Born of Water: So What? Part 2

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Ever since the Protestant Reformation, we’ve tried to negotiate our way to unity. Unity meetings have been like negotiations for an international trade treaty, with long-winded speeches, committees, and white papers – and little to show for the effort. This is totally the wrong approach.

Famously, Luther and Zwingli failed to unite their reformation movements because they disagreed over the presence of the body of Jesus in the communion elements.[1]

Philip of Hesse wanted to unify all the leading Protestants because he believed that as a divided entity they were vulnerable to Charles V. As a unified force, they would appear to be more powerful. Philip’s theory was sound but it failed to take into account one major issue – beliefs.

Luther and Zwingli had corresponded in the early years of the Reformation and they met at Marburg in October 1529. This meeting became known as the Colloquy of Marburg. If Philip wanted the meeting to be a symbol of Protestant unity he was disappointed. Both Luther and Zwingli fell out over the sacrament.

Luther believed that Christ was present at every celebration of the sacrament – though he was never too sure about what happened to the bread and wine in the Mass. Zwingli believed that the communion service was a commemoration of Christ’s sacrifices and that the bread and wine were purely symbolic.

Both men clashed over the phrase ‘hoc est corpus meum’.

Luther held the view that this meant ‘this is my body’. Whereas Zwingli believed it meant ‘this signifies my body’. Both men believed that they were right and the meeting only served to demonstrate that the Protestant world was a divided one especially over interpretation. Luther refused to shake hands with Zwingli when he departed and he made his dislike of Zwingli very public.

They agreed on literally every doctrine they discussed – except consubstantiation – a doctrine with very little practical implication. I mean, you take the Lord’s Supper the same way regardless of your view on this question. And yet the two great theologians refused to even shake hands – and risked military defeat of their religious reforms – over this single issue. In fact, Zwingli soon thereafter died in a battle that likely would have been avoided had the Swiss and German reformers agreed.

We assume, utterly without scriptural justification, that we must agree on any issue we happen to feel strongly about to be united. And yet Rom 14 teaches to the contrary. The founding principles of our Restoration Movement teach to the contrary. And now we need to live what the Bible and the Restoration leaders both teach.

Therefore, the solution to the church’s lack of unity isn’t a series of unity meetings or speeches or papers. It’s for congregation A to reach out to congregation B and invite them to meet together for communion. It’s as simple as that.

It’s not a weekly prayer breakfast of pastors. It’s the Eucharist. It’s shared bread and wine. It’s remembering the death and resurrection with people who disagree over predestination or tongues or how often to take communion. We agree that Jesus is Lord, the Messiah, the Son of God, we’ve committed to be faithful to him, and we trust him to keep his promises to us – and so we may all take communion together. It’s just a step across the street to take communion together.

Not everyone there will have been baptized the way I think they should have been, but they all will consider themselves baptized. They’ve all obeyed that command as they understand it – and that’s all God requires.

I mean, we act like this is the hardest, most difficult thing in the world, and I’m telling you that unity is as easy as eating a cracker and sipping a cup of Welch’s grape juice or wine with someone who disagrees with you about something not nearly important as Jesus or the unity for which he prayed.

Now, we start there. Grape juice and matzos. We don’t even have to take up a collection. Just remember and proclaim Jesus at a shared table.  How hard would that really be?

Yes, there are narrow-minded, legalistic, hateful people who will “write you up.” So? Wear it as a badge of honor.

You may have family members who treat you as a stranger – and that won’t be any fun. But if I can’t suffer a sneer from my great aunt to follow Jesus, I’m not much of a Christian, am I? I mean, what greater cause could there be than the unity of the Christian church? Would I die for it? Well, then, I should be willing to endure an uncomfortable Thanksgiving or two. And if my family disowns me, well, I will have gained thousands, millions, billions of brothers and sisters. Someone will take me in.

Do it two churches at a time in a shared building. Most church buildings will easily accommodate a larger crowd once a quarter or so. And then, once a year, rent a basketball arena or football stadium, and invite every Christian in town to take communion together. It’ll be a lot of trouble, but God gifts many of our members with the organizational skills to pull it off.

There may be tensions over leavened vs. unleavened bread, fermented vs. unfermented fruit of the vine, who is authorized to say a blessing over the elements, who can pass the elements, whether people come forward or receive elements in their seats, and all sorts of other things. But people who love Jesus and desire his unity with the same passion he does will find a way. You’ll figure something out. It can happen because God wants it to happen.

Then the pastors can meet for a weekly prayer lunch. But at this point, pastoral prayer meetings will seem small and inadequate for a truly united church. Rather, we’ll need to have leaders gather to coordinate mission. Literacy programs. Food programs. Job training. All the things churches do separately they’ll want to do together. If I, a lifelong Church of Christ member, wish to participate in the Methodist’s job interview training program as a teacher, they’ll welcome me and I’ll feel like I belong.

