Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

What do educated evangelicals know?

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Chuck Queen is the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky and author of Being a Progressive Christian (is not) for Dummies (nor for know-it-alls): An Evolution of Faith. He posted an opinion piece entitled “It’s time for evangelicals to come out for evolution” on the ABPnews/Herald (Baptist news) web site. He decries the fact that “76 percent of evangelicals doubt that life on Earth, including human beings, evolved through a process of natural selection” and thinks it’s time for evangelicals to get with Darwin’s program. And it’s up to the educated ones to take the lead in transforming the great unwashed masses of presumably uneducated evangelicals:

Educated evangelicals know that the creation stories were never intended to be history lessons or science reports, because the Bible is not a history or science book.

Educated evangelicals also know:

• That evangelical Christians need not fear or deny the enormous amount of scientific data supporting evolution.

• That the story of evolution and the biblical story are not mutually exclusive.

• That a healthy faith welcomes and is informed by science.

As an educated evangelical myself, I thought to challenge Pastor Queen’s assumptions about what we know. I preserved our dialog and present it here. (Notes: My last comment was not published before all comments disappeared from the page. I have inserted a link and added a little formatting that was not possible in the original online conversation.)

Grumpy: "Educated evangelicals" also know that Darwinian evolution is a theory that has some explanatory power but is unable to explain some phenomena, such as the Cambrian Explosion. And educated evangelicals know that no form of neo-Darwinism (natural selection operating on random mutations) has ever been observed in nature or demonstrated in the laboratory. Educated evangelicals also know that such evolutionary staples as junk DNA have been debunked by ENCODE and other studies. And educated evangelicals know that evidence for evolution is so shaky that its promoters have had to come up with such outright propaganda as staged photographs of peppered moths and Haeckel’s phony drawings of embryos. Finally, educated evangelicals know that there is no settled science and that claims that there is are made by people whose livelihoods, philosophical views, tenure, or government grants require propagating the myth that evolution is, to use your word, "truth". Yes, definitely a truth that evangelicals should "come out for".

Pastor Queen: I know . . . I shouldn’t have used the term "educated evangelicals" because it sounds condescending. Sorry about that. Should have used the phrase "evangelical university and seminary professors." I stand by my claim that if the truth were told many, if not most, evangelical university and seminary professors hold to some form of evolution. All of us see God engaged in the process. Exactly how is the great mystery of divine oversight and creaturely freedom. And I stand by my claim that they know that the Genesis stories as "religious myths" contain much truth, though the truth is not factual or historical.

G: Thanks for the reply and the clarification. IMHO, it all depends on what you do with the first five words in the Bible. They aren’t "In the beginning, God engaged …". They are "In the beginning, God created …. " If those five words aren’t a "myth", then God created. He didn’t "engage in the process"; he was the process. If the first five words contain any falsehood, then there’s no reason to accept the rest of them. Ultimately we’re left with what the extra-Biblical sources confirm about the historical Jesus – he was a moral teacher who did some parlor tricks (essentially what the Jesus Seminar would have us believe). In similar fashion, you seem to be suggesting that we limit our understanding of God’s role in the creation of all things to what can be confirmed by extra-Biblical sources masquerading as science.

Let me state unequivocally that I’m no fan of "creation science"; it’s nothing more or less than the flip side of "evolution science". They both start from an a priori assumption (a statement of faith, if you will) and conform their results to that assumption. The former assumes a literal interpretation of Genesis while the latter assumes philosophical naturalism. Neither assertion can be confirmed by science and so both subvert the open-ended inductive reasoning that is at the heart of real science. More than one neo-Darwinist has claimed that his/her explanation must be correct because "evolution is true". That is pure religious dogma, not science. It is the logical equivalent to Ken Ham saying his explanation must be correct because "the Bible, literally interpreted, is true".

On a final note, I just retired from teaching in the Purdue University School of Technology. I am indeed an educated evangelical who is not fooled by the propaganda flowing from the multi-billion-dollar evolution industry.

PQ: Surprised that you take such an either/or, binary view of the Genesis story. You well know life doesn’t work that way. We shouldn’t expect God to.

G: Life/death; sheep/goats; good/evil; obedience/sin; banquet/darkness; wheat/tares; wide way/narrow way; these seem pretty binary to me. No, I don’t expect God to work like his creation does. If you take "created" to mean "engaged in the process" in Genesis, you might as well take Jesus "died" to mean Jesus "fainted". Acceptance of random mutation/natural selection (which is what evolutionists mean by "evolution") is a way point on that slippery slope.

Concluding thoughts

My problem with Pastor Queen’s enthusiastic support of evolution (as explained today – the explanation shifts to accommodate observed reality; see e.g.horizontal gene transfer”) is the words “random” and “natural”. “Random mutation” is mutation that is accidental and undirected – meaning it could not possibly have been directed by God. “Natural selection” is selection that occurs through a purely naturalistic process (e.g. “survival of the fittest”) – meaning God could not possibly have supernaturally intervened to produce a species he desired. The “theistic evolution” Pastor Queen espouses is logical nonsense, an oxymoron.

Ultimately, Pastor Queen is advocating a worldview that is commonly known, not as Christianity (theism), but as atheism. This seems a strange enterprise for a Christian pastor. Perhaps, as he composed the perfect title for his piece, he carefully considered the meaning of the phrase “to come out”. But to come out of the closet of philosophical naturalism – as Pastor Queen seems to have done – one must be in the closet to begin with. I doubt that most “educated evangelicals” are in that particular closet. Progressive “Christians”, yes, but not evangelicals, educated or otherwise.

Posted in Christianity, Culture, Personal, science | No Comments »

Worship interrupted

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

At some point during my last term on our church’s Session (Presbyterian board of elders), I got a little testy about the title Worship Leader. I said we should quit using the term because it is a cancer on the Church. I don’t think many in the room understood what I was so worked up about. That was more than a year ago; nothing has happened to change my mind about the misleading, anti-Biblical message contained in that title.

A Facebook friend recently posted information about a conference named LIFT: A Worship Leader Collective. Naturally, the title caught my attention, so I had a look.

The intended audience is “worship leaders, songwriters and musicians”. There was an impressive list of names associated with the event – Louie Giglio, Chris Tomlin, and others, worthy evangelical superstars all. The site didn’t really define Worship Leader, so I poked around to make sure I understood what the event organizers (Passion City Church) meant.

Other than Pastor Giglio, all the presenters are musicians, so that’s a clue. A FAQ confirmed my initial impression:

Do I have to be a worship leader to attend? Songwriters, band members and musicians may attend but the main focus and programming for LIFT is created for worship leaders.

That’s pretty clear. No teachers (except maybe some lyricists), preachers, liturgists, readers, or anyone else not involved in music need apply. So it seems that the conference organizers agree with the common use of the term – a Worship Leader is the person who leads the music in a worship service.

When the music stops …

But if the Worship Leader is indeed leading worship, what happens when the music stops? Is worship finished? Does someone who is not the Worship Leader lead the worship, thus becoming a new de facto Worship Leader? If so, why doesn’t this person who is now leading worship have the title? Or does worship proceed without anyone leading it?

Or is what follows the music something other than worship? Are the sermons, prayers, creeds, Scripture readings, and celebrations of the Lord’s Supper not worship? Are they just activities that fill in the space between “worship experiences” (i.e. songs)? Do these things interrupt worship? Do they even belong in a worship service?

But if these non-musical activities are part of worship, what is the Worship Leader’s role in them? Does the Worship Leader “lead” the sermon? Does the pastor submit the message to the Worship Leader for approval? What about the Scripture readings or prayers? If such things are part of worship but not subject to the Worship Leader’s approval, what exactly does it mean to be the Worship Leader?

Clearly, the title Worship Leader is confusing at best . But far worse, bestowing the title on someone who leads only the musical part of a worship service conveys a message that is as clear as it is false: Worship is music; music is worship; we worship God by singing. Everything else is, well, something else, not worship.

What I find puzzling is that this myth is propagated by people who should – and almost certainly do – know better. It is hard to believe that Louie Giglio and Chris Tomlin don’t understand that true worship is much more robust and varied than the title Worship Leader connotes.

For example, in his book, Real Worship: Playground, Battleground, or Holy Ground, Warren Wiersbe observes that

worship involves both attitudes (awe, reverence, respect) and actions (bowing, praising, serving). It is both a subjective experience and an objective activity. Worship is not an unexpressed feeling nor is it an empty formality. True worship is balanced and involves the mind, the emotions, and the will. It must be intelligent; it must reach deep within and be motivated by love; and it must lead to obedient actions that glorify God.

It seems to me that prayer, Scripture reading, preaching, and the Lord’s Supper meet this description and qualify as worship. Do these things fall under the direction of the Worship Leader?

1/168

Vaughn Roberts, in his book True Worship, expresses a popular theme in the contemporary church:

Worship cannot be limited to what we do in church on Sunday. Worship means submitting to Jesus Christ in every area of my life.

Where is the Worship Leader the other 167 hours of the week?

Passion City Church declares on its web site that

More than outward forms, theologically informed worship must encompass our entire existence whereby in all circumstances our words and actions bring glory to God.

How does the Worship Leader lead us through “our entire existence”?

Christians need to understand what it means to worship God in spirit and in truth; loving God with our minds (Mark 12:30) demands it. We need to know when we are worshipping and what we are doing when we do it.

Whether we consider worship in the context of a Sunday service dedicated to the purpose or in the sense of an all-encompassing individual commitment, the title Worship Leader detracts from that understanding. It would be a service to the Church to abandon it immediately and use the occasion to clarify the meaning of Christian worship.

Note about the book links: Both books are available from both CBD and Amazon. Amazon also offers Kindle editions of both books.

Posted in Christianity | 4 Comments »

PCUSA in full panic mode

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

I have written quite a bit about the Presbyterian Church (USA), its abandonment of orthodox Christianity, its greed and delusions of power, and our church’s eventual escape from it (see here, starting with "The 556-member church …") Since that glorious day in November, 2008, when we left the PCUSA (without their permission), I have had little reason to write about this hollow shell of a Christian denomination.

But now, in their boundless greed and lust for power, the PCUSA asserts veto power over decisions of the faithful, vibrant Christian denomination to which we now belong, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  In a letter to the highest elected officer of the EPC, the Stated Clerk, the PCUSA boss man (same title – Stated Clerk) complains about the very process that brought us out of the PCUSA and into the EPC fold.

First, a little political history.  The national government created by the U.S. Constitution was loosely modeled on the Presbyterian form of government.  The EPC and PCUSA each have a document (Book of Order) that describes its system of government.  Members of each local church elect Elders to represent and govern them.  These Elders in turn select representatives (Commissioners) to govern the presbytery to which the church belongs.  Presbyteries select representatives to the General Assembly (GA Commissioners) to govern the national denomination.  The GA elects the Stated Clerk.

The PCUSA and the national government of the United States also have this in common – both have lost sight of their founding documents and both have forgotten that the source of their ruling power is invested in the members/voters and not in themselves.

One of the PCUSA’s spurious claims is that a local church cannot leave without permission from its presbytery, and the presbytery’s discretion in such matters is nearly absolute.  We tried for two years to get the Presbytery of Wabash Valley to let us leave, but our good-faith efforts were met with deceit, political maneuvering, and stalling.  Even after our church voted by a large margin to leave the PCUSA and join the EPC, the presbytery maintained the fiction that our church was still part of their organization and our members were too.  They huffed and puffed about dismissing us but there was nothing they could do.

