Untied

My denomination is in the process of moving from “united” to “untied.” We are a large and global church that has reached a point of considering schism because we can’t agree on major points of practical theology. All of us are grieving. Nobody wanted this to be the result of our decades of conversations. When we entered life in our local churches, few of us imagined that this would happen in our lifetime, yet here we are. In preparing for what inevitably will come, we try to soothe ourselves with the notion that two strong denominations will emerge from this separation There may be some truth to that, God willing. But this divorce will be costly, exhausting, and worst of all, it has taken our eyes off of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our infighting is a poor witness to the world Jesus came to save.

What does the Bible say about unity? Should people, churches, and entire denominations try to stay together in deep disagreement for the sake of remaining intact?

We look to Paul for answers:

1 Corinthians 1 (Common English Bible)

10 Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. Instead, be restored with the same mind and the same purpose. 11 My brothers and sisters, Chloe’s people gave me some information about you, that you’re fighting with each other. 12 What I mean is this: that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Cephas,” “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paul’s name? 14 Thank God that I didn’t baptize any of you, except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that nobody can say that you were baptized in my name! 16 Oh, I baptized the house of Stephanas too. Otherwise, I don’t know if I baptized anyone else. 17 Christ didn’t send me to baptize but to preach the good news. And Christ didn’t send me to preach the good news with clever words so that Christ’s cross won’t be emptied of its meaning.

Paul could not have anticipated the many fractions of Christian expression that we have today. Where he encouraged preaching the good news, we have encouraged dogmas, doctrines, and disciplines that ended up drawing so many lines in the sand, we have neutered the message of “Christ-crucified.” Shame on us.

Human wisdom versus the cross

18 The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved. 19 It is written in scripture: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will reject the intelligence of the intelligent.20 Where are the wise? Where are the legal experts? Where are today’s debaters? Hasn’t God made the wisdom of the world foolish? 

As denominations debate their individual positions regarding social justice and the practice of ministry as each one sees it, God’s wisdom is lost in a sea of cacophonous dialogue. Those of us who have no other choice but to wait for the results are exhausted, overcome, and ready for it to be over. Paul reminds us that our one and only job is to preach “Christ-crucified.” Unfortunately, much of the foolish preaching that goes on in our churches has strayed far from this mandate.

21 In God’s wisdom, he determined that the world wouldn’t come to know him through its wisdom. Instead, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of preaching. 22 Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.24 But to those who are called—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom. 25 This is because the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Paul went on to say that God’s plan for the conversion of the world was through those who were not considered wise or powerful, and were not from the upper class. Instead, the Gospel message would be carried out by those whom the world considers weak, low-class, and low-life:

26 Look at your situation when you were called, brothers and sisters! By ordinary human standards not many were wise, not many were powerful, not many were from the upper class. 27 But God chose what the world considers foolish to shame the wise. God chose what the world considers weak to shame the strong. 28 And God chose what the world considers low-class and low-life—what is considered to be nothing—to reduce what is considered to be something to nothing. 29 So no human being can brag in God’s presence. 

What does this say to all of the many top-heavy denominations? In creating hierarchies among people, have we completely lost sight of the mission?

30 It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus. He became wisdom from God for us. This means that he made us righteous and holy, and he delivered us. 31 This is consistent with what was written: The one who brags should brag in the Lord!

As we move forward, may we take comfort in being part of the denomination of Jesus Christ, and Christ alone. That is the only place where our “membership” should reside. The rest of our structures and man-made institutions will all fade away someday, and rightfully so.

Let us brag only in the Lord, even if that means walking away from something we have loved for too long.

Walking Away by Kathy Schumacher

Sheer Silliness

If you have ever raised a teenager, you may have gone through a period when said teenager decided that you know absolutely nothing. When we parent our toddlers and elementary-age children, we are the authority on everything. Then something strange happens when they enter Middle School…suddenly our parental brains empty of every last bit of knowledge as theirs fill up with all kinds of wisdom. Things we say to them at this point come off as sheer silliness and we are downright stupid in their eyes.

Luckily they grow out of that somewhere around the first year of college, when we miraculously become smart again.

