Tag Archives: unity

Pursuing a Balanced Trinitarian Faith

There is an amazing little booklet, sporting a tongue-twister of a title. It is The Threefold Art of Experiencing God: The Liberating Power of a Trinitarian Faith by Christian A. Schwarz. In a stellar example of “less is more,” this diminutive book carries a profound punch.Pursuing a balanced trinitarian faith

The central theme is that Christianity exists in three streams, the liberals (mainlines), the evangelicals, and the charismatics. In general terms, each places their faith focus primarily on one part of the Godhead: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, respectively.

The perspective of each stream is correct, but at the same time, incomplete. Each of these three segments carries with it corresponding strengths. However, it simultaneously contains risks inherent from persisting in an unbalanced point of view of the Godhead.

Schwarz’s prescription for this is that all Christians should equally pursue the three parts of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, experiencing God in totality, not in part. A Trinitarian faith. In doing so, our understanding of who God is will become more balanced. The result is that we will all arrive at the holistic center of who God is, being more unified in the process.

How Big Is Your Tent?As I learn more about each of Christianity’s major streams, I become more appreciative of what each as to offer, making my faith fuller. This helps me be more accepting of my brothers and sisters from all Christian walks.

[Read my review of The Threefold Art of Experiencing God: The Liberating Power of a Trinitarian Faith.]

Read more in Peter DeHaan’s book How Big is Your Tent? A Call for Christian Unity, Tolerance, and Love. Get your free copy today and discover what the Bible says about following Jesus.

 

42,000 Protestant Denominations

Christianity Today recently reported that there are 42,000 Protestant denominations. That is shocking.42,000 protestant denominations

However, given that in the United States we have a consumerism mentality, this development is hardly surprising. Consumerism says that if you don’t like the church you are at, you keep shopping until you find one. If you can’t find one that fits, you start your own.

Compounding consumerism is the celebration of the individual. Individuals don’t value community or the collective good. Instead, blazing one’s own trail is celebrated and exalted. But individualism is selfish and self-centered. The attitude is, “it’s all about me.”

However, 42,000 Protestant denominations are not what Jesus had in mind at all. His intent was one—and that includes the other streams of Christianity, too.

How Big Is Your Tent?Why can’t we just be one in Jesus and forget about our denominations, our disagreements, and our doctrines?

Consumerism and individuality is not the goal, unity is.

Read more in Peter DeHaan’s book How Big is Your Tent? A Call for Christian Unity, Tolerance, and Love. Get your free copy today and discover what the Bible says about following Jesus.

 

Take a Step Toward Christian Unity

In my neighborhood, a fair number of people attend church. None of them go to the church I attend and, as far as I know, no one else attends the same church as their neighbors. Even more confounding is that there are two churches within a mile, but no one attends them either. In fact, we all drive by other churches as we motor to our own church of choice.We must pursue Christian Unity

How sad.

Even though we are all of the Christian faith, we fail to abide in that reality. Instead we denominate ourselves into disparate subgroups based on our individual traditions, preferred practices, and pet perceptions of what it means to be Christian.

This wasn’t what Jesus had in mind. He wants us to be one—just as he and his father are one.

Unity was the intent, but disunity was the result.

Although our enemy would prefer that we not follow God at all, his backup plan seems to be to hold us in adamant disagreement. This may be almost as an effective ploy.

How Big Is Your Tent?While we can’t quickly repair these centuries old rifts, a good first step is to be open-minded towards our brothers and sisters, willing to listen to what they have to say and accept them regardless. This would show God’s love to another, something that is also important to Jesus.

Read more in Peter DeHaan’s book How Big is Your Tent? A Call for Christian Unity, Tolerance, and Love. Get your free copy today and discover what the Bible says about following Jesus.

Three Streams of Christianity

In my post, “Let’s Get Together,” I pointed out the importance of not going alone on our spiritual journey, but rather enjoying the company fellow travelers and the collective safety of going together.

While this is best accomplished in person, sometimes that is not feasible. Towards that end, I recommend magazines as a supplemental source of spiritual formation. There are hundreds of worthy periodicals to consider, but there are three that, in my mind, emerge as the prime contenders for consideration. Listed alphabetically, they are:

Check out all three, as each is roughly aligned with a major stream of Christian thought and practice. For me, one of them I mostly resonant with, another stretches me in a good way, and the third frequently irritates me. While each response to the three magazines has merit, it is the third one is most beneficial. After all, if I only read articles that I agree with, what good is that? However, when I am exposed to sound, biblically-based thoughts that are foreign to me, my perspective of what it means to follow Jesus widens and my acceptance of others becomes more inclusive.

