I’m sitting in an airport, watching the sunset over the blue ridge mountains after spending 10 days with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. God is good. And in his goodness he sent me to this little class in North Carolina where I got to learn so much as well as get a little glimpse into the ways God’s still working in the world. One of the last nights I was in PNG, God threw this idea of Equip’s Medical Missionary Intensive class at me. I’d never heard of Equip or MMI before but it sounded like something I’d be interested in so I jumped at the opportunity. Through a Sister-in-Christ named Erika whom I’ve never even met, God provided for me to go to this course.
Equip International1 is a mission organization that specializes in preparing and equipping missionaries to serve God in the field. Among other things they provide training in well drilling, agriculture, Community Health Evangelism and various medical courses. The course that God set me up was their Medical Missionary Intensive designed for missionaries who need to administer medical care in the third world. Couldn’t say enough good things about the people over at Equip and the things they are doing. But that’s not what I want to talk about.
As I looked around the room during orientation I saw a lot of people from very obviously different backgrounds. From our dress, accents and short bios it was soon apparent that we’d come from very different churches and backgrounds. Yet here we all were learning how to glorify God and love others through medicine. It wasn’t until days later, after we’d talked a lot about denominations and churches, that I realized a deep truth. A truth that was far deeper than our divisions of dress, color, accent or nationality. We are one. We are the church.
At our first devotional, Pastor Barrie brought up the apostles creed. He talked about different ways that Christians have worshiped God through the centuries and how most Christians still maintain that creed from the first centuries of Christianity. It reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about a lot. Many early (and modern) martyrs had far less knowledge of scripture, doctrine and theology than many of us in the church today. Yet they were still willing to give up their lives for Jesus. Few would know much more than that early creed, many probably even less.2 Yet they knew enough to give their all. I just wonder how many of those early Christians sat in prison cells and fought about transubstantiation. I can’t imagine two Christians about to be fed to the lions bickering about free will versus predestination. Yet it didn’t take too long for the church to began to draw lines in the sand and pick a side.3
There’s certainly a place for doctrine. For acknowledging truth and rebuking heresy. Yet Jesus prayed that the church might be one even as He and the Father are one.4 Someone this week shared a great allegory with me. The Bible teaches that the Church is meant to be like a body. With each member providing a different function. We tend to think of ourselves as eyes or ears; but instead it can be beneficial to view each christian as a cell. The cells in the body all work together in a multitude of ways to keep the body alive, growing and functioning. But when a group of cells stops working with the rest of the body and breaks off to go do their own thing… we call it cancer. And cancer kills. Jesus claimed that the world would recognize us by our love for one another.5 Yet instead of loving we try so hard to fit each other into neat little boxes that we cut His body into pieces; after awhile the only boxes we’ll fit in will be coffins. The church is Christ’s bride and I think it grieves Him deeply when we tear it apart. Though I understand we are judged according to our knowledge, we will all be found wanting. There is no one who will get to heaven and have Jesus explain to everyone else how that person had it all right. Let then love cover a multitude of sins. For we are all sinners.
There’s a story that I’m going to steal and apply here. There once was a man who spoke to Abraham in a vision. Curious to know more about heaven and wanting to make sure he was on the right track the man asked Abraham a simple question. “How many baptists do you have up there?” Abraham answered simply. “None at all.” A little nonplussed the man asked. “What about charismatics?” Father Abraham looked around and replied. “Don’t see any.” The man asked about a few other denominations and got the same negative response. Starting to get worried he asked. “Got any Catholics?” Again Abraham said no. Finally the man asked. “What do you have?” “Nothing but Christians.” Came the reply. Point being, there are no denominations in Heaven. Only those who are saved by the blood of the lamb.
Looking around the classroom that first day at MMI I saw that there were quite a few Mennonites in the class. It wasn’t until a few days later that I was disillusioned of that belief. It turns out that those books I’d judged from their cover actually had text about some kind of Charity Church. It was kind of funny watching us sit at dinners and try to probe into each others denominations from some ridiculously oblique angle. Yet when it was all said and done, it turned out that our denominations didn’t define us at all. Our love for Jesus did.
I’ve grown up in the church. I’ve heard so many Christians criticize those people over there. “Those people don’t do anything because they think the world’s just gonna get worse until Jesus returns.” Or “Calvinists can’t evangelize because everyone’s just predestined anyway.” We all want to blame others shortcomings on their doctrine and hold ours up as the reason for our own zealousness. Yet I remember Jesus saying something different. “If you love me, keep my commandments.”6 Not “If you have it figured out” or “if you have correct doctrine. He said, “if you love me…” And it turns out that there are people that love Jesus in all kinds of different denominations. Heck, even Catholics and those crazy protestants have people that love Jesus and keep his commandments. Let’s not then deny the working of the spirit, calling common what God calls clean.7
When I left MMI I was amazed by God (again) not only because of the work He is doing all over the world, but the work He is doing in America. Even in America where the church is so apostate and carnal, God is preserving His remnant and working through them. Let’s not pretend otherwise. Let us beg God for open eyes to see the Christians all around us and to let us know that we are one. Rather than claiming to Love God and then leaping at our brothers’ throats, let us pray along with Jesus for a spirit of unity in His Church.
When you have a sore thumb, you don’t cut if off so that the pain will go away; you care for it so that it will be healed. Let us seek reconciliation even if it means forgiving seven times seventy times.8
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.9
2. [Examples like St. Catherine or St. Stephan, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Christian_policies_in_the_Roman_Empire]2
3. [Oriental/Eastern Orthodox (451), Catholicism/Orthodoxy (1054), Catholicism/Catholicism (1378), Protestantism/Catholicism (1517) and innumerable fractures in protestantism since then.]3
4. [John 17:21]4
5. [John 13:35]5
6. [John 14:15]6
7. [Acts 10:9-16]7
8. [Matthew 18:22. Some may see a difference between forgiving a sin and forgiving a false doctrine. I would say that this is semantically and biblically unsound. An incorrect teaching should be no harder to forgive than an incorrect action. Biblical examples would include Paul and Peter’s argument over the law, Apollos’s lack of understanding or Peter’s argument with God about going to the gentiles. The unity of Christ and the Love of God should triumph over disagreement even when consensus can’t be reached.]8
9. [1 John 1:4]9