During my time at seminary, I grew to love the historic creedal confessions of the faith. One of the creeds that I wholeheartedly affirm is the Nicene Creed. If you look at it, the Creed unpacks the Trinitarian nature of God quite explicitly. There’s God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Three distinct persons and one God at the same time [insert mind explosion].
While there is unity in diversity within the Trinity, the Church can mirror this Trinitarian reality in our cooperative diversity. There can be profound beauty within the broad spectrum of the faith.
But what unites Christians must always be lifted up higher than the things that might individually distinguish us. The good news of Jesus the risen Messiah is so much bigger than the squabbles between Roman Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, and Orthodox Christians.
So where is a uniting element of the true Church? Perhaps it’s wherever people can be forgiven of their sins and united to God through Jesus.
Pray for unity within the Church
One of the great things I love about the Christian faith is its universal appeal.
Contrary to common perception in America, the Church is growing rapidly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. While some might be defensive about the diminishing number of confessing Christ followers across the West, God is on the move in places as far as China and Rwanda.
Contrast this good news with other world religions. To be Muslim means that one must essentially immerse themselves in the Arabic culture. Reading the Quran in Arabic is an incredibly important thing to those in the Islamic faith, and the Islamic religion is centered on Arabic history and culture.* Contrast this with Christianity, where anyone can discover the Gospel in their own language. The catholic Church (catholic means universal) exists in different cultures, but fortunately it is not limited to the cultures of the ancient Greco-Roman world.
The good news is that Christianity can flourish anywhere in the world.
It can even flourish in the lives of the broken.
*While Islam might be popular outside of the Middle East, Indonesian and African Muslims must travel to the homeland in order to follow the tenets of the faith. Christianity, on the other hand, does not require a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
If you are trying to wrap your head around God, what I suggest the first things to do is to not imagine a perfect human being. Don’t picture a big Gandalf in the sky as I used to do.
Why? Because God is not like us.
He is entirely other, so far from our own preconceived thoughts and emotions.
While we can write about how God is a father or a mothering hen or a warrior king or a tender bridegroom, we simply are grasping at straws. For the God who brought Israel out of Egypt and raised Jesus from the dead is so much greater than our imperfect metaphors. He made us in his image and our language can only describe a small portion of the original image. Let me give you an example to this point.
Men and women were made in the image of God and we reflect his image much like the moon reflects the light of the sun. But while the moon lights up the dark of night, it is not nearly as bright as the radiance of the sun.
The moon can only reflect the light given by the sun. Similarly, humanity can only reflect the light given by God to others and our reflection is much like the metaphors we use to describe God.
So with this in mind, when we communicate to others about the grandeur of God, bring an element of humility to the conversation. We are all looking through a window covered in dust and dirt, but one day we will see it clearly.
God is wholly other than our metaphors. As Karl Barth said, “One cannot speak of God simply by speaking of man in a loud voice.” God is God and not a better version of humanity— no matter how loudly we might speak.
Any other theologizing tips?
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
I pray that the Protestant churches might be one. I pray that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches would meet again in worshipful unity, as Protestants (in all of its various stripes and patterns) would be unified with those older expressions of the faith. Why do I say this? Let me bold in this suggestion:
May I suggest that disunity is a tremendous stumbling block for faith in Jesus Christ?
Disunity is not something new though, it’s been around for quite awhile. There has been conflict and fights even in the Book of Acts. There were fights between Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Peter, and the false teachers who were there in very beginning. But yet, these imperfect people still wrote endlessly about our need to love one another, even in conflicts.
God has called his church to be one just as he, the Trinitiarian God, is one. Mirroring this Trinitarian dance, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (living in dynamic harmony), so does the church need to love each other.
When the church is faithful to the gospel of Jesus (“while we were sinners, Christ died for us” is a great starting point for this), then unity can possibly be recovered. For any peace must be found in the Prince of Peace. For Jesus “himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14).
Friends, unity in the Church (not just your local church, but the Global Church) is important. But don’t take my word for it, take Jesus’ word:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me andloved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved mebefore the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Where are some bright spots on unity?
To continue this series on who the Holy Spirit is, we will look at how he unifies and sanctifies.
Spirit as our Unifier
One of the strong characteristics of the work of the Holy Spirit is that he unifies followers of Jesus. Let me unpack that.
Theologian Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen points out in his book on the Holy Spirit that the the Spirit is grounded in love. St. Augustine would similarly suggest that the primary presence of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life is that he offers love over knowledge. Augustine got that through John’s description of the Spirit as love in I John 4:7-16. His logic runs like this:
If we love one another, then God abides in us (v12), and since God is love, and he abides in love, then God will abide in them (v16b). We then recognize that we abide in him and he in us, because God has give us his Spirit (v13).
Did you see how Augustine would have concluded that?
If we exhibit love (love, not merely being tolerant), then the Spirit dwells within the person. And it is because the Spirit dwells in the person that they then begin to exhibit love.
As I have mentioned previously, the Spirit acts as a unifying role in the Trinity and with humanity. He is not only the communio (sharing, mutual participation) between Father and Son, but he is also the unifier between Christians and God and also among Christians themselves. He brings peace and connects people to the source of life and also to real community.
