Saturday, February 2, 2013

Ecumenism: The Need for Ecumenism

This lesson is the first of an ongoing series of lessons being delivered to members of State Varsity Christian Fellowship, UP Diliman.

Lesson 1, Part 1: The Need for Ecumenism

Philippine Beach Mission Team, 2011. Composed mostly of IVCF alumni, with Dave Griffiths of OMF and Elsie Calalang of IVCF

     When SVCF invited me to teach a series for Advanced FG, I felt I couldn't pass up the privilege. Our goal, of course, is to build up the body of Christ in the Philippines, to work for unity among our churches, and to develop a more effective witness to the lost.
     I was allowed to speak on any topic I wanted, and it didn't long to make a decision. Foremost in my mind was the topic of ecumenism, which one dictionary defines as “the principle or aim of promoting unity among the world's Christian churches.” That's the definition we'll be working with for the rest of this series. I know the word “ecumenism” has a broader meaning that includes even people of non-Christian religions, but that's beyond the scope of this series. Our questions are going to revolve only around unity between Christian churches.

Unity Is the "Final Apologetic"
     And unity is something that we sorely need. As theologians like Francis Schaeffer, Timothy George, and John Woodbridge have pointed out, strife and lack of love among Christians has weakened the testimony of the Western Church, that is, the Church in Europe and the United States. Wanting to address this problem, they have appealed to what Schaeffer called, “the final apologetic,” or the undeniable testimony of Christians loving one another. This is drawn from Jesus' words in John 13:34-35,
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, so also are you to love one another. By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Schaeffer had this to say about Jesus' words:
Yet, without true Christians loving one another, Christ says the world cannot be expected to listen, even when we give proper answers. Let us be careful, indeed, to spend a lifetime studying to give honest answers.... But after we have done our best to communicate to a lost world, still we must never forget that the final apologetic which Jesus gives is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians.”
     “By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” How will non-Christians know that we are disciples of Jesus? Non-Christians will know that we are disciples of Jesus if we love one another. That means that ecumenism is indispensable to Christian witness.

Unity Expresses God's Character and Redemptive Work
     We also need unity for a second, perhaps more fundamental reason. We need to love one another because love expresses God's character and redemptive work. When we love one another, we are reflecting who God is and we are reflecting what He has done for the salvation of sinners. We are reflecting His love for us, and our love for Him. For example, the Western Canadian Revival of 1971 grew because the Holy Spirit convicted Christians of their ill-feelings and coldness toward one another. It seems that this lovelessness was the reason that spiritual life was so at such a low level among them. But as people got right with God and with one another, they stopped quenching the Spirit, and people witnessed what reconciliation with God really meant. One account says,
Other reconciled Christians began to bear the mark of the christian in a seeable, costly way. Non-Christians were able to see in the actions and demeanor of these believers that they were Christ's disciples. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, these christians had forsaken their sins, made restitution, and gained the capacity to love their neighbors in ways previously thought impossible.”
     Clearly, unity is something we need. And it's something we need to learn about from God's word, for several reasons. Not least of all because biblical unity is not natural to us. 

Swinging Between Two Extremes
     When churches try to unite with other churches, and Christians try to work together with other Christians, we swing back and forth between two extremes.
     On the one hand, we tend to do our own thing. We tend to put our own concerns first. We tend to think that our personal advocacy is the most important and needs the most attention. We become discouraged when people don't do things the way we think is best. Often, pride causes us to think highly of ourselves and look down on other Christians. Defensiveness is a knee-jerk reaction to criticism. So instead of carefully considering the merit of someone's criticisms, we make excuses for ourselves. In fact, we may even try to turn the tables on them! So that's one extreme.
     But we can easily swing to the other extreme and trivialize our differences. We can say, “Let's not talk about anything that would expose our theological differences. After all, doctrine divides, doesn't it?” We can say, “Oh, we don't have the right to judge that person's actions. Even though what she did was wrong, I'm sure she had the best intentions. So instead of confronting her, we should just nurture her.” This kind of language sounds kind and humble to many. Many may call it loving. But the fact is that when we do these things, we tend to trivialize truth, even though we may not necessarily mean to. The point is that either extreme is damaging to the Church, and we need God's guidance on how to work toward a truly biblical unity among churches.
     To do this, we'll be looking at the beginning of the Church, as recorded in Acts. We can then seek answers for questions like, What is the Church? What should the Church be doing? What is the gospel? The answers we find will enable us to develop a more biblical approach to ecumenism.

