Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Question of Spiritual Arrogance: Christian Unity is the Cure!

I am terrified by what passes among us in these days. Anyone who has barely begun to meditate…goes about proclaiming, “God has told me this,” or “I have that answer from God.” But all this is illusion and fancy – such a one has only been speaking of himself….”
-- St. John of the Cross, 16th Century Christian Mystic.

A long time ago I read an article... an issue of Spirituality & Health Magazine that got me thinking – and it still does. The article, titled “A Time for Silence” spoke of the author’s personal disdain for those who claim the authority of the Almighty. At one point the author Sam Keen writes, “I confess I am irritated by the spokespersons for [God], the televangelist of Videoland, the caretakers of revelation – Jewish, Christian, or Muslim – with their unquestioning certainties and their smug claims to be in possession of the definitive knowledge of the Almighty.” He goes on to say, “When their chummy god whispers The Truth in their ears, reveals his eschatological plans and moral absolutes, I want to run away.” Here, here!

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve not abandoned my faith or the truth of God’s word. Nor have I given up on the idea of a direct personal relationship with God the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, it is because of this faith that I agree with Mr. Keen so strongly. Internet Blogs and Comments belie this reality. One is not Christian enough unless they use the “right” Prayer Book. One is not a true minister of Christ if one is female. One is in serious error if they do not share a particular view on the “Salvation by grace alone” issue. Worship is not genuine unless it is “old” or “new” – from the Prayer Book or from the “heart.” One is not genuinely saved unless one has been “baptized in the Holy Spirit” (according to the practice and opinion of whomever)… and so on…. All of this has to stop! Far too often I hear people claim to have heard the (final) word of God on all of these issues (and more).

Indeed, I am very cautious of those who claim to have “heard the voice of God.”
I say cautious because there have been times in my life when I have “heard the voice of God” myself. Often times these have been occasions when I really needed to hear from Him! God’s word has always been specifically personal however; not broad based, global dictates upon others. I also know how easy it is to think I’ve received an answer when I have really needed to “check it out” with trusted people. When I hear this of others the real question I have to ask is, “What is the real answer God has given you?” I do believe that God answers prayer and speaks to us, but there is a difference between seeking God’s will and blessing “our will” in His name. What I am really talking about here is in clarifying prophecy (that’s what hearing a specific word from God is) and scripture is our guide here:

2 Peter 1:20-21 tells us: “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

Now, scripture also tells us that “prophecy” is not something we should ignore or fear – in fact it is the one gift of the Holy Spirit we are to covet! (See 1 Cor. 14:39 KJV!) Consistency is the key! In the conviction of the Christian Faith, whatever God says today will be consistent to what God has said before. Often what we hear is affirming. More often however, we are aroused to repentance, perseverance, and patience. Furthermore, there are also times when God leads us to make a choice – to go this way or that way – between His ways and our ways. Again there is a real difference between the two.

So what is all this really about?
As we approach the summer months (something I think we are all looking forward to) there is something else just under the surface that certainly will be weighing on all of our minds: What is going on in the Church? Now that the Diocese of San Joaquin has elected its fifth bishop there is still the issue of being together as one church. I personally believe that Fr. Eric Menees is going to be a good bishop for us. Indeed, our Special Convention proved that regardless of the outcome, we couldn’t lose! Yet we honestly remain divided with our own agendas and issues. Small parishes may be more concerned about Diocesan Financial support than the larger parishes. Foreign missionaries are wondering if they will continue to be supported. And of course, larger parishes will have their concerns too. The question for each of us is simply this: What are we willing to sacrifice to be one in Christ (which He demands of us)? Are we Christians are more prone to division and argument rather than seeing (or even trying to see) any sense of unity in Christ? Where exactly is the unity Jesus prayed for in the final chapters of the Gospel of John? The fact is, it is there if we will only allow it to be so.

What we all need is Christian Unity – Christ mindedness!
Three specific passages in scripture come to mind:

Rom 12:3-11 (NRSV) For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

1 Cor 1:10 (NRSV) Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.


Phil 2:3 - 5 (NRSV) Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…

Christian Unity is the cure to our Spiritual arrogance; and the unity I am speaking of is not the superficial “everybody come” unity that is so often proclaimed– that’s not unity, that’s a picnic! There is a horizontal aspect to unity that brings us together in fellowship; there is also a vertical aspect that binds us to Christians past as well as to those of the future. This unity is in God not to an institution. Nowhere, does God say we will agree on everything, but to be united in the same mind and purpose! We are not the same in skills, talents, and gifts; but serve the same Lord! We should not seek to make everyone else conform into our particular expression of faith; but, love what is genuine, hold fast to what is good; and yes hate (that is, stand firm against, avoid, not capitulate, or accommodate) that which is sin.

The days are coming – even here now – when we must choose to set certain differences aside to be the icon of Christ to our broken world. The “revisionists” in our Church are counting on our failure! They are predicting that we (who are clear about who Jesus was and is) will continue to shatter. But to use an analogy, we are like a battle damaged ship on a mission. We’ve taken some serious hits but we are still on our course. There is no time to stop for repairs; we will have to make them en route. To do that, we have to work together. We cannot say to one another, “We have no need of you.” (Sounds like Paul to me!) None of our differences are insurmountable with the real guidance of the Holy Spirit! The call now is unity in Christ, to come together as ONE in the Lord.