26 Jan 2014
“Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you: Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:13) In the name …
This past week I completed my Epiphany home visitations to all of our parishioners for the 25th time. I now have the routes pretty much down to a routine even with an occasional new house here or there. But then there’s Montague. Get off the beaten path up there and I could end up in California. I was making a visit on one side of this mountain. I mentioned to the family I was visiting that I would have to backtrack down their road to get to the center of Montague and my next house. Instead, they told me to just take the road no more than a hundred feet from their driveway. The road didn’t even have a street sign on it. Plus, I was told that once I got to the top of mountain it would turn into a dirt road, but that it was kept up really well. All I had to do, they said, was something like turn right here, bear left there, and in no time I would be in Montague Center. Well, I don’t know what I did up there on top of that mountain, but I got lost. After a while I just started aiming for roads that went downhill. If I could get off the mountain, I figured I would be able to get my bearings. And eventually after enough of driving downhill, I did end up on Route 47 and was able to finish up my visitations. It wasn’t how I thought I was going to get to the next house, but it got me there nonetheless.
Yesterday the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity came to a close. This is why we have been asked to read from First Corinthians: “[Let] there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” (1:10) We’re hoping that the worldwide prayers for respect among all kinds of different Christians may result in spiritual unity. And this is why I shared with you my Montague story. There are different roads out there, some well traveled and familiar others unmarked and unknown, but they all have the potential of getting us to where we need to go. Churches need to better embrace this message. Even 2,000 years ago at the birth of Christianity, people were already pulling apart into separate groups. One was saying they were Pauline Christians, another that they belonged to Apollos, still another said that Peter was the true apostle. And to all of this Paul says quite abruptly: Did I suffer crucifixion for you? Were you baptized in my name? Why are you concentrating on the messenger and not the message? Paul scolds those first few Christians for, in his words, their rivalries. They were trying to divide the church by saying that Jesus was only with them and not with others. It was arrogant then, and it’s just as arrogant today.
Christ is as fully with the worshippers at Holy Family, Holy Spirit, South Deerfield Congregational and the Assembly of God meeting at Frontier High School as He is here. Different churches have different practices, different personalities and different concerns, but the same Jesus. Those differences speak to our differences, not to a different Christ. The Corinthian Christians couldn’t have numbered more than a few hundred people and already in that first generation of believers, there were differences. But Paul doesn’t condemn differences. He condemns divisions. A little later in this same epistle to the Corinthian church Paul will say, “I have become all things to all people …” (1 Cor. 9:22) There were differences and Paul works accordingly. He doesn’t deny the differences. He changes to deal with them. Different shouldn’t have to lead to division, and it is division that Paul condemns in the church.
We can counteract rivalries and divisions by accepting differences. If you’ve ever sat down and read the Gospels in say a week or less, or if you’ve ever attended any of our Bible study group meetings, you could see immediately that there are important differences among the four Gospels. You can try and force them to tell the same story through all sorts of linguistic contortions, but the obvious conclusion is that they are telling different stories about the same man. These aren’t lies or mistakes. They’re not so much contradictions. They’re different perspectives and purposes. So when we open the pages of the New Testament, there are the four different Gospels, sitting right next to each other, and the church recognizes and accepts each of them as equally inspired by God. As a matter of fact, one of the definitions of a heretical group that has moved outside of the Christian church is that they choose to read only some of the Bible, some of the Gospels, and to disregard others. It’s not uniformity that we seek in Christ’s church; it’s unity. It’s not difference that tears apart the church; it’s division.
This kind of Christian unity is made stronger not by competition among churches, but by collaboration. One of the earliest litmus tests of Christianity dates to the second half of the first century. We’re talking less than 30 years after the death of Jesus. The test is this: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9) Any Christian community that can accept this statement is fully church. And the differences that believers bring to this essential teaching of faith are only natural, not sinful. Churches should be able to work together and even worship together because our differences are human, but our unity is Jesus. (http://www.edwardpicot.com/thirteenways/blackbirdsinterface.html)
Our differences are important. They let us make our way to Jesus along paths of our own choosing. It’s my Montague story about different and sometimes even unknown roads getting us to the same place. In this day when people are more and more free to choose how and where they want to worship or not to worship, when people aren’t necessarily locked into the church of their birth, we need to reassure them that differences are not a danger to church. Division is. Christians and churches need to respect each other, and when possible, we need to work with each other. Divisions are what convince people that Jesus doesn’t live there, and even pushes some people right out of church. Paul says today that all he wants to do is preach Christ. May that sentiment inspire us in our own church and in how we treat others in their churches. Let us all just preach Christ. And for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo