Saturday, February 10, 2007

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Why do so many Christian sects, also called denominations, exist? Why are there so many different “brands” of Christianity?

This really is a puzzling question since each of these groups claim to be following Christ, the same Christ who forbids disunity among those who are His disciples. Yet each “Christian” group claims to be following Christ and adhering to His Word.

Can this really be? Can they all be Christians?

Why are there so many groups that cannot get along with each other? Why do they not all join as one big happy family united in common faith in Christ Jesus as Savior and Lord?

Actually, most who call themselves Christians are not really all that different. Most are really walking quite closely on the same path. Why do I say this? Because they all ultimately say that all that matters is that a person confesses Jesus as Lord. “As long as a person believes in Jesus, that person will be in heaven.”

If this is true, why then are there so many denominations? Why do they continue to separate from one another? After all, if confessing to believe in Jesus is all that matters in the end, why make a fuss about the various articles of doctrine that show that not everyone agrees?

Does it really matter? Does it really make a difference?

The Lord Jesus made a declaration that few Christians ever really take seriously. He said,

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matt 7:21-23)

And again:

And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? (Luke 6:46)

Does it really make a difference how we call “Lord”? What does it mean to do the will of the Father and to do the things that Jesus says?

Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.
(Matt 10:32-42)

Jesus warns us that not everyone who calls Jesus “Lord” will be at peace, because many will not really look to Jesus as “Lord.” Most will call Jesus “Lord,” even doing mighty deeds in His name, but they will also call family and friends and job and church trappings “Lord.” In fact, they will remain where they feel comfortable, forsaking and laying down their crosses. They will continue to “gather in the name of Jesus” and to sing together and even partake of the Sacrament together, but they will not really be looking to Jesus as “Lord.”

Wherein is the difference?

It is in this: And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.

Yes, they will offer water to many. They will say to themselves, “Look at how I love the disciples of Jesus.” But their hearts will be far from Him. St. Paul says it like this: For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. (1 Cor. 11:29)

Who really are Christ’s disciples? Where is this body of Christ that we are to discern? Is it really possible to know? Jesus says that it is. The prophets and apostles say that it is not only possible, but necessary, to keep from eating and drinking judgment on oneself.

Who are the little ones to whom we should be moved to give a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple?

Does it really matter with whom we are in communion (fellowship)? Does it matter whether we are in a gathering where those gathered are known as bearing the name of a disciple?

And what does this say of us if we have not clearly discerned this for ourselves? Even more, what does this say of us if we have discerned for ourselves that we are in a communion that is not clearly named as disciples of Jesus? What if we know of others who are disciples but we do not embrace them and do not give them even a drink of water as a disciple?

Does it really matter with whom we gather and to whom we give a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple? Where does this leave us?

Is this really such a strong statement of the Law as it sounds? Is there any other kind of statement of the Law?

The Law is all that we can hear until the Holy Spirit calls us to repentance. By His mighty work we are turned from the things of our own focus to that which the Lord would have us to know. And where does the Lord want our hearts to turn? To Him!

This is where we go awry in our search for unity. Where does St. Paul direct our attention? To the discernment of the body. And what does this statement follow? It follows a clear definition and explanation of the Sacrament of the Altar and the proper administration of the means of grace. It includes an absolute and united and pure proclamation of the Lord’s death till He comes. He states that this is dependent upon a man examining himself and thereby eating the bread and drinking of the cup. In other words this is dependent upon each head of every household continually catechizing his family so that they recognize their need for the Sacrament so that they seek it where Christ’s body is truly gathered and the body and blood are administered as Christ gives it, for the forgiveness of sins.

Of those who call “Lord, Lord” who would be denied at the Last Day, Jesus says, “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” The key point is that Jesus never knew them.

Why not? Why did Jesus not know them? How does it happen that Jesus knows His sheep? He knows them because they are His. How are they His? They are “called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Where the Word is preached purely and the Sacraments are administered according to Christ’s command, this is where the body of Christ is. This is where His bride, his body, lives. Christ knows His own bride, his own flesh and blood. This is where His holy communion is known. The ultimate expressing of Christ knowing His disciples is in the Holy Communion, where He gives them His body and blood and they receive His life from Him.

This is the basis of true unity. Christ does not know us by our works. He knows us by His works. It is when we receive His works through faith that we are brought into true communion with Him and thereby with one another. We are united in Him and in what He does for us.

This is why Jesus calls those whom He does not know workers of iniquity. Why? Because they are not really trusting in Him and His works of grace but in themselves and their works of calling out “Lord! Lord!” These are the very works of iniquity for which they are judged.

It is not by our decision or commitment or confession that we are joined with Christ and kept in His holy communion. It is by being joined with Him in Baptism and renewed in Him through the Holy Communion that we are empowered to live as His disciples who daily take up their crosses and follow Him, recognizing their fellow cross bearers and offering water and every other display of love to one another. And the purest act of love that we are moved to show one another is by rightly proclaiming the Lord’s death together as we eat His body and drink His blood as communicants of His forgiveness and life together.

So then, why can’t we all just get along? We can and we do, when we stop trying to make it happen for ourselves and together we receive the unity that Christ works for us in His body. You see, it is not because we say and do the right things together that we are united. Quite the opposite is true. Because in Christ we are united we say and do the right things together. Then we see and understand.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

When we wake up to find that we actually believe this, we find that not only can we get along, but that we do. This is the miracle that the Holy Spirit works, which we confess in the Creed as “the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints.” It really does exist, and it truly knows and lives in the love and peace of Christ.

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