribution to the life of the whole. Each has an instrument to play, a gift to offer to the harmony of the whole orchestra. [Stephen Neill, On the Ministry]
We can no longer doubt that there are many different expressions of Christianity within the New Testament. These patterns… did [not] always complement each other; on the contrary, they not infrequently clashed, sometimes fiercely… The language forms were different, often so different that the words of one believer could not serve as the vehicle of faith of another, or even for himself in different circumstances… So, if we have been convinced of the unity of first-century Christianity, we can hardly be less convinced of its diversity. [James D.G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament]
[The church of the next century must be] a church which allows considerable diversity of outlook and expression and does not insist on rigid uniformity. We should not be afraid of diversity within the church. The fact is that people have different temperaments, and these require a variety of expression of faith and worship. But there is another more profound reason for pluralism within the church. This is that no one of us and no one point of view can comprehend the fullness of the mystery of God. We know him only in part, and we can see him only from a perspective which is formed by our historical, cultural and sociological heritage as well as by our personal experience. The pluralism within the church is far from being a simply negative thing and need not be divisive. [Archbishop Keith Raynor]
‘The very idea of diversities compatible with communion. . . or of the sufficient minimum of doctrine to be held in common if unity is to be preserved… is the object of all my research.’ It should also be an object of vital interest to all Christians. The diversity which always has existed in the church is still, theoretically, valued and not merely tolerated. Where differences did not inhibit communication by leading to an isolated sectarianism, communion was not sundered; folk lived out, and died for, the one faith before it found uniform expression in creeds and conciliar definitions. If the same faith is being lived, varying formulations of it (which may have equally respectable apostolic origins) must be reconcilable. [Yves Congar, Diversity and Communion]
With regard to the question of a ‘minimal creed’, what might it affirm? Here’s a suggestion: We affirm: 1. One God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; 2. Jesus Christ as my Saviour, my Lord and my God; 3. The Scriptures as authoritative for faith and conduct; 4. Love for, acceptance of and full fellowship with all who thus confess their allegiance to God through Christ; 5. Our commission to continue the holistic ministry of Christ in evangelism and social action to a lost world. [Rowland Croucher, Recent Trends Among Evangelicals]
Jacques Ellul, noting that in many of the conflicts of our time sincere Christians are to be found on both sides, welcomes this fact, for he claims that their Christianity can unite them across political and partisan divisions, so lessening the hostility of those divisions and preparing the way for eventual reconciliation. [John Macquarrie, The Humility of God]
Jesus brings together Jew and Gentile and from them both produces one new kind of person… It is not that Jesus makes all the Jews into Gentiles, or all the Gentiles into Jews; he produces a new kind of person out of both, although they remain Gentiles and Jews. Chrysostom, the famous preacher of the early church, says that it is as if one should melt down a statue of silver and a statue of lead, and the two should come out gold. The unity which Jesus achieves is not achieved by blotting out all racial and national characteristics; it is achieved by making all people of all nations into Christians… Christianity produces people who are friends with each other because they are friends with God.
William Barclay, Galatians and Ephesians
Lord God our Creator, when you made all creatures great and small in their rich diversity you were so delighted. And when you made human beings (in your image) to be so diverse, they must represent somehow the rich diversity of the Godhead itself. Lord, our Redeemer, when Jesus Christ died to draw all unto him, it was in prospect of heaven being populated by people from every tribe, language, nation and race.
Lord, help me to appreciate all this richness; may my theology not be too eccentric, peripheral to the central concern of the gospel which is to increase love for God and others. So teach me how to stay close to you, close to humankind, and make it the goal of my life to bring God and humankind together. Help me to move from law (with its tendency to reduce everything to a common denominator) to grace (where individual differences are celebrated).
May my view of myself be conditioned more by my being bound up in life with others, rather than my separateness from them.
Help me to be big enough to be all things to all people, to help in their saving to keep the bridges between me and others in good repair…
Cure thy children’s warring madness
Bend our pride to thy control;
Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal.
[H.E. Fosdick]
Gather us in, thou love that fillest all; Gather our rival faiths within thy fold. Rend each one’s temple-veil and bid it fall, That we may know that thou hast been of old; Gather us in. Gather us in: we worship only Thee; In varied names we stretch a common hand; In diverse forms a common soul we see; In many ships we seek one spirit-land; Gather us in. Each one sees one colour of thy rainbow-light, Each looks upon one tint and calls it heaven; Thou are the fullness of our partial sight; We are not perfect till we find the seven; Gather us in.
[G.E. Matheson]
A Benediction
May God be merciful to us, and bless us; look on us with kindness, so that the whole world may know your will; so that nations may know your salvation.
May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you! [Psalm 67:1-2 (GNB)]
From Rowland Croucher, ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys, Albatross/Lion, chapter 13.

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