Tertullian on Christian Unity

Look at what Tertullian (a church scholar who lived in North Africa c. 160-225AD) had to say as he described the young Christian believers:

“We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope. We meet together as an assembly and congregation, that, offering up prayer to God as with united force, we may wrestle with Him in our supplications. This strong exertion God delights in. We pray, too, for the emperors, for their ministers and for all in authority, for the welfare of the world, for the prevalence of peace, for the delay of the final consummation.”

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Agree In the Lord, Example #1

Years ago, before my husband was a Pastor, I was elected to the Church Council as recording secretary.  After I read my first meeting minutes, our Pastor started to make a comment ….then he chuckled and said, “never mind, Joan, I’ll talk to you about the minutes later.”

I was embarrassed and upset.  Something was obviously wrong with the way I recorded the meeting, and he had let everyone else know it.  I went to him later and said, “You might as well have just gone ahead and criticized me there.  Why didn’t you just finish telling me what I did wrong?”

His answer?  “I started to say your minutes were the best we had ever had, but I caught myself, realizing how rude and ungrateful that would sound to the members who had done it before.”  As you can imagine, that deflated my anger in a second.  Now I was embarrassed to realize how quickly I had jumped to the wrong conclusion.

My point?  We can’t assume we know what someone else is thinking, or what their actions really mean.  If you’re in doubt, do as the Bible says, go to that person and ask.  You may find out you misjudged them, or you may be giving them an opportunity to apologize.  Either way, you’ve saved your relationship and you can continue to “agree in the Lord.”

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Agree in the Lord

“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.  Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”  Philippians 4:2-3

This brief message is given near the end of the book of Philippians.  Evidentially there has been a serious quarrel between two members of the congregation, leaders who have worked with Paul to advance the gospel.  This pains him, and he begs them to work out their differences.

Disagreements like this still happen, and they create a tense and unhappy atmosphere in the church.  Notice that Paul does not take sides, probably because when a relationship is broken, both people have contributed to the problem.  Both must be willing to work toward reconciliation and peace.  Paul also asks a third party, his “true companion” (possibly Epaphroditus who delivered the letter) to help them resolve things.  He asks the women to “agree in the Lord.”  That doesn’t mean they have to agree in every detail, they don’t have to become best friends, just be willing to set aside personal grievances for the sake of Christ and the good works they can continue to do together.

Have you ever felt upset with a fellow member?  What did you do?  Blow up and tell them off?  Run to another member and start gossip about their bad behavior?  Complain to the Pastor and expect him to take your side?  All of these actions will only magnify the problem.  In the book of Matthew we find the correct first step toward a solution:

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”  Matthew 18:15

Sometimes you will find the person did not mean to offend you at all; sometimes you will reach a compromise;  sometimes you will just realize how important it is to forgive and set aside differences for the good of Jesus and the gospel.  After all, what kind of witnesses are we, if we can’t even get along with each other?

I’d like to hear some stories from others.  Have you been in this situation?  How have you handled it?  Maybe I’ll tell you one of my own experiences tomorrow.

God loves you and so do I!

 

The Song of Christian Unity

“God has prepared for Himself one great song of praise throughout eternity, and those who enter the community of God join in this song. It is the song that the “morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy” at the creation of the world. (Job 38:7). It is the victory song of the children of Israel after passing through the Red Sea, the Magnificat of Mary after the annunciation, the song of Paul and Silas in the night of prison, the song of the singers on the sea of glass after their rescue, the “song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb” (Rev. 15:3) It is the song of the heavenly fellowship.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

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The Threefold Cord

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow.  But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they will keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?  And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him — a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Something is drawing me back to Ecclesiastes, the book that Leslie blogged extensively about last month. The verses above have been used to describe the unions of both marriage and friendship. When we go back to the very beginning, God said,

“It is not good that the man should be alone;  I will make him a helper fit for him.”  Genesis 2:18

According to the author of Ecclesiastes we’re meant to live in relationship, in union with others.  With a friend or a mate, life is easier, safer and more comfortable. We will be happier and accomplish more. But did you notice anything else?  In every relationship there must be a third component — that’s God.  God is the glue that holds every human union together.  Without Him, we’re bound to eventually break apart on the rocks of our own selfishness and sin.  It’s the third strand in the cord that keeps them going.

So, we don’t need to just have a relationship with God, we need to make God a part of every relationship in our life.  Peace, joy, patience, kindness, love, self-control–no union survives without them, and we can’t manufacture them on our own.  They’re gifts of the Holy Spirit.  So as Charles Spurgeon once said, “Let the lion out of the cage.”  Don’t keep God penned up except for Sunday mornings–let Him into your marriage, your friendships, your workplace, your family.  Let Him transform all those relationships.

 

Yaaseh Shalom

I recently read a novel (Inside, Outside by Herman Wouk) about Jewish life in America, and I learned this Hebrew phrase.  It is from the final words of the Kaddish, a prayer for the dead and it means, “He will make peace.”  It made me think about how Jesus does that for us.  He speaks about it in what has been called the High Priestly Prayer, in the book of John, Chapter 17.

First of all, through His sacrifice, He makes peace between us and God.  He prays

“…that they may all be one, just as you, the Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us …John 17: 21

He also makes peace between all believers as He brings us into His body, the church:

“The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one, even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be perfectly one.”  John: 17:22-23

What a gift!  He has made peace. Yasseh shalom.

Keeping the Peace

“I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Ephesians 4:1-3

 The apostle, Paul, writing from prison, gives some good advice on how to maintain our unity with other Christians.  When I read it, I have to ask myself, am I walking in a worthy manner?  Am I humble, gentle and patient with others in my church family?  Am I willing to overlook some flaws as they mature in the faith?  Am I eager, really eager to get along with everyone? Do I love them, each individual, as a child of God and my sister or brother?

 It’s human to fail in all these things.  Just like everyone else, I can sometimes be self righteous, impatient, critical or abrupt.  That’s not worthy of my calling.  I’m called to love others, and that means acting in a loving way.  I can be eager in all the wrong ways – eager to prove my point, eager to look good in the eyes of others, eager to promote my own agenda.  That’s not worthy of my calling, either.  I’m called to serve others, not advance myself.  I can be guilty of surrounding myself with those I find most compatible, failing to include or ignoring part of God’s family.  How unworthy is that, forgetting that Jesus called me His friend, when I was still a sinner!

 Whenever I fall down, I need to remember my calling.  Christian unity depends upon you and me.  Am I committed to keeping the peace?  Are you?