God’s united church will be able to share talents and resources. We’ll stop competing and instead celebrate every conversion, every baptism, and every church plant in our town because we’re one. We’ll stop thinking like Wal-Mart and McDonalds and instead think like family. We’ll love each other. We’ll eat together. We’ll share ideas. We’ll swap pulpits. We’ll do theology together and might even persuade each other on a few points – but we’ll be far more focused on bringing the gospel to the damned and healing the brokenness of our community than getting all the churches agreed on the nuances of inaugurated eschatology.

Some churches will merge. Some will close their doors so their members can join churches that are better at doing God’s mission. Some will share youth ministers. I mean, leaving behind the American franchise competition model and trying God’s one-family model will be revolutionary.

And your hometown will notice. It will change everything.

_____________________

[1] C. N. Trueman, “The Marburg Colloquy,” The History Learning Site. (March 3, 2016).

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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17 Responses to Born of Water: So What? Part 2

  1. Johnny says:

    Amen and amen

  2. Price Futrell says:

    Couldn’t agree more !! Perhaps the division we see in society at large is because of the division within the body of Christ… If faith heritages came together… wow.. It might have a spectacular impact on the various faith heritages AND society at large… Now, that’s evangelism !!

  3. Mark says:

    You have to ask yourself first, to what/whom are you converting someone? If the answer is the cofC, then you might need to look at the Bible where it says there is one faith. If you are more interested in converting a Baptist than an atheist, you totally are pro-division. I have seen cofC elders spend inordinate amounts of time and effort to convert a Baptist. That time could have been spent teaching atheists and agnostics about God and the cofC children about Jesus and how to defend the faith. However, I am not many in Christianity know how to do that. Perhaps it was easier to convince a Baptist that IM was wrong and his/her baptism was incorrect.

  4. Mark says:

    typo: not too sure that many

  5. Jim H says:

    Agreed. The closest activities where Christians practice unity without considering doctrinal differences is at parachurch activities such as the Promise Keepers gatherings and prayers at sporting and other venues, when we were permitted by our constitution. I believe if more Christians were truly committed to their faith and the freedom to practice our faith guaranteed by our constitution that coming together to combat the progressive liberal determination of our government to eliminate any reference to Christian practices could be a unifying effort. Sadly, too few of us have a meaningful Christian worldview.

  6. Christopher says:

    Paul writes this to Timothy, a young leader in the church:

    Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16, NIV)

    Both the way we live our lives and our doctrine are essential to salvation – not so much being saved initially, but saved in the end. Neither are dispensible, therefore. What I hear you saying on the one hand, Jay, is that the erroneous doctrine of others on significant matters like baptism is immaterial. But on the other hand is akin to murder, with all sorts of dire consequences. It almost seems like you believe baptism, like remarriage after an unjustified divorce, is punctiliar. Or, to use a sports metaphor, one and done.

    But look at what Jesus says to the Samaritan woman in John:

    “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:22-24, NIV)

    We know that Jesus used a Samaritan as a figure of neighborly love in one of His parables. In doing so, he was acknowledging that people with the wrong doctrine can have a righteous heart. But here we see Jesus unreservedly telling a Samaritan she has the wrong doctrine – not to judge her (because He is obviously trying to save her), but because it was the truth.

    In light of this and other scriptures, I just don’t know how we pretend that important doctrinal differences (and I’m not talking about rules of men like not allowing instrumental music in worship services or having to give ten percent of your gross income to the church) don’t matter. I can see interacting with other denominations to do good works, build friendships, participate in joint bible studies, pray together and so forth. But I don’t think we have the right to rubber stamp significant doctrinal error, to sit in God’s judgement seat (for good or ill). Nor should we be unwilling to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith.

    You have already conceded, Jay, that the some kinds of erroneous baptismal theology leads to a high degree of nominalism. I don’t envision such people desiring to pick up the cross merely at your invitation, Jay. For instance, I have a neighbor who has invited me to church a couple of times but who thinks it’s okay for him to sleep with women or go to strip clubs because he admits he is a sinner and weak, but that is why Jesus died for him. In my experience, there are LOTS of people in churches like that. So I do not share your utopian vision of a large unified body built on divergent theologies. Certainly, there is a lot more leeway than the CoC has traditionally allowed. But not as much as you seem to be proposing.

    My proverbial two cents worth…

  7. laymond says:

    “Not everyone there will have been baptized the way I think they should have been, but they all will consider themselves baptized. They’ve all obeyed that command as they understand it – and that’s all God requires.”

    Amen, Christopher, I was wondering just how many deviations from Jesus’ gospel was OK with God. before it became a false teaching,

  8. Ed Dodds says:

    We need to openly about the economic benefits of division. For every fuss, where there was one pulpit job, now there are two; same song same verse re: “Christian” colleges, publishing houses, book store chains, etc. Unity employs fewer people. #realeconomick

  9. Woodlands jeff says:

    Amen!! It is long overdue.

