Dissentions and Factions – By Schisms Rent Asunder

“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

The army of saints is most effective in spiritual warfare when we move as a single unit under one Lord and General.  Part of our training process is learning to fight side by side with other Christians in humble submission to God’s Word, rather than each faction, congregation, or individual insisting on “having things my way.”

But aren’t doctrinal issues serious enough to warrant thorough study of the Scriptures and – if need be – diligent discussion and debate among God’s people?  Of course.  Can Christian brothers and sisters pursue the teaching of God’s Word in truth and purity without becoming weakened and divided?  Absolutely.

Even the apostles disagreed upon certain issues.  The disciples didn’t always “get it” when Jesus would reveal to them a certain facet of heavenly truth.  Does this mean that they weren’t united?  For all of the frustration that Jesus must have had to deal with in teaching His twelve students, He yet confessed that He was united with them – even at the end of His earthly ministry, while they still did not understand the basic mission that He had come to accomplish: “For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them.  They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me…I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world” (John 17:8,14).

Faced with His hour of suffering and ultimate victory, Jesus knew that the unity of the Church today would be a vital part of carrying the message of that victory into the world.  He even spent his last precious moments before being arrested and taken to die praying for us – the Christians of today – that we would be united in Him:

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

Even as we engage in debate and discussion concerning the Scriptures, Christians of all synods and denominations can find unity in the love of God through Christ Jesus.  The Holy Spirit further equips us against the dangers of factions and dissensions by giving us powerful weapons; the joy of salvation through Christ alone; patience, kindness, and gentleness as we lovingly respond to our Christian brothers and sisters; the inexpressible comfort and peace that comes from knowing that God has loved all of us enough to send His Son to suffer and die for our sins.

Onward, Christian soldiers.  Be one in spirit and purpose, united in our assault against the prince of this dark world.  Let our love of God show in the love that we direct to those around us, humbly walking hand in hand – even when we don’t see eye to eye.

“I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.” (1 Timothy 2:8)

“Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace.  And the God of love and peace will be with you…May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:11,14)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, send Your Spirit in power and unity upon Your Church.  Bless us through diligent study of Your Word, that we may come to know You ever more deeply.  Grant that all of Your children may work steadfastly for Your kingdom, united by Your love and the peace that we have in the forgiveness of sins; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Discord – Reaping what you Sow

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)

“Men’s hearts ought not to be set against one another, but set with one another, and all against evil only.” (Thomas Carlyle)

What sets one man’s heart against another man?  What causes him to go out of his way to sow discord, anger, and malice between others or incite hatred against another individual?  James pretty much nails it when he says to the Christians of his day, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (James 4:1).

Once again, we find that old culprit “Self” at blame for the discord and strife in our world.  One man turns against another or sows discord, spreading lies and stirring up evil against his brother, because his self comes first in his heart.  Perhaps it is an issue of wounded pride.  Maybe he simply wants something a certain way and won’t let anyone get in the way of his own comfort or ideal.  And quite often, we feel perfectly justified in our malice and discord directed at one another because we honestly believe that what we are doing is “for the best.”  If someone is liable to get hurt in the process, well, they probably brought it upon themselves by opposing us in our “rightness.”  Besides, doesn’t the end justify the means?

Sowing and practicing discord is a form of idolatry – a blatant raising of the Self above God and His clear commands for us.  My pride, my desire, my way of doing things comes first.  God’s command to love one another gets shoved aside to make way for our selfish motives and hurtful means.  Rather than serving our neighbor in love, we do a great disservice to everyone involved by convincing ourselves that what he really needs right now is to be “put in his place.”  The animosity between us grows, the unity is shattered, and our witness to the world is greatly diminished as others look on in horror at the way these “Christians” treat each other.

So what weapons does God give us to combat this great evil in our midst – indeed, even within our own hearts?  One weapon is singled out as particularly effective against discord, and the Savior Himself hands it to us today; “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27).  Paul encourages us to fight with all our strength against discord and to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).  And James reminds us that the sowing of discord must be countered by God’s warriors with the sowing of peace; “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (James 4:18).