TEXT: Acts 1:1-2
Exegetical Data. We know that Luke is the author of Acts, and clearly the “first account” he refers to is the Gospel of Luke. His two accounts are actually two sides of the same coin. The Gospel of Luke deals with
“all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.”
     In other words, it deals with Jesus' earthly ministry. On the other side of the coin is Luke's second account, the Book of Acts. By implication, it is an account of all that Jesus continues to do and teach, after he was taken up to heaven. This is why the title “Acts of the Apostles” is inadequate, even though the apostles Peter and Paul are very prominent in the accounts. They are not the ones making things happen. Who opened the Scriptures to them? Who sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost? Who caused the church to grow? Who sent Peter to Cornelius? Who converted Saul? Etc, etc. It was Jesus. Jesus did all that. So Acts is really the Acts of Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
     Jesus' Orders. Now, look at verse 2, which says that He gave “orders” to the apostles. This refers to everything that He taught and commanded them during His time on earth, as recorded in the gospels. Now, what are some of the most foundational teachings in the gospels...
  • about Jesus? He is the Messiah who is bringing about God's Kingdom on earth (Matthew). He is the Son of God (Mark). He is the Savior of mankind (Luke). He is God in the flesh and the ultimate revelation of the Father (John). On the other hand, He is also the Son of Man, fully man. The humanness of Jesus is foundational to all four gospels.
  • about God? God is one, yet in three. Jesus and the Father are one (Jn 10:30). The Holy Spirit is God (he can be blasphemed, Mt 12:31). Salvation is Trinitarian in nature (the Father and the Son, Jn 10:25-30; the Father and the Spirit, Lk 1:35; the Son and the Spirit, Mt 4:1; and all three Persons, Mt 3:16-17 and 28:19).
  • about salvation? Salvation is for all—both Jew and Gentile (Luke). It requires repentance (Mt 4:17; Lk 13:3), faith (Mk 1:15), and obedience (Mt 7:21), all of which must be oriented towards Christ (Jn 5:39). Salvation is a gift of God, not earned (Mt 16:17; Jn 3:8; cf. the healing of the paralytic in Mt 9, Mk 2, and Lk 5). Salvation is initiated by God, not by us (Lk 19:10). It involves Christ “ransoming” sinners with His own life (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45).
  • about the Scriptures? All of the OT points to Christ (Lk 24:27; Jn 5:39). This is what theology calls the christological re-reading of the OT.
  • about worship? The Mosaic form of worship has been fulfilled in Christ, and is therefore unecessary (Mt 5:17; Jn 1:29; 4:21-24).
     Of course, this all builds on what has already been revealed about God in the OT. And so at the very beginning of the book of Acts, we are confronted with a goldmine of truth upon which the Church of Christ is to be built. Because you're here, you're a member of SVCF, and because of that, I assume that you already know and believe everything I've just said. And I'm grateful for that. Because if we can't agree on the foundational teachings in the gospels, our ecumenism is going to be built on very shaky ground. The gospel is our starting point, the least common denominator we need to make ecumenism possible. It's simply impossible to do the work of Jesus alongside anyone who denies the Lord's teachings because God has called us to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jud 1:3). “What fellowship does light have with darkness,” Paul asked the Corinthians (2Co 6:14-18).
     So, the first step we're going take is to talk about some of the most significant heresies that the Church has had to fight throughout the centuries. Actually, you'll notice that almost all of these heresies first appeared during the first few centuries of the Church's life. Since then, most other heretical groups—the Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Iglesia ni Cristo, Oneness Pentecostals, and so forth—have simply rehashed these old heresies. So even though we will be discussing events, people, and places that are half a world and many centuries away from us, I think that the issues at hand will sound quite familiar to us.

No comments:

Post a Comment