How Big Is Your Tent?After all, isn’t this what Jesus taught?

[Although a magazine only permits one-way communication, most magazines offer on-line forums and resources that allow readers to interact with others, thereby facilitating true dialogue and aiding the spiritual journey.]

Read more in Peter DeHaan’s book How Big is Your Tent? A Call for Christian Unity, Tolerance, and Love. Get your free copy today and discover what the Bible says about following Jesus.


Jesus Offers a Prayer for Unity

The last thing that Jesus did as a free man was to pray. The last thing in prayed for was that his future followers would get along. This strongly suggests that unity was important to Jesus.

While unity among his followers was largely realized in the first century that has not been the case in the two millennia that followed. The record shows that Jesus’ followers have been increasingly polarized, divided, and strife-filled.

Although we will never all get along without God’s help, we can be aided by taking to heart the sage advice:

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; it all things, charity”

How Big Is Your Tent?Furthermore, the list of essentials should be short. Very short. As short as possible. My list has but one item: to pursue the God who is revealed in the Bible.

That is it, nothing more. Everything else is a non-essential and for that I advocate tolerance along with a generous portion of brotherly love.

It’s a great first step towards getting along.

[The quote is often attributed to Augustine, but there is no support for that assertion. It most likely originated several centuries later, from Peter Meiderlin, a 17th century Lutheran priest.]

Read more in Peter DeHaan’s book How Big is Your Tent? A Call for Christian Unity, Tolerance, and Love. Get your free copy today and discover what the Bible says about following Jesus.


What is Post-Denominational?

Dividing the church by forming denominations isn’t biblical, and it’s time to move past it

Jesus prayed for our unity, that we would be one—just as he and his father are one. He yearned that his followers would get along and live in harmony. Dividing into religious sects wasn’t his plan. Yet that’s exactly what we’ve done as we formed 43,000 Protestant denominations.Be one in Jesus.

Instead of focusing on our similarities, our common faith in Jesus, these denominations choose to make a big deal over the few things they disagree about. They should get along, but instead they develop their own narrow theology, which they use as a litmus test to see who they’ll accept and who they’ll reject.

How this must grieve Jesus.

While there has been some disagreement among the followers of Jesus almost from the beginning, the divisions started proliferating 500 years ago with the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. And since that time, it’s escalated out of control, with a reported 43,000 denominations today. This represents the most significant degree of Christian disunity ever.

The push for denominational division traces its beginning to the modern era. While the modern era assumed that reason would allow us to converge on a singular understanding of truth, the opposite occurred. Instead, the pursuit of logic resulted in wide-scale disagreement. And this is perhaps most manifest among the followers of Jesus, who love to argue over their individual understandings of theology.

Yet there’s a sense we’re moving away from denominations and the divisions they cause. The word to describe this is post-denominational. Just as we are moving from the modern era to the postmodern era, we are also moving from a time of denominational division to a time of post-denomination harmony.

In understanding postmodern, we don’t consider it as anti-modern but instead “beyond modern.” The same distinction rightly applies to post-denominational. Post-denominational is not anti-denomination, as much as it is “beyond denominations.”

So, what is post-denominational? Post-denominational moves beyond the Protestant divisions that proliferated in the last 500 years, during the modern era. Post-denominational sets aside the man-made religious sects that divide the church of Jesus. In its place, post-denominational advocates a basic theology to form agreement and foster harmony. This allows the followers of Jesus to live together in unity, which will amplify their impact on the world around them.

The people who follow Jesus are beginning to realize this. Many new churches label themselves as non-denominational. This reflects a general mistrust among today’s people for the brand-name Protestantism of yesteryear, that is, denominations. People are weary of the criticism, finger-pointing, and disunity that denominations have caused. Click To Tweet

They’re weary of the criticism, the finger-pointing, and the disunity that denominations have caused. That’s why the label of non-denominational is so attractive to many people. This includes those who go to church, those who dropped out, and those who have never been. They don’t want to align themselves with a denomination anymore. They want a spiritual experience in a loving Christian community, one without denominational division.

For the sake of Jesus and our witness of him to our world, can we set our denominations aside and agree to work together to move forward in unity?

It’s a lot to ask, and it seems humanly impossible. But Jesus already prayed for our success (see John 17:20-26.) May this generation be the answer to his prayer. May we be one.