As God grants us peace with Him through His Word by the knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ, He can also calm the raging tempest of wicked desires that battle within our hearts.  He shows us the way and gives us the means to have peace with our neighbors; by using the weapons of love, joy, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.  Finally, we can also have peace within ourselves as we find true meaning in living a life as a redeemed child of God and serving Him by loving our neighbor.

God’s love empowers and compels us to sow the seed of the Gospel in peace, watching joyfully while the Holy Spirit raises up a harvest of true righteousness as those who hear it receive the very righteousness that comes through Christ’s own blood.  The world and our sinful nature call us to the sowing of discord and the worship of selfish desires, but God calls us to glorify Him by sowing His Word, that His peace may be harvested in abundance throughout the world.

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:17-18)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for giving me the peace that comes from knowing You have reconciled me to Yourself through the death and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Help me to share this peace with all those around me by boldly sharing the Gospel and by serving them in love.  Amen.

Kindness – Ready, Aim, Fire!

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

While Christians can take courage knowing that God has bestowed upon them the most excellent spiritual armor, we also ought to be mindful of the fact that evil often comes thoroughly defended and fortified as well.  So let’s talk for a little bit about an offensive weapon that God has armed us with – one that can pierce the shell of darkness with a concentrated demonstration of pure love, penetrating deep into the hearts of those we seek to serve.

When trying to touch the hearts of unbelievers or fellow Christians with whom we are at odds, we are often met with thick walls and heavy armor.  Envy, rage, malice, suspicion, doubt, fear, hatred, and unbelief – all of them are weapons of darkness that hold protective qualities of their own; measures to “protect” the host against the Gospel message or against spiritual unity and cooperation.  Sometimes, before we can witness to these individuals or render service to them, we must break down the barriers that Satan has erected between us through his clever use of worldly motives or our own sinfulness.

Kindness is the battering ram of love.  It is the armor-piercing arrow that can cleave Satan’s defenses and allow our love, our service, and our witness to enter the heart of the one before us.  Sometimes our kind words and deeds will need to be showered upon a person in a prolonged barrage as we spiritually lay siege to their hearts.  It may be days, months, or even years before we see their defenses fall, allowing us to come into their lives with God’s love (and ours).  Other times, a single act of kindness may be the silver bullet that shatters the barrier erected between us, opening the door to a relationship of service and evangelism.

Thankfully, the power to use this incredible weapon does not come from within our own sinful hearts – it comes from God.  It is the power of God’s love through Christ Jesus that enables us to forgive others in our hearts and pour our love and kindness upon them despite lingering feelings of tension or resentment.  If kindness is a battering ram, it is God’s power that pushes it; if an arrow, He is the bow and the hand that draws the string.  All we have to do is take aim.

We all know people who need to hear the Gospel but resist any attempt at witness.  We all have people in our lives with whom we just don’t seem to get along very well.  Pray to the Father that He would empower you through the love and forgiveness you have in Christ Jesus to show kindness to these people today.  Pray that He would soften their hearts to receive your entreaties.  Then take aim and let the Holy Spirit do His work as the kindness you shower upon them removes Satan’s defenses from between you, opening the door for witness and Christian partnership like never before.

“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:16-18)

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, empower me through Your love to forgive my neighbors.  Provide opportunities for me to show kindness unto them, demonstrating Your love by my words and deeds; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Ezra – Building Up God’s Temple

“He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.” (Ezra 9:9)

Ezra played an important role in the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.  While the building itself was essentially completed by the time he arrived, there was an important task still to be done.  Ezra came as a teacher and reformer, to instruct the children of God in His ways and His will and help them to mend their spiritual errors.

