Publication: Pastoral Letter, June 2006
Dear Friend in Christ:
I am writing this letter from Houston, Texas, where my wife, Carolyn, is a patient at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She is currently in a trial program due to a return of her cancer. She is feeling well with no symptoms, but a recent scan detected a small tumor and one other spot. We are walking in faith and are very appreciative of the medical care here. We also are very grateful for your prayers on her behalf.
The Gatlinburg 2006 Leadership Conference was a great success. Approximately 440 leaders attended. Bob Mumford, Terry Virgo, and Ken Sumrall did a terrific job in delivering the Word of the Lord to us. And, the spirit of reconciliation was evident; long term separation was overcome by the grace of God.
We are already looking ahead to 2007 with anticipation and prayer for guidance. I hope that you will consider attending. The dates are April 25-27, 2007. Gatlinburg is a beautiful setting and Bob Mumford will be able to speak again next year.
Terry Virgo brought two messages to the conference. He leads a network of approximately 500 churches and is a very respected leader among other networks. His leadership reaches several continents; he resides in England. His second message dealt with Ephesians chapter 4. I was struck by the importance of these verses once again. I would like to share some of my own thoughts from these verses.
PRISONERS OF THE LORD
All of us find ourselves confined by circumstance. In our case, Carolyn, and I are somewhat restricted by cancer. Paul seemed restricted by a Roman prison. However, he does not see it in a negative way. He sees his restriction or prison as God’s purpose. He never viewed himself as a victim of circumstance, nor do we. Therefore, he always looked to the Lord for how to use circumstances for God’s glory. In this instance, he used the occasion to write the Epistle to the Ephesians which has blessed and been a guide to the Church for nearly 2000 years. Because he looked to God, he received inspiration and guidance.
As we see in Ephesians 4, Paul often refers to his calling and exhorts us to find and fulfill ours. He knew when and why he was called and what he was called to do. He stayed on track. It was his calling that led him to prison and to write this inspired letter. To know the Lord is to know our calling and to accept where it leads us; then, to use our situation for His glory.
Paul’s approach to his calling was to accept it in humility. He often acknowledged that he was unworthy of it, but made every effort to conduct himself in a worthy manner. He tells us to do so as well. He uses words like humility, patience, forbearing, love, endeavoring, unity, and peace. In other words, it’s a continual effort not only to fulfill our calling but to do so in deference to others. This has been a problem for the Church.
Too often we see our own calling without making room for the call of others. Pride in our own call prevents us from helping others to fulfill their own call. Pride has led to division.
The antidote to division is humility_in other words, the cross. Humility is evidenced by our ability to put aside our agenda and assist others, trusting God to promote us as He chooses. This is what Jesus did at Calvary (see Philippians 2). And God the Father raised Him up and exalted Him.
Ephesians 4:4-6 point to the basis for unity. We are one in several foundational ways. When I say “we,” I mean all of us who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. Paul does not juxtaposition us against one another, he joins us together. We are one Body_not will be. We are. We are joined the moment we are joined to Christ. We may inflict injury to one another_but we do so to mutual harm and grief to Christ.
There is one Holy Spirit who has brought us to Christ who makes us alive together and who leads us. Violence to one another is violence against the Holy Spirit who has sealed us until the day of redemption.
There is one hope of our calling. In other words, we are all called to accomplish His purpose in the earth. His purpose is that He would be acknowledged as Lord over all, that the earth would be filled with knowledge of His glory, and He would inherit a glorious Church filled with resurrection power (see Ephesians 1:7-23).
The Church needs desperately to focus on our common call. We do not have time, nor do we have the resources to focus on our differences and petty issues. Politics, self-promotion and sowing discord indicate ignorance and immaturity. God hates these things (see Proverbs 6:19).
Paul reminds us that we have one Lord. That reality supersedes our institutional identities and personal preferences. If He is indeed Lord, then we must submit our will to His purpose. The only issue that determines our action is His will, not our emotions.
One faith is not a reference to our creeds. It is a reference to our trust in Him. Our faith is in Jesus. There are indeed many creeds and methods, but only one faith. We are joined by our common trust in Jesus. Other differences must be subordinated to our mutual faith in Jesus. That commonality reaches from those Roman Catholics who trust Jesus for salvation to Pentecostals who do likewise. Yes, there are those in every group who trust their own works as there are those who trust Jesus. But the issue is our mutual confession of His Lordship.
Over the years, I have ministered to a large variety of believers, including Catholics, Episcopalians, Baptists, Presbyterians, Charismatics, and Pentecostals. I had a Methodist grandmother who dearly loved the Lord and often shouted for joy. I am a debtor to all of them.
While I do believe that the Church is progressing in its revelation of Christ and how it should function, I do not subscribe to a criticism and juxtaposition against those who historically furthered the purpose of God. I am not “institutional’ in my understanding of the Church. But I was born in a Baptist hospital, a religious institution. I can never forget my debt.
One baptism? Yes only one (see 1 Corinthians 12:13). Paul did not say “one method of baptism.” He is not speaking of sprinkling or immersion. He is speaking of our being placed into the body of Christ. Yes, I do believe that the believer’s baptism by immersion is the biblical mode; however baptism by the Spirit into the body of Christ is the initial and overriding issue.
I also believe in the Baptism in the Holy Spirit at conversion or subsequent to conversion. But such an experience, while important, is not the apostle’s point here. Paul himself was filled with Spirit after he met Jesus. But his point here is that we all have been placed into Christ’s Body at conversion. Modes of water baptism must not separate us. Baptism into Christ is the issue.
ONE GOD AND FATHER
I wish I had more space to discuss this. Our God is our Father. We are family. We are being called upon to see each other as more than members of different institutions. We are brothers and sisters in Christ (see Mark 3:31-33).
Jesus took natural family principles and translated them into our spiritual lives. God’s purposes have always worked through family. He began with Adam’s family, began again with Noah’s family, again with Abraham’s family, and again with Jesus’ family. His purpose is that we should be fruitful, multiply, fill and bless the entire world.
Our ability to bless the world is directly related to our ability to bless each other in humility and love. Unity is the “trump card in the deck” of human responsibility. The road to reconciliation and unity goes through the cross_His and ours.
Unity is the foundation for diversity. If we recognize our unity in Christ, we can make room for our different callings without differences causing division. We need all of the diverse gifts in order to build the universal body of Christ, and the local church. Conformity to rules and cultural external norms will eliminate the diverse callings of the Holy Spirit and rob the Church of its power.
Ephesians 4 and First Corinthians 12 both point to unity in Christ as essential to enjoying the diversity of gifts and callings. Rather than eliminating diversity, we should celebrate it. It is the means by which the Church is built up to the glory of God (see Ephesians 4:10-16). As we are each secure in our own relationship to Christ and our personal call, we celebrate the multifaceted glory of the Church.
May God be glorified in our unity and our diversity.
Scripture Reference: Ephesians, Philippians, Proverbs, 1 Corinthians, Mark