The Bible Teaches Us How to Live With One Another

Scripture is packed with instructions of how Christians should treat each other

Last year I shared 13 Reasons Why I Love the Bible, and I periodically expand upon one of those thirteen reasons. Today we’ll explore how the Bible teaches us to live with each other. Although these lessons occur throughout the Bible, let’s focus on one reoccurring theme. I call these the “one another” commands. These instructions teach us how to treat each other. The Bible teaches us how to live with one another.

The Bible contains thirty-one of these one-another instructions. Most only occur once, but four of them occur multiple times. This must mean they’re more important, or else they wouldn’t be repeated. They are:

Love One Another: The command to love one another occurs ten times in the Bible, all in the New Testament. John writes about this the most but so do Paul and Peter.

Unfortunately our society today has a skewed understanding of the word love. Consider the following.

  • I’d love to go to the movies with you.
  • I love pizza.
  • I love to read the Bible.
  • I love my family.
  • I love God.

These are all phrases I’ve used. But they convey different meanings of the word love, ranging from preference to passion. What is love? Our society often treats love as an emotion, but let’s consider love as an attitude that prompts unselfish action. When it comes to loving one another, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 gives us some helpful instructions on how to do this. By following these verses we can begin to love others in a biblical way.

Encourage One Another: In four places, both the Old and New Testaments, the Bible tells us to encourage one another. Using positive words to lift others up and inspire them in their life and faith is a simple thing, yet most of us fail to do so most of the time. This is a skill we need to learn and then apply.

We all know people who encourage us. We enjoy our time with them, because we feel better about ourselves afterwards. May we be like them.

However, we also know people who we don’t enjoy being around because they discourage us, either directly through negative talk or indirectly through their attitudes. May we not be like them.

Let us encourage others and provide a positive, nurturing relationship that motivates them to do better.

Live in Harmony With One Another: Paul and Peter tell us we’re to live in harmony with one another. This is key. Harmony comes out of biblical love and is bolstered by encouragement, but there is more to harmony than that.

Two words come to mind that relate to harmony. The first is peace. We should strive to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).

The second word is unity. It’s critically important for followers of Jesus to live in unity with one another. When we do so, we point others to Jesus. When we fail to do so, we push people away from Jesus. May it never be so.

Unity—that is, harmony—is important to Jesus. In one of his prayers he asks his father that we will live in unity, that we will be one just as he and his father are one (John 17:21).

Greet One Another With a Holy Kiss: The fourth of the one-another commands that appears multiple times in the Bible is a perplexing one. It’s the instruction to greet one another with a holy kiss. What does that mean?

I explored this in another post where I speculated that this command might be a “sacred act of intimacy for the church community.” Then I admitted that I’m not really sure.

Another thought is that greet another with a holy kiss might be like a secret handshake, a way to express Christian affinity without saying a word. I suppose that works, too.

Or we could interpret this command to greet one another with a holy kiss as a principle that implies acceptance and affection with all others who follow Jesus. This also might be a viable interpretation of this confusing phrase.May we learn to treat one another as the Bible tells us. Click To Tweet

In addition to these four, there are twenty-seven other one-another commands in the Bible. As we strive to follow them and put them into practice, the Church of Jesus will grow, and the world will be better for it.

May we learn to treat one another as the Bible tells us.

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Why Are Denominations Dangerous?

Jesus wants us to live in unity but instead our manmade denominations divide us

Why Are Denominations Dangerous?I recently attended a friend’s ordination ceremony who had graduated from seminary and became a minister. It’s not the first such occasion I attended, and it won’t likely be the last. It was, however, the first time I really listened to what took place.

Integrated into the liturgy of the proceedings were a series of questions posed to the new minister. Early on one of the queries caught my attention. I’ll purposely not quote the question to hide the identity of the guilty denomination, but I will paraphrase it.

In essence the denomination asked the young minister to pledge his loyalty to it and do his best to promote its mission locally and around the world.

My friend’s expected response affirmed his willingness to do so.

I don’t think I would have agreed to such a condition. Shouldn’t we pledge our loyalty to God and do our best to promote his mission locally and around the world?

With 43,000 Protestant denominations, why does each one work so hard to preserve and promote its own brand of Christianity, often at the expense of others? Why not ditch the denomination and instead work hard to promote Christ?

