Before I set out my store, let me quote two Bible verses …
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” John 17:20,21.
“Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God” Revelation 19:7-9.
Associated with my past six years waxing lyrical in the blogosphere, there have been a number of issues I have come across where Christians are often acutely divided, sometimes viciously so, such as Brexit, Trump and the Coronavirus. It has cause Christians who see things differently to fall out and lose respect for one another and I know in my case I have felt let down by and an acute sense of disillusionment. There are many other issues of course – climate change, LBGT related matters and gospel preaching priorities, etc., but let me focus on those in the title, about which I have written a lot, and received flak when voicing my strongly held views, namely Brexit needs to happen, deal or no deal, Trump is far better for the world than the alternatives and while Coronavirus is real, it is part of a dastardly plot by a nefarious global elite to enslave humanity.
Before returning to these topics, let me go back to when I first became a Christian and move quickly forward to the present day, reflecting on the important issues the divide I have outlined brings about and relating this to God’s purpose for the Church (not institution, building etc., but those who follow Christ regardless of denominational affiliation), before attempting to draw some conclusions, noting our two texts at the start: Jesus prayer that His followers should live in unity and a picture of something that happens when He returns to the earth in glory and is united with His holy and pure bride, which is the true Church.
I remember a fictitious story being told me by an elder in the Plymouth Brethren (no less) soon after I became a Christian, aged 15. (Much of my Christian association then and thereafter was with the Brethren.) The elder told of someone who died and went to heaven, when on entry he was given a guided tour by St. Peter. Peter pointed out various groups of believers in their denominational setting doing things each denomination was noted for. Finally, they came to a group huddled together behind a wall. Peter told him to hush as those in that group were Brethren and thought they were the only ones there. Heaven is nothing like that but the attitude on display resonates in my experience although, to the elder’s credit, he must have sensed the folly of an attitude that clearly existed.
When I went to university, I came across real Christians in many other denominations, who clearly loved the Lord, although I had been warned that many had dubious beliefs and it was well to be forewarned. Firstly, I had joined in the summer before a mission, run be an inter-denominational organization, Operation Mobilisation. Then at university, when I joined the Christian Union, I found all but one of the CU committee were Anglicans and I even went along to Anglican churches. Thereafter, I mixed with Christians of various denominations and, when I got involved in community activism around the turn of the millennium, I even mixed with Liberals and Catholics, recognising the net benefits.
My ecumenical stance upset some, although as I reflect, I can also see the pitfalls of ecumenicalism, when it comes to compromising on those things that matter, notably the Gospel. One of the attractions of my brand of community activism is the opportunity it affords of working with disparate partners to achieve noble goals to benefit the many. One of the pitfalls is to ignore the less acceptable aspects of Christianity like sin and repentance and focus on the nice bits like love and tolerance. In the main that is what many Christians have done and is how in one way I see the divide and what is happening.
Coming now into the present, and in the light of attitudes outlined earlier, it is true to say I have been disappointed and hurt. But rather than do what some do and walk away contemptuously at ungodly leadership and hypocrites in church, I recognize this is also time to take stock. Firstly, there is the matter of the speck and the beam and before pointing out the speck in my brother’s eye I must first deal with the beam in my own. Secondly, the professing church and the actual church are not the same – the latter and what matters is a remnant and it has ever been thus. Thirdly, God’s heart is for His Church and my calling is serve Him and it regardless of its faults.
When it comes to these baffling matters identified earlier, where there seems no satisfactory resolution, a factor in all these is that God has called His Church to be his holy bride and I must stand with the many who suffer today for their faith and play my part in the Great Commission, which is to make true disciples of all nations. He has called individual members to play their part in the whole Body. When it comes to those matters I identified, while I have a view on what the outcome should be, I recognise in God’s wisdom it may be different and one reason is His overriding purposes for His Church.
“A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” John 13:34.
“That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” Ephesians 5:27.
1 The church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
She is his new creation
By water and the word.
From heav’n he came and sought her
To be his holy bride;
With his own blood he bought her,
And for her life he died.
2 Elect from ev’ry nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation:
One Lord, one faith, one birth.
One holy name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With ev’ry grace endued.
3 Though with a scornful wonder
this world sees her oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping;
Their cry goes up: “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song.
4 Mid toil and tribulation
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till with the vision glorious
Her longing eyes are blessed,
And the great church victorious
Shall be the church at rest.
5 Yet she on earth has union
With God, the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we,
Like them, the meek and lowly,
May live eternally.