This scripture is one of the keys of Christianity. On this we can give credit to Paul for offering a fundamental principle on which the church was built..and continues today.
My question is, “Is it true?” Are we really one?
Think about it. Here’s a quick historical summary that mentions only a few things.
Paul’s journeys and creating house churches 47-57 CE
Jerusalem Council around 48-49 settles the dispute whether non-Jews would be included in Christianity. The problems didn’t really stop, as Galatians shows (date: 50-60). Concerns continue as to how they would be included, by following some key parts of the Abram covenant..or not?
70-312 is called Early History
Yet during that time 180: Irenaeus writes Against Heresies
Demonstrating that there WERE heresies or more than ONE way of interpreting the faith.
There was the ‘Age of the Christian Empire’ 312-590 the world ‘empire’ give me chills. During that time several creeds were developed to codified certain Christian beliefs over other beliefs and practices.
Some you remember or have heard of, Council of Nicea 325 (Nicene Creed..one baptism)
451 Council of Chalcedon
And there were other attempts to make christianity more ‘one’.
1054 The Great Schism between East and West
After that ‘WE’ were really two.
1095 1st Crusade is authorized to recover the Holy Land from Moslems
1099 Jerusalem conquered
1378-1410 The Great Schism - a time of division in the Roman Catholic Church due to disagreements concerning papal succession.
There continued to be Schisms, strong debates, differences of opinion and interpretation up until 1517 when Martin Luther posts 95 Theses on the cathedral door and ends up excommunicated 1521.
Maybe you could say we were THREE then, east, west and the protestors...but we know how many different kinds of protestants developed...
There are many ‘significant’ founding dates after that.
1525 is credited as the beginning of the Anabaptist movment, Menno Simmons and others were a key influence on our founders.
1609 Baptist Church by John Smyth
1618-1648, 30 years War a Protestant/Catholic conflict in Germany that greatly influenced the early brethren.
1647 George Fox begins to preach..1652 founds ‘Friends’
1708 Alexander Mack and friends baptize each other - beginning what would much later be known as the Brethren...later still CoB.
1729 a movement called methodism, by John Wesley
1830 John Smith produces the Book of Mormon - a different interpretation or understanding.
1906 Azusa Street Revival in LA and beginnings of the Pentecostal Movement
1914 Assemblies of God founded
So many more ‘founding dates’ can be listed. Hence my question,
Are we REALLY one?
Even here we are influenced by ways of believing other than pure (is there such a thing) brethren. Turn to your neighbor and share your experience, background with other denominations. (...share how some churches don’t ask their members to ‘participate’ or speak in church...)
Specifically share HOW we are different from other churches you know and HOW we are the SAME.
Then I will call us back together so we can hear HOW we are CONNECTED to other parts of Christianity.
We know that our rituals and understanding of Christianity differ among these many institutions/churches. Yet we share a communion ritual to remind us of Jesus’ life giving ministry.
Yet many of our smaller disagreements get the most publicity;
which churches allows women to preach,
who allows gays and lesbians in leadership,
who is trying to convert/save Jews,
the disagreements are many.
We could name the same disagreements WITHIN our own denomination, as I will likely see once again at Annual Conference next week.
Some people believe the main Christian focus is to get to heaven and bring as many people along as you can. (not by killing them but by ‘saving’ them or ‘getting them saved.)
Some believe the main focus of Christianity is to live like Jesus lived and taught.
(I read this week that the..
Mennontie theologian John Howard Yoder wrote, “The work of God is the calling [together] of a people, whether in the Old Covenant or the New. The church then is not simply the bearer of the message of reconciliation,[ a purpose] in the way a newspaper or a telephone company can bear any message with which it is entrusted.
Nor is the church simply the RESULT of a message, as an alumni association is the product of a school or the crowds in a theater are the product of a film’s reputation.
That men ane women are called together to a new social wholeness is itself the work of God, which gives meaning to history.”1
“A new social wholeness”. . .Yoder wrote in the mid to late 20th century. He certainly saw plenty of differences and struggles in the church. We remember him most for his advocacy of non-violence for all Christians. A position that much of ‘main-line’ Christianity sets aside or rejects outright.
How then do we, the bearers of the message of reconciliation between humanity and God face the reality that we aren’t even very reconciled to others when we all call ourselves, ‘Christians’?
This is why Paul’s letter to the Galatians, written so long ago is so revelant today. Paul points out the continuity of God’s work in and with humanity from Abraham to Jesus.
Here he IS answering a specific problem in this letter, and we must remember this especially if we compare Galatians to say Romans. In Galatians he presents only the negative aspects of the Law2 that God’s people have been following (or trying to) since Moses conveyed the commandments. Paul is making a case for inclusion without Gentile believers having to follow Jewish Law or 1st become Jewish.
Even without knowing all the background of the problem (it’s all about circumcision) we see that Paul insists that God means to INCLUDE not exclude and that this has ALWAYS been true. (es verdad? Si!) God has just made it easier for us to BE INCLUDED because of or thru the faith of Jesus, the messiah.
Paul even turns to Jewish history to help make his point. He RE-Defines ‘salvation’ (such a disputed word even today) to mean more than forgiveness of sins (which is a judicial metaphor). Paul says salvation is a matter of DELIVERANCE3, and God has been about setting people free since the very beginning.
Paul’s says God’s deliverance transcends the social conditions that divide us and THAT is why we are ONE in Christ.
We’ve listed many of the things that divide Christians and we know many beliefs and social conditions that divide people. Those conditions don’t change, now or then. People were still Jewish or not, some were still slaves and some were free, there will always be men and women and transgender people, but because Jesus had so much faith in God that he followed no matter who or what stood in the way, that means our relationships with others are also transformed4. (Not just CAN BE transformed but ALREADY ARE.)
So in our mission, ‘our Christian mission’ of sharing the news of our deliverance, we are all equals.
In this way we are all one. Not because WE are faithful, but because Jesus was...and God is!
. . . It is a Simple and yet not so simple a concept.
Our oneness is what we need to remember, whether we are sitting across from someone who looks or acts different, or
We (me) are listening to a person at the mic at Annual Conference who believes so differently than I do. . .
because of DIVINE FAITH we are ONE. . One in Christ Jesus.
1 John Howard Yoder quoted in Clairborne, Wilson-HartGrove, Okoro’s Common Prayer; a liturgy for ordinary radicals (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,2010)318
2 Boring and Craddock Peoples NT Commentary (Louisville:WJK,2004)586
3 ibid p. 586
4 ibid p. 588