Since we left, the PCUSA has been losing members and whole congregations at an unprecedented rate.  Since both individual members and congregations are regarded by the PCUSA as assets to be used for its benefit, it doesn’t like to see them leave – especially congregations, which take with them two classes of assets, members (cash) and buildings (real property).

So the PCUSA is huffing and puffing again, demanding that the EPC not accept churches like ours that unilaterally choose to disaffiliate.  The EPC’s position is that such churches are independent – we certainly were – and can freely choose a denomination to affiliate with.  But no, an increasingly desperate  PCUSA demands that the EPC leave disaffiliated churches in their chains, pretending that the PCUSA still has jurisdiction.  And it accompanies its demands with veiled threats of ecclesiastical and civil court action.

Churches are leaving and courts are finding that the PCUSA can’t just steal a church’s property by claiming to have a trust the owners never granted.  The PCUSA’s Berlin Wall (built to keep its people in, not to keep others out) is coming down and they don’t like it.

Thanks to the Layman Online for the story.

Posted in Christianity, EPC, PCUSA | No Comments »

Church and civil marriage no longer mix

Monday, July 1st, 2013

The Supreme Court, in Justice Kennedy’s muddle-headed way, has negated democratic means of defining “marriage”.  One (presumably unintended) consequence of his tortured reasoning is that churches professing orthodox Christianity will have to end their entanglement with secular government and get out of the civil "marriage" business altogether.  Getting “married” will become a little more complicated.

If you want a Christian marriage free of civil baggage, you will go to a church.  If you want a non-binding civil contract (also called a “marriage”) with some financial and legal advantages, you will go to the courthouse.  If you want both, you will have to go to both.

Make no mistake – churches will be sued if they decline to provide non-binding civil contracts for some couples and not for others.  A federal judiciary increasingly hostile to religious expression under the First Amendment will find for the complainants.  The answer for churches that hold to an orthodox Christian view of marriage is to simply not provide civil contracts for anyone.

This result may be ultimately benefit the Church in two ways.  First, it will get civil government out of the celebration of a Biblical covenant.  Second, it may compel some local churches to give serious consideration to their denominational affiliation.

Liberal denominations are likely to require that local churches continue to provide civil contracts.  A church that cannot in good conscience conform to that requirement may have no option but to leave the denomination.  And, in rare instances, a conservative denomination may insist that local churches refrain from the issuance of civil contracts, with a more liberal local church being similarly conflicted.

I suspect that liberal denominations will experience more shrinkage than conservative ones.

Posted in Christianity, Culture | 5 Comments »

Sunday Dinner: A Parable of the Modern Church

Monday, February 25th, 2013

I knew a family once who always had busy, crowded Sunday dinners together. They lived in a big, old house that had a huge living room and an old-fashioned formal dining room. As the family dinners grew with grandchildren, cousins, and friends, Grandpa turned the dining room into a parlor and the living room into a veritable dining hall. He built a long table that could seat 20, 25 in a pinch. With additional chairs and folding tables, they could accommodate 35 at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.

Grandma usually fixed roast beef, ham, or fried chicken, potatoes, a vegetable, and homemade rolls or bread. As people became more health-conscious, they asked Grandma to add a second vegetable. After that, she often served a fruit platter or a light soup, sometimes skipping the potatoes. It was a bit more work, but some of the kids pitched in and sometimes even Grandpa helped out. Sunday dinners remained a beloved tradition.

One day, some family members announced that they had started eating vegetarian (strictly speaking, they were “lacto-vegetarian” because they didn’t object to dairy products). They asked Grandma if she could add a vegetarian alternative to the meat dish. So Grandma found tasty meat substitutes and learned to cook tofu.

Family and friends continued to enjoy their time together around the long table, sharing not just dinner, but their lives as well. It was there that Grandpa told everyone he had decided to retire; baby announcements, job changes, engagements, reports of illnesses, and prayer concerns were all heard first at Sunday dinner.

Then a few of the vegetarians told the rest of the family that they just couldn’t bear to look at “those poor, dead cows, pigs, and chickens”. They still wanted to come to Sunday dinners and visit, so they said they would eat their strictly lacto-vegetarian dinner at the kitchen table.  They were joined by a few others who had decided to adopt a vegetarian diet. Having people eating in the kitchen was inconvenient, especially with all the extra dishes she was preparing, but Grandma soldiered on.

As people settled into their Sunday dinner routine, news and concerns from one table didn’t always get carried over to the other. A vegetarian friend who particularly enjoyed Grandma and Grandpa’s company found it hard to choose between tables and simply quit coming to dinner. A couple of roast beef fans who were especially fond of some of the vegetarians also found choosing too difficult and started making other plans. A few die-hard meat-and-potatoes types even thought about establishing a vegetable-free zone in the parlor.

One or two people got mad at the vegetarians for separating themselves and they too quit coming. And one by one, as a favorite friend or relative drifted away, more people stopped coming. Finally, Sunday dinners came down to Grandma and Grandpa and an occasional child or grandchild sharing a simple meal at one end of the large and mostly empty table.

One Sunday, as she looked at all the empty space, Grandma was suddenly very sad. She had tried to give everyone what they wanted, but she couldn’t give them the one thing they needed – a desire to share food and fellowship together despite their differences.

Posted in Christianity, Personal | 4 Comments »

Who Does the Great Commission?

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

The Great Commission includes three specific tasks: “… [1] make disciples of all nations, [2] baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and [3] teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

But is each follower meant to perform each task? It depends on who Jesus’ intended audience was. If his words were meant only for the eleven apostles who met him on the mountain, we can be confident that Jesus meant for each one of them to carry out his Commission in full. The Bible gives examples of individual apostles performing all three tasks. If this is the case, then the commission was fulfilled, the men who were bound by it are long gone, and the Commission no longer places any demands on today’s believers.

That interpretation, however, is belied by the words “all nations”. Jesus could not have meant for those eleven men to reach every nation that existed at the time. So rather than orders for a small group of apostles, the Great Commission was clearly intended to be a commandment the church throughout the ages. In that case, we need to look at how Jesus organized his followers to do his work.

Division of Labor

One of the consistent themes in Paul’s epistles is that the work gets divided up. To be sure, all believers have universal responsibilities (i.e. obedience to God, prayer, repentance, confession, worship, and so on) and to each other. But Paul’s metaphor for doing work is the body of Christ – many parts, each doing what it is meant to do, all under the headship of Christ: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)

In Ephesians 4:11-15, Paul wrote that Christ “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”

Without getting too bound up in the specific duties of each role Paul named, it seems that the three tasks of the Great Commission are closely tied to three of these roles: (1) “make disciples” is generally the work of the evangelist, (2) “baptizing them” is generally the work of the pastor, and (3) “teaching them” is generally the work of the teacher. Of course, these lines are not sharply drawn and roles overlap.

In Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:28-30, Paul related the roles enumerated in Ephesians 4:11-15 to spiritual gifts. He also wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 that manifestations of the Spirit are “given for the common good” but, like roles and gifts, are not distributed evenly or universally. Surely everything that Paul wrote about the body, roles in the body, and the equipping of members to perform in those roles applies to the most fundamental work of the church, the Great Commission. In that case, the answer to the original question – “Who does the Great Commission?” – is “It depends.”

Just as the Spirit equips believers differently, so believers’ parts in the Great Commission will differ. Not every believer is equipped to be an evangelist, pastor, or teacher, much less all three. But at one time or another, every believer is placed in a position to help accomplish the Great Commission. So what is the responsibility of the believer who is not specifically equipped for one of the three tasks?