With this still bouncing around in my brain, a second item caught my attention as the ceremony wound down. In this part of the proceedings, my friend promised to take various actions. One such action has him pursuing unity within the church. My friend promised to do so.Our denominations divide us. Jesus unites us. Which is more important? May we act accordingly. Click To Tweet

Assuming that by church those words refer to the universal church of Jesus, as opposed to the denomination, I see a contradiction of intent, that my friend promised to pursue two mutually exclusive goals.

Our Protestant denominations divide us, whereas Jesus wants us to be one, to get along with each other, and to live in unity (John 17:21, 23). When we consider this carefully, our manmade denominations are the antithesis of the unity Jesus prays for.

If my friend would indeed pursue unity as he promised, he should seek to dismantle the denomination, because its very existence opposes unity.

[This is from the April issue of Peter DeHaan‘s newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

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There Are Two Sides to Every Story: Which Side Are You On?

Gamaliel offers wise advice for whenever religious factions stand in opposition

There Are Two Sides to Every Story: Which Side Are You On?Paul’s in jail, imprisoned for doing what God told him to do. This isn’t Paul’s first incarceration for his faith in Jesus, and it won’t be his last. When his trial finally begins, his detractors levy four charges against him, which they use to justify their actions.

They say, “We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him, (Acts 24:5-7).

Let’s break this down:

  • A Troublemaker: This depends on perspective. To Paul, he’s simply involved in a new movement of God and is excited to share the news with his people. To his accusers, Paul’s messing with their traditions and upsetting the status quo. To them, he spells trouble.
  • Stirs Up Riots: Though riots do seem to occur where Paul goes, he doesn’t incite them. The people who take offense at what Paul says stir themselves up. The riots are their fault, not Paul’s.
  • A Ringleader of the Nazarene Sect: They accuse Paul of heading up a subset of Judaism (a sect), which could simply imply that Paul is a leader among those who follow Jesus, the Nazarene. If so, Paul would likely say “guilty as charged,” but the reality is that Paul’s detractors actually oppose Jesus. It’s just that Paul’s a present target. Jesus isn’t.
  • Tried to Desecrate the Temple: Regarding the event in question, Paul was doing everything by the book, literally. But people jumped to a wrong conclusion and made false accusations.

Opposition occurs when God does a new thing inside his church. Click To TweetPaul’s detractors accuse him using twisted facts, half-truths, and lies. People fear what they don’t understand, often going to extreme means to oppose it. So it is when God does a new thing inside his church.

God’s followers too often find themselves in opposition to each other. Instead of fighting one another, they should heed the advice of Gamaliel: “If it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:39, NIV). And no one who loves God wants to end up fighting against him.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Acts 24, and today’s post is on Acts 24:5-7.]

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3 Lessons from the Early Church

Dr. Luke describes 3 characteristics of the Acts 4 church

3 Lessons from the Early ChurchThe book of Acts unfolds as an historical narrative of the early church, the activities of the first followers of Jesus and those who join them. For the most part, Acts simply describes what happens, with little commentary and few instructions for proper conduct.

While we can look to Acts as a possible model for church life, we would be in error to treat it as a requirement for right behavior. In this way Acts can inform us today, but it doesn’t command us. For example, if I wrote, “My church went to a baseball game after the service,” no one (I hope) would think I was saying that attending baseball games is prescriptive of church life. No. It was merely descriptive of what one church did one time. We would never build our theology on a statement like that.

So it is with the book of Acts. Yet we can learn from it. Luke writes three things about that church:

Unity: The Acts 4 church is of one heart and mind, just as Jesus prayed that we would be one (John 17:21). Their actions are consistent with Jesus’s prayer. Jesus prayed it, and the early church does it; I hope unity describes every one and every church.

Community Minded: In the Acts 4 church, no one claims their possessions as their own. It isn’t my things and your things; it is our things. They have a group mentality and act in the community’s best interest. While we might do well to hold our possessions loosely, notice that this isn’t a command; they just do it out of love.

Willing to Share: Last, the Acts 4 church shares everything they have. Not some things, not half, but all. This would be a hard thing for many in our first-world churches to do today but not so much in third-world congregations. Again, this isn’t a command (and later on Peter confirms that sharing resources is optional, Acts 5:4); it is just a practice that happens at this moment of time in the early church. These 3 characteristics of the early church should inspire us to think and behave differently. Click To Tweet

While these three characteristics should inspire us to think and behave differently, and can provide a model for church life, we need to remember that the Bible gives us no commands to pursue a communal-type church. We can, but it’s one option. Of the three only unity rises as an expectation because Jesus yearns for it to be so. That should give us plenty to do.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Acts 4, and today’s post is on Acts 4:32.]