Wineskins Archive

December 19, 2013

The Water is Cold, The Night is Dark (Mar-Apr 1998)

Filed under: — @ 10:22 pm and

by Rubel Shelly
March – April, 1998

31Much of the movie Titanic is based on Walter Lord’s acclaimed book about the loss of more than 1500 persons to the icy bottom of the mid-Atlantic. His book is not a non-historical and quite impossible romantic tale between first- and third-class passengers. It is the simple and powerful telling of the events from the time a doomed ship struck an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on the night of April 14, 1912, until it sank to the depths of the Atlantic at 2:20 a.m. on April 15. Its dialogue is taken from the official investigations of the disaster by the British and American governments.

The final two hopes for surviving the sinking of the Titanic were Collapsibles A and B. both had floated off the sinking Boat Deck with no passengers aboard. Boat A swamped and B flipped upside down. Hardy swimmers tried to reach them in water whose temperature was 28° F. About 30 men made it to Collapsible B in hope of living. Straddling the boat’s stern, keel, and bow, they tried to hold on until someone could rescue them from otherwise certain death.

As they moved off into the lonely night, away from the wreckage and the swimmers, one of the seamen lying on the keel hesitantly asked, “Don’t the rest of you think we ought to pray?”1

Everybody agreed. A quick poll showed Catholics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists all jumbled together; so they compromised on the Lord’s Prayer, calling it out in chorus with the man who suggested it as their leader.

Sisters and brothers, the night is dark and the water is cold around us. As we cling to hope in a culture that perpetually threatens to sink the Ship of Zion, we do not have the luxury of praying sectarian prayers. We cannot afford to give an “uncertain sound” to others still splashing about in the water. We must pray and speak with a clear, distinct, and unified voice. And we can do that only if we break down the walls of sectarian rivalry and division. Such unity will come about only when gospel means more than cherished interpretation, when the single body of Christ means more than any denomination, and when Christ means more than all. For four years now, I have met once per month for two to four hours and twice a year for two to three full days with ministers from a variety of Christian backgrounds. About half are Pentecostal or charismatic; and all are thoroughly evangelical. We are confidants, advisers, and friends to one another. We have referred people to the various churches we serve. We have joined together to work for the common good of our city and to build up the body of Christ in it. God has drawn us together. We are acutely conscious of his presence in our times of prayer and ministry.

Which of the group was first to compromise a point of view or to repudiate his particular church heritage? It hasn’t happened. So the differences are simply ignored and not discussed? No, we talk freely and non-threateningly about Calvinism, the Holy Spirit, baptism, communion, and eschatology. Then who wins the discussions? Jesus, for he has moved us past the caricatures we have carried of each other and corrected serious misunderstandings of one another’s views we have brought from our various postures of sectarian prejudice.

So what is the purpose of such a group? We aren’t sure! God created it, and we are trying to let him show first one reason and then another for the relationship he has given us in the Son. We wouldn’t dare to set an agenda for it.

The one commandment we are being careful to obey is this: “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 1:10). “Agree with one another” on the Holy Spirit and his gifts? Have “no division” in our baptismal theology? And “be perfectly united in mind and thought” on eschatology or church polity? Paul didn’t require that of his first-century readers! (cf. Romans 14:1ff). In context, the agreement and unity he demanded of Christians then (and now!) was unity of witness to the centrality, sufficiency, and saving power of the cross of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:17-18; 2:1-5).

A king once had to take the leadership in calling Israel to observe their holy independence day, Passover. After the collapse of the Northern Kingdom in 721 B. C. and in connection with the cleansing of the Jerusalem Temple, King Hezekiah called people from both Judah and Israel to keep the Passover in the Holy City. Although many turned a deaf ear to his invitation, thousands began moving toward Jerusalem.

The Passover lamb was killed and the celebration began. Some from the north arrived too late, however, to perform the purifications that required several days for completion. So, although they “had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover contrary to what was written” (1 Chronicles 30:18a). Would the rekindling of faith be stopped in its tracks by their impurity and unauthorized feasting? “But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying ‘May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of his fathers—even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.’ And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people” (2 Chronicles 30:18b-20).

Could we break down some Satan-inspired and human-erected walls in our time? Might we learn that we have misrepresented one another or exhibited shoddy prejudice toward others? Would it be worth it to abandon sectarian rivalry in order to “agree with one another” and “be perfectly united in mind and thought” in order to lift up Jesus before a world dying in its unbelief? Could we be gracious enough to pray (and ask to have prayed for us!) the prayer of Good King Hezekiah for those we believe to be flawed in their understanding and obedience?

The night is dark. The water is cold. We need to pray, proclaim, and plead with a single voice. Perhaps then the world could believe what so many want to believe—that Jesus is the Christ and that he can bring people out of their racial, social, and other divisions into wholeness. Jesus can still be heard across the centuries:

I’m praying…for those who will believe in me
Because of (the apostles) and their witness about me.
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
(John 17:20-21, The Message).

1 Walter Lord, A Night to Remember (New York: Rinehart & Winston, 1955; reprint ed., New York: Bantam Books, 1997), p. 117.Wineskins Magazine

Rubel Shelly

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