Wineskins Archive

January 13, 2014

Where is Jesus in all this? (Mar – Apr 1996)

Filed under: — @ 2:22 pm and

by Rubel Shelly
March – April, 1996

We must acknowledge that the Kingdom of God is a larger concern than any one congregation, denomination, or nondenomination.

It is Monday morning as I write this, and the letter I am about to quote arrived in Friday’s mail: “These past couple of years have been the most spiritually devastating to me. What is going on in our church buildings? I have asked myself time and time again and even asked [my older Christian friends], WHERE IS JESUS IN ALL THIS?”

The heartbreaking lament of this sister in Christ is focused on division in her church. Just what “issues” are involved in the two-year ordeal she describes? The matter of biblical authority and Christ’s atonement are not at stake. Neither baptism nor the Lord’s Supper is in question. The question is a congregation’s divided sentiment toward its preacher!

Some believe he is a capable herald of the Good News who is interested in nurturing the church toward spiritual maturity. Some believe he has not been nurturing enough. And the majority simply want to worship the Lord, hear the Word of God, and go to heaven!

Most of the church division I have ever known about is like this. It involves no compromise of the gospel or moral failure. It is someone’s obstinate opinion that this preacher is the “wrong man,” no Stamps-Baxter or contemporary song will be used in Sunday assemblies, or a proposed ministry either will or will not be funded by the church. The pro-and-con discussion turns into a must-and-must-not contest of wills. The fight begins. The church divides. Christ is held up to ridicule before unbelievers — again.

I understand why Jesus tied the unity of his followers to the ability of outsiders to believe in him. People have so much division (i.e., sex, race, economics, etc.) in their lives already that the last thing anyone needs is another realm of tension and conflict. To be separate from evil is one thing; to be divided from my own brothers and sisters is something else again.

We do not need an organizational unity that eliminates distinctives of honest convictions. So let there be a variety of points of view over parachurch ministries to orphans, female participation-leadership in worship and ministry, and understanding of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the body.

We dare not give a leader, school, magazine, or other parachurch ministry a position of papal infallibility among us. Blind loyalty to any human leader takes away our ability to deal with Scripture honestly.

We must not take pride in ever-narrowing fellowship when God’s concern is to bring all humankind to salvation. “Soundness” has to do with healthy and orthodox doctrine that brings people to redemption in Christ—not a narrow and judgmental spirit about topics of secondary importance.

We must acknowledge that the Kingdom of God is a larger concern than any one congregation, denomination, or nondenomination. If God is not larger than the fellowship with which I commune on a given Lord’s Day, he is too small to be worthy of worship.

We must pursue the healthy, biblical emphasis on unity that our rhetoric in the American Restoration Movement affirms without fear. While there can be no fellowship between belief and unbelief, there must be fellowship with other believers who see some issues of organization, polity, and doctrinal nuance differently.

The lady whose letter I quoted at the start of this article said she was “having extreme difficulty believing in ‘church.’” She dared to wonder whether there was a place whose “main focus is on a relationship and not religion.” What a brilliant — and scriptural — idea! Yet it is so novel that it scares some who might hear it today.

Scary as it may be to some, challenging as it may be to articulate, impossible as it may be to realize completely until Jesus returns — it is nevertheless the mandate of Scripture and the passionate commitment of a growing number of Christians.

Jesus prayed for the unity of his disciples in the high priestly prayer of John 17. That makes its pursuit a doctrinal mandate. The concerns of a frustrated woman out of a Roman Catholic background whose search for Jesus had led her to the Church of Christ make it a practical necessity.Wineskins Magazine

Rubel Shelly

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