Such is the case today in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. He writes to them about the way the truth of Jesus Christ is perceived by its critics:

1 Corinthians 1 (The Message)

18-21 The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,

I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
I’ll expose so-called experts as shams.

So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered stupid—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.

He was addressing the culture of his time over 2,000 years ago, but the same teaching applies to today. The cross indeed is foolishness to those who have not received it. Knowing Jesus, it turns out, is a spiritual knowledge born of experience rather than a scholarly, intellectual pursuit. You can read all you want to about Christ, but until you accept him as Savior and Lord, you will never really know him.

22-25 While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle—and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Human wisdom is so cheap, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.”

Is today the day when you will accept Christ as your Lord and Savior? Are you being called to humble yourself in his sight and receive him as your personal redeemer? If you’ve been thinking about this for awhile but haven’t experienced it yet, today is your day. You are one prayer away from salvation.

Each one of us who has already made this commitment is personally called by God himself to tell others about Christ, God’s “ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one.” The way to do that is to tell your personal story. How do you know Jesus? Go and tell. You never know what seeds you will sow.

Go and Tell by Kathy Schumacher

Conventional Wisdom

The disunity we are experiencing in our country, our towns, our churches, and our families is rooted in our discourse, and the subsequent positioning we take from intractable sides. One says blue and the other says red, and both point to endless articles to bolster their point. One says conservative and the other says progressive, and both point to scripture to prove their position. This type of debate-posturing results in both sides being disenfranchised from the koinonia, or the fellowship/kinship of the combined whole.

Paul writes this in Philippians 2:

1-4 If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage.

The root of our disconnect with one another is found in our reliance on our own wisdom. We apply our personal conventional wisdom to matters that wisdom defies. Our wisdom is colored and flavored with the prejudices of our environment, our status in society, and our upbringing. And when we think that OUR wisdom is better than THEIR wisdom, the community is destroyed. Truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent people can effectively argue an issue from many sides. So where is the truth?

1 Corinthians 1 (The Message)

18-21 The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,

I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
I’ll expose so-called experts as shams.

So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered stupid—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.

22-25 While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle—and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Human wisdom is so cheap, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.”

The only truth that matters in the end is Christ crucified. All other debates, posturing, and positioning can only lead to further disruption of the singular message of “Christ crucified.” There is no human wisdom that can adequately explain this. There is no intelligent education that can sufficiently prove anything. Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Go and preach THAT, and that alone.

Unconventional Beauty by Michelle Robertson

A Love/Hate Thing

I hate running. But I love the way running makes me feel when it’s over.

I hated practicing my bassoon. But I loved being able to play all the right notes in a concert.

I hate math. OK, that’s where it breaks down. I still hate math.

I think Paul may have had a bit of a love/hate relationship with his church in Corinth. He desperately loved them, but he hated their sin. When they were sinful, he acted like a betrayed father who has just discovered contraband in his favorite son’s bedroom. Disappointment abounds when someone or something you love lets you down. The people in that church often let Paul down.

But he never stopped giving thanks for their faith, their ministry, and their testimony.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9 (Common English Bible)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thanksgiving for the Corinthians

I thank my God always for you, because of God’s grace that was given to you in Christ Jesus. That is, you were made rich through him in everything: in all your communication and every kind of knowledge, in the same way that the testimony about Christ was confirmed with you. 

The result is that you aren’t missing any spiritual gift while you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also confirm your testimony about Christ until the end so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and you were called by him to partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Think about your own love/hate relationships. Maybe you hate cleaning but love a clean house. Perhaps you hate cooking but love to sit down to a well-prepared meal. Do you hate the way your in-laws voted, but love the way they feel about your kids? Do you hate your adult child’s reckless behavior in the midst of a pandemic, but love him with all your heart?

Do you hate the sin, but love the sinner?

Give thanks for it all. Give thanks in spite of the things you don’t like. Focus on the good and be grateful. God is faithful to us in spite of our many failings. May we be that faithful to one another, and may love and thanksgiving abound as we gather around the table or the ZOOM call tomorrow.

I thank my God always for you.

Thankful by Michelle Robertson