Author of Sanctification
Scripture also tells us that he is the author of our sanctification (I Peter 1:2). Please don’t be afraid though at the use of sanctification, it simply means “to be set apart” or “to be made holy.” The Christ follower will be made holy through the redemptive work of Jesus and they are then called to grow in holiness through the Holy Spirit. Eventually, the sanctification will be complete when the woman or man will be made into the image of Christ. Believe me though, it’s a tough road, but the narrow gate will surely lead to life abundant.
Fruit of the Spirit
To wrap this up, Paul reminded the church in Galatia to walk by the Spirit. He warns them that people who live contrary to the Kingdom of God are in fact not in the Kingdom of God. Jealousy, strife, sexual immorality, drunkenness, divisions, envy, fits of anger, and rivalries are only a handful of examples that Paul uses in Galatians 5, but suffice it to say that the follower of Jesus should be different from that list. Those who have the Spirit within them will exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If you are in Christ, then these fruits will begin to grow.
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:25)
How have you encountered the Spirit as a unifier or sanctifier?
As I mentioned previously, we must learn to appreciate other people. They have certain strengths that will make up for our deficiencies and our strengths will help them in their weak areas.
Now, what does this book have to do with those who follow Christ? Reading through this work and also Paul’s letter to the Ephesians made me connect these two. Paul wrote about the coming together of Jew and Gentile, with both sides being reconciled in the redemptive work of Christ. Read through Ephesians in one sitting (or a couple) and you can see the connection that different people– Jew and Gentile, male and female– were put in the same boat. Through the work of Christ, those who might have once had hostilities are formed into one cohesive group or body (Eph 2:16). All are weaved together into a new beautiful creation (2:21), where diversity is truly made into a type of unity in Christ. We cannot create this on our own, it is alien to our very nature. In short, we need God to do this somehow.
That is where Jesus comes into play. Through His redemptive life, death and resurrection, we have been given the opportunity to be reconnected with God and our neighbor. Differences are made strengths and unity becomes a reality.
Paul would also use the image of a body when writing on this issue. He said, “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:15-6). Christ-followers are knit together like a body, where each part has a role to play. ISTJ’s are needed just as much as ENFP’s are needed. Wherever you fall in the Myers-Briggs personality type spectrum, you are needed!
We need different people to help us function, so come and find your place in Christ’s Church.
This summer I have been trying to read through a small pile of books that I have been meaning to read ever since I entered into Fuller Seminary. I just finished reading through Please Understand Me by David Kiersey and Marilyn Bates which was loaned to me by a friend. It is an interesting book about the different character types and temperaments of people, with both authors delving into the complex relationships between different personality types. It uses the Myers-Briggs test to first show you what type of person you are and then it moves into an in-depth explanation of what that means. It not only reveals about yourself, but also about all of those people who do not act similarly to you. The main purpose of the book is to show that other people act differently not because they are illogical or horrible, but because they are wired differently. Their temperaments are geared differently and will produce different results in the world.
Coexistence amidst diversity.
That is what I took away from this book. We should learn to understand people, those who act the exact opposite and appreciate their different vantage point. Once that appreciation has been cultivated, we can then learn to work with each other, benefiting from their strengths and understanding our weak points. I am an ISTJ, which is typically more stable and steadfast. The authors would even call my type The Rock of Gibraltar or a stable pillar of society. As awesome as that sounds (and believe me, I am awesome…), I need to have other people around me who will force me to bend every so often. I am attracted to other types who are the opposite of me because they are different and have something that intrigues me. They might be more outgoing than I am and are the life of the party. The difference between the two of us might be great, but our personalities will help each other in the long run. While I might anchor that person in my stability, they will be able to loosen me and make me enjoy spontaneity more often.
Now, what does that mean for the Christ-follower? Check out mynext post.
“We are not our own; let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own; let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own; in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours.
Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal.
– John Calvin
I am not my own.
If I trust in Jesus, that He has justified me before a holy God, then I am included in the family of faith. This declaration does not just stop there, instead I am being sanctified (made into the image of Christ) and will be glorified on resurrection day. In other words, I am a work in progress.
Since I am not my own, I am included in the Body of Christ. Paul used this metaphor to demonstrate that I am found in a community of other Christ-followers. We make up the global Church and are from different ages, ethnic groups and eras. We have different gifts and all can benefit from their sharing. Yes, we have different views on matters like what communion means (is it the spiritual body of Christ or just a symbol?), how we should baptize people (to dunk adults or sprinkle infants?), and how we read Revelation (past, present or future reality?). In all of these things, I am convinced that we need each other, for we are not our own. We belong to Christ.
I am certain that remarkable things could occur if people who call themselves Christians held onto this truth and fully grasped the dramatic nature of this reality. Imagine what would occur if those who are Arminian and those who are Reformed understood that they are united in Christ and learned to truly love each other. Indeed, those who are Roman Catholic are united with Eastern Orthodox and they too considered that they are siblings. To go further, those who wear nice clothing to worship services are united to those in board shorts. Those who prefer hymns and those who prefer loud worship music are joined together. We are one body in Christ, a testimony to reconciliation between Jew and Gentile, male and female, worker and employer. Call me a dreamer, but I believe that all can be united in Christ– I am convinced of this reality.
Only, let us just begin to live that life in love. In Christ.