It may be Peter who provides the answer: “… In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)

There are no qualifiers; there is no antecedent text that limits the application of Peter’s words. All believers are always to be prepared. No particular roles, gifts, or manifestations of the Spirit are required, merely a grateful heart and knowledge of what one has received and how. In this way, a believer without the gift of evangelism may have the opportunity to serve temporarily as an evangelist when asked for the reason for his or her hope. Similarly, a believer without the gift of teaching may yet teach. “Baptizing them” still seems a little specialized for the average believer (see below).

When they are ready to give an answer, believers are prepared to fulfill Jesus’ admonition to his followers that “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8) There is, of course, a name given to the discipline of preparing to give a ready answer – apologetics.

Implications

Every church should be attentive to its members’ spiritual growth. But does that mean training them for the Great Commission? A church can’t graciously expect its members to be effective at tasks for which they are not spiritually equipped. Furthermore, a church that sets out to equip its members to fulfill the Great Commission must prepare them for the second task, baptizing new believers. This can be a problem for a church or denomination that allows only ordained pastors or elders to perform baptisms.

Members may feel guilt or a sense of failure if they are pressured to perform tasks for which they have not been equipped by the Holy Spirit. They may be reluctant to participate in spiritual growth programs if the objective is to go out and do the Great Commission. Evangelists and apostles may approach their calling proactively, even aggressively. The beauty (and utility) of Peter’s admonition is that it allows other believers to be reactive and respond to the situation they are in, rather than to go out and create a situation on their own. We should expect that members will be both more motivated and more enthusiastic when given the opportunity to do what they have been equipped and called to do.

This suggests that churches might well follow a dual path to members’ spiritual growth. All members should be given the opportunity to learn basic apologetics and discover how their own experiences present evidence of the truth of the Gospel. All members should also be given the opportunity to discover their own spiritual gifts, together with training and opportunities to use those gifts whether in direct performance of the Great Commission’s tasks or not.

When every member of the body knows his or her function and is equipped to carry out that function, the body will be healthy and vital and the Great Commission will be fulfilled.

Note: The Curmudgeon notes with gratitude the blog entry that planted the seed of this post:

Posted in Christianity | 5 Comments »

Unity in Worship

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Note: Over the last 25 years, our church has evolved a blended style of worship that includes both traditional and contemporary elements.  Recently, some of our members expressed dissatisfaction with the traditional elements and requested the establishment of a separate contemporary service.  At our pastor’s request, I participated in a brief study of Biblical worship. During that study, I was struck by the visible unity exhibited in Old Testament worship. Following that thread led me to the following thoughts on the importance of visible unity in modern Christian worship.

Addendum: It may be helpful to the reader to know that on most Sunday mornings, I accompany congregational singing and the occasional anthem or cantata on both acoustic and electric guitars.

Unity is an essential characteristic of our Triune God – three distinct persons who are nonetheless united in a single Godhead. Unity is also characteristic of Old Testament worship. In the Exodus, God gathered the Israelites who had been scattered throughout Egypt into the nation he had promised Abraham. This nation worshipped as a single assembly until individual and corporate disobedience caused the kingdom to be divided and conquered. There was one tabernacle and later a succession of single temples (the Bible does not mention synagogues until the New Testament). The unity of Israel had two dimensions – it was both spiritual (the product of a covenant initiated by God) and visible (a single geo-political entity based on that covenant). The visible unity of this nation whose people claimed descent from Abraham manifested the spiritual unity of God’s covenant with Abraham.

The spiritual unity exhibited in the nation of Israel now infuses the church of Christ. As Israel set out to the Promised Land, “they were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:2-4) At the communion table, we eat the same spiritual bread and drink the same spiritual cup from the same source – Jesus.

The New Testament church also reflects the oneness of God. Unlike the nation of Israel, Christ’s church is decentralized. While it had its roots in the remnant of Israel’s cultural and ethnic homogeneity, it was intended from the beginning to expand into the culturally and ethnically diverse world of the Gentiles. Unlike the singular visible unity of the Old Testament church centered in Jerusalem and its temple, there has never been a single, visible community that encompasses the universal church of Christ. Even the Roman Catholic Church was in reality only the Western Church, separate from the Eastern (Orthodox) Church and other communities such as the Egyptian Copts. Instead, the spiritual unity of the New Testament church was made visible in local churches.

Paul, as both theologian and church planter, was intensely aware of both the spiritual and visible aspects of unity and addressed them often in his letters. He was steeped in Old Testament knowledge of God’s oneness and his covenant with the descendants of Abraham. But he was also commissioned by Jesus himself to shatter the visible unity of Israel by planting churches among people far removed geographically and spiritually from Jerusalem and the Jews. These churches were sometimes widely separated both physically and culturally, each exhibiting visible unity in its own tradition and language.

Spiritual and visible unity in the New Testament

The term “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:13-26) expresses the spiritual unity that binds all believers into one body with Christ at the head, “for we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body” (v. 13). This “unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3) is a gift of the Holy Spirit uniting all Christians in all times and places. This gift is purely the product of God’s sovereign will. We can’t create it, improve it, diminish it, or destroy it – no more than we can create, improve, diminish, or destroy grace and forgiveness. For this reason, there was no need for Paul and other New Testament writers to admonish us to nurture and preserve this unity over which we have no power.

Yet admonish us they did, because what we can create, improve, diminish, or destroy is the visible unity of a particular church or body of believers.   It is this visible unity – not the spiritual unity beyond our control – that Paul addresses when, for example, he admonishes us to “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” and to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” These are things we must do to visibly manifest the spiritual unity of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:2-4)

Among the churches Paul wrote to, visible unity was perhaps most fractured in Corinth:

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:11)

What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:12-13)

In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you…. (1 Corinthians 11:17-18)

The local church is the earliest and clearest example of a body of believers that is called to manifest unity in Christ. Ecumenical bodies such as the Great Banquet make a conscious effort to embody spiritual unity by emphasizing uniting doctrines such as grace and avoiding divisive ones such as believer’s vs. covenant baptism. Weekends are structured specifically to emphasize and visibly manifest the unity of the Spirit so that he may come and do his work in an undivided community.

Failure to live our calling

True worship in a community of faith should reflect both spiritual and visible unity. God is one. The body of Christ is one. Visible unity in worship reminds the worshippers of the spiritual unity that binds us. It displays to the world the primacy and fullness of our unity in Christ. It says to worshippers and world alike that we choose to “be of one mind” and to “live in peace” despite our differences. (2 Corinthians 13:11)

We are called to “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2), to “to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), to be mindful that “just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12), to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together … but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25), to “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

We should be “one in spirit and of one mind”; we should “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit”, “in humility [we should] value others above [ourselves], not looking to [our] own interests but each of [us] to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:2-4). “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’” (Romans 15:1-3) We fail our calling when one says “I don’t like that wild music” and the other says “hymns and pipe organs are uninspiring” and neither can regularly worship God with the other. 

Blended worship embodies the very tolerance that Christian unity demands. Blended worship is a reminder every Sunday that we are there to worship God, not to satisfy our own needs and desires. If we insist on services that relieve us of the obligation to tolerate others’ preferences, we declare both our failure to be “one in spirit and of one mind” and our unwillingness to value others above ourselves.

In a single church, two separate services worshipping God in two different ways create a visible division that belies the spiritual unity binding all its members.  Instead of all saying “we are here to worship God”, that church would instead consist of two different groups, each saying to each other (and the world) “we are here to worship God in our way while permitting you to worship him your way.”  

While any visible disunity is damaging in itself, division over style expands the focus of worship to include not only the object of it, but the personal tastes and preferences of the worshipper as well.  Far from encouraging humility and bearing with one another as Paul directed in Ephesians 4:2, separate services encourage intolerance of one another’s tastes and preferences.

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4)

If worship is central to our lives as Christians – as it is meant to be – then unity should be central to our worship.

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