Thoughts for Second Sunday in Lent, March 8, 2009

I’m preaching a series of sermons from 1 Corinthians to the church I serve during Lent. We are focusing on the essential and necessary oneness of the church that was forged in the crucifixion of Jesus. Part of the goal of these sermons is to introduce the congregation to some of the history of the so-called Restoration Movement while exploring the basis of our oneness in Christ. ‘We’ have a long history and I thought it would be appropriate to share some of that wonderful history that is so often overlooked when official church history is discussed.

Back in the day, there was a small publication that existed simply called The Plea. It was published in Tennessee by a Christian church and edited by Fred W Smith. I’d like to share a quote with you from the August 1951 editorial. He wrote:

“The Christian world is divided, not simply into congregations of believers for mutual benefit and service, but torn and rent by parties, factions, and schisms which claim exclusive rights to the promises of sacred Scripture. This is the ‘falling away’ which the Apostle Paul referred to in his epistles. (Fred W Smith, The Plea, August 1951, volume 7, #6. p 2)

The Restoration Movement was born out of a desire for Christians of all denominational stripes to recognize that unity has already been forged for us by Christ and that we need to but recognize and maintain it. The ‘founders’ of the movement came from Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist and other denominations. Some were Pentecostal, some were not. Some believed in instrumental music, some did not. Some practiced infant baptism, some did not. Some believe in mission societies, some did not. Some believed in conventions, some did not. Some believed in weekly communion, some did not. Sometimes they got along and worked hard at being one. Other times they failed and became two.

For the most part, I think the Restoration Movement has been a failure, at least in practice. Instead of bringing together the denominations it has, sadly, created yet two or three or four or five or more denominations (depending upon how you count the various churches who claim as their heritage the work of Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton W Stone among others). Nevertheless, the ideal still prevails and should be recognized for what it is: A call to recognize what Christ has already declared in Scripture to be true. If we failed in practice, perhaps we haven’t failed in theory. Perhaps the theory is still a good idea. We may not forge it, but we can at least recognize and honor it.

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-6, NIV)

Or:

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6, NASB)

So what is our goal? Are we as the people whom Christ has called walking in a manner consistent with our calling? Are we walking with humility, gentleness, patience? Are we showing tolerance in love for one another? Are we making it our ambition, as people of Christ, to preserve or maintain that unity that has been forged for us in Christ and worked out in the Spirit? Are we making it our goal to live in peace with one another? Seriously? We really need to ask ourselves these questions continually.

Are we wise enough to recognize that no matter how many different denominations we create, no matter how many theological systems we construct (all theology is a matter of opinion anyhow), no matter how many blogs we write (each one no doubt claiming exclusive rights (and rightness!) to the interpretation and proclamation of God’s truth!), no matter how much we fight and argue about who is right and who is wrong–at the end of the day: There is ONE body. We cannot change this. Christ has declared it to be so and nothing we can do will alter that declaration. There is ONE body. It is unfortunate that this Biblical fact causes so much upheaval among people. It is even more unfortunate that some have made it their life’s ambition to narrow this field as much as they can and cause as much division as they can in whatever way they can. Our goal, thus, should not be causing so much division that the expanse of the church is narrowed. Our goal should be recognizing and maintaining what Christ Jesus forged in his own blood.

That Body includes people that do not think like I do. That Body includes Democrats and Republicans and maybe even some Libertarians (I jest). That Body includes people who do not take communion every week like I do. That Body includes people who do not believe in a literal 6-Day creation like I do. That Body includes people who immerse as the first act of obedience instead of, as I do, the last act of conversion. That Body includes people who are monergistic and not synergistic like me. That Body includes Calvinists and Arminians and Calminians and Arminiasts. That Body includes pre-millenialists like John MacArthur and amillenialists like me and maybe even post-millenialists and pan-millenialists. That Body includes so-called Emergent types like Rob Bell and so-called hyper-Calvinsts like Mark Driscoll. Believe it or not, that Body even includes some Baptists, Lutherans. Methodists, Catholics, Nazarenes, Church of Christ, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox (and others; many others). And so on and so forth. My point is that who can number the Body but Christ? Whose job is it but Christ’s?

Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. (Revelation 7:4)

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9)

What he heard and saw corresponded in some way. He heard a perfect number; he saw a massive heap. And yet:

And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:10)

They sang together. They worshiped the Lamb as One! Do you see? Do you understand? They had one thing in common and it was Christ Jesus!

Practically speaking, the Restoration Movement was doomed before it started. Who, to be sure, could ever decide what is opinion enough for there to be liberty and what is essential enough for there to be unity? ‘We’ were stumped in those two places before we ever got to the ‘in all things love’ part. Still, I think there is hope and we are not outwitted just yet and I don’t think that our un-oneness has caused the Lord great consternation or upheaval. Could just be that our un-oneness exists also for his glory.

Maybe this is why he specifically told us to Love one another. Maybe this is why he said we are saved by grace. Alone.

“Christianity also is not intolerant because anyone can believe, regardless of race, gender, or social status. No one is excluded. Christianity is the most inclusive and exclusive of all religions. Anyone can believe, but it is only by faith in Jesus Christ that a person is saved. It is that glorious message of salvation through Christ alone that should be our banner and that which unites us. Jesus said, ‘If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me.” Let our churches [and, I might add, our blogs] be known, then, for their strong and unwavering message about the crucified Christ, the very Son of God.” (Bob Russell & Rick Atchley, Together Again, 53)

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