As important as a sturdy church building may be for any congregation, we must recognize that the Church exists in a much grander form than any temple or cathedral we could ever construct.  This is the Church, as C.S. Lewis puts it in The Screwtape Letters, “spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners.”  While the physical structure of the temple had been successfully erected in Ezra’s time, there was still much work to be done in building up the “Church” in Jerusalem.  As Ezra taught the people about God’s Law, precepts, and love, he was repairing a foundation upon which human bricks would be built up into the great spiritual structure that God continues adding onto today.

Like Ezra, we are all called to be builders.  As we preserve God’s pure doctrine, we maintain the structural integrity of a lofty spiritual dwelling.  As we bring others to the Word and Sacrament whereby they may receive the gift of faith, we see God adding new additions to this grand eternal building.  Whatever we do, we must always be sure that our construction is taking place on the firm foundation of God’s promise that goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden – the promise of a Messiah who would suffer and die for our sins.

Whatever kind of building you worship in, whether it be a Gothic cathedral or a school gymnasium, you are a part of the eternal, invisible Church that reaches all around the world.  Perhaps you have a role in maintaining your local church building as a trustee, a volunteer, or simply by donating your financial resources for its care and upkeep.   While it is important to provide the necessary means for God’s people to have a place of worship, it is even more vital to the universal Church that we continue to maintain and build up the body of Christ through prayer, service, and evangelism.

Remember this the next time you are at a church voters’ meeting or discussing repairs and maintenance that need to be done on your local church.  Don’t forget to discuss how you are also building up The Church by keeping God’s Word first and foremost in all that you do as a congregation.  Don’t let disagreements over the upkeep of a physical church building tear apart the unity we have in God’s Church.  If we keep our feet on the foundation of Christ and labor in His Word, we are sure to build a magnificent temple that will outlast the earth itself!

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant Your Church true unity in Word and Spirit.  Give us the mortar to repair the cracks of division and strife through the diligent study of Holy Scripture.  Bind us together as bricks in an everlasting building, that we may stand firmly bonded through every storm and strife of this world.  Heal our division and forgive our discord, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Deborah – Uniting God’s Army

“Go!…Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” (Judges 4:14)

One of the ways in which God uses His judges to deliver His people is by sending them as a herald of unity.  During Deborah’s times, the Israelite men were scattered across the nation, made timid by their own weakness and the nine hundred iron chariots of the enemy.  God sent the prophetess Deborah to proclaim His Word, assuring His children of deliverance and relief.  This promise made the hearts of the warriors bold once more, uniting them in purpose and faith behind the God who had always gone before them in power and majesty.

It’s amazing how easily God’s children become disobedient and rebellious, divided in spirit and purpose, and intimidated by wicked foes.  Thanks be to God for Deborah and other heroes of the faith who boldly proclaim His Word and ignite zeal and unity in scattered spiritual warriors.  All Christians, regardless of creed or denomination, share a love of the Gospel message and fight the same spiritual foes.  God does not tell us that we should fight only alongside those who are in exact agreement with our every thought – in fact, quite the opposite: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Philippians 2:1-2).

God’s orders specifically tell us to seek and find reasons to be united with other Christians, and all of these reasons are rooted in Jesus Christ and flow from Him: encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness, and compassion.  He doesn’t say that we should ignore our differences in doctrine and beliefs, but rather should continue to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), diligently examine the Scriptures (Acts 17:11), and to search the Word of God for its life-giving testimony about Jesus Christ (John 5:39).  But even as we continue to strive for unity in all things, we must remain united in our faithful proclamation of repentance and forgiveness, by grace through faith.  Just as God’s promise through Deborah emboldened the Israelites and united them in purpose, so God’s promise through His Son Jesus gives His warriors today strength of heart and unity of spirit.

“My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me…May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-21,23)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, unite the hearts of Your warriors that we may follow Jesus boldly, striking out with Your Word against unbelief, ungodliness, and despair.  Grant that all Your children may deal kindly and compassionately with each other out of love for You, that the world will see Your love reflected in all that we do.  Guard us against schisms and divisions, and heal the wounds in the body of all believers through the faithful study and proclamation of Scripture, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.