  10. Dwight says:

    I am drawn to I John 1:6-10 “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”
    We are all sinners, even the best of us, but it isn’t about your sin, but about where you walk. Do you walk in sin or do you walk in the light of Jesus?
    Walking in the light as cast by Jesus places us in fellowship with others who are also walking in the light of Jesus. We are bound to others not by doctrine, but by Jesus. Now doctrine might cause us to not associate with others, but this might not be God’s doctrine, but ours.
    I think the majority of false teaching had to do with denying Christ or the things that make Jesus the savior and/or those who wished to impose things that were not doctrine on others as doctrine. It is the latter that causes much of the problems in the Kingdom leading to separations. We don’t focus on the important vital things. We instead focus like the Jewish leaders during Jesus time on the fringes. We should focus on mercy, and then sacrifice or in other words get busy applying what we know to do towards others which is more important than what we want to impose on others in regards to worship and the things in “worship”. Even when we talk of love in how we teach others, we don’t show love because we just want to teach them, but not help them as people. Even Jesus was not this obtuse.
    If we walked in Christ, more than we talked about what it takes to be in Christ, more of us would probably be more in Christ than we are.

  11. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    Chris,

    In light of this and other scriptures, I just don’t know how we pretend that important doctrinal differences…don’t matter.

    I don’t hear Jay saying that doctrinal differences don’t matter. I think he is saying that most of our doctrinal differences shouldn’t be used as a means to sever unity / fellowship.

    Baptists believe that one is saved and then baptized. Many COCs believe that one is saved in conjunction with baptism. At the end of the day, both believe and are baptized. Why sever unity over that difference. Let’s talk about it, sure. Let’s open God’s word and study, but let’s not sever fellowship over it.

    However, you are certainly right when you suggest that some differences may be insurmountable.

  12. Dwight says:

    I agree Kevin. The Sadducees and Pharisees are good examples of a split in Jewish religious thought where one thought they were better than the other and the wrong and the other thought the same as well. In the end they were both lacking in humility and having the scriptures all to themselves. Jesus many times points out that the people are actually better off than those who suppose they are better than others, because at least the people are unified in their repression and lowliness and meekness and poorness, etc.
    I don’t think Jay is arguing that important doctrinal matters don’t matter, but rather that like A.C. many matter that are disputable and man-made shouldn’t be enough to divide us from the true reality of Christ.
    I used to think that one must believe that one is saved at baptism, but now believe that one must come to Christ and be baptized to be saved and then they must live in Christ and belief in “the point of salvation” is not needed as long as they have faith and act on that faith in Christ. In Acts the people responding were not grilled on when they were saved, but told what they must do. They didn’t care when it happened, but rather that it happened.

  13. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    Agreed, Dwight.

  14. Christopher says:

    Kevin,

    Jay wasn’t just talking about Baptists, but also people (as infants) whose baptism precedes both faith and repentance. That’s quite a stretch and, I think, a dangerous one. It’s turning what the Bible teaches upside down. And, if you bothered to read my comments, you’d know I was not advocating not interacting with people in other denominations.

    BTW, not all Baptists believe one is saved when he believes. My mother was baptized years ago at 15 to wash away her sins. She therefore never did feel a need to join the CoC once I was converted, even though she came to church with me from time to time. The first church she ever attended as a child was a CoC as a regular guest of an adult neighbor.

  15. Larry Cheek says:

    I thought the concept that Jay is promoting here is that all who believe and have faith will be saved, baptism or not. “Born of water, so what?” He has been applying the faith of Abraham and all those in the OT as an example for no need to be “born of water”. I understood the message that as it was good enough for them it should be good enough for us also. I could be wrong but notice the preceding series, and tell us what you think.

  16. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    Chris,
    “If you had bothered reading my comments,” you would have noticed that I said, “some differences may be insurmountable.” Perhaps infant baptism is insurmountable for you. Perhaps it is for me. But perhaps it is not for, Jay. IDK. The point is that Jay is still my brother if he crosses the aisle in his community. Any aisle crossing in your own community, to the degree that you are able, furthers unity.

  17. Glenn Ziegler says:

    Unity for unity’s sake is NOT what Jesus prayed for in John 17. Being one body only matters if we are one IN CHRIST. Being one body (for the sake of illustration of the point) with Islamists and Hindis and Confuscionists has no eternal value of which I am aware. So it actually is a critical consideration to be aware with whom the true potential for meaningful unity exists. Just as Bibliolatry is wrong, so also unity-olatry is wrong, misguided, and certainly NOT what Jesus ever either supported or promoted.

    I have been gone from this list for several months – convinced more than ever that the arguments here were devolving into more and more vain speculations centered on flavor-of-the-day issues. Now I find that, upon my return, little (if anything) has changed in that regard.

    I do not doubt in the least that the participants here are sincere and earnest in their desire to serve Christ. I am also quite certain that those desires as as unfulfilled as ever. The answer isn’t in inventing some new approach that will succeed where many, many others before have failed.

    The answer is quite simple and gets complex ONLY when our focus wanders. Hebrews 12:1-4 points the way …

    “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. WE DO THIS BY KEEPING OUR EYES ON JESUS, ON WHOM OUR FAITH DEPENDS FROM START TO FINISH. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. Now he is seated in the place of highest honor beside God’s throne in heaven. Think about all he endured when sinful people did such terrible things to him, so that you don’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.”

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