All the Saints

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I went to church this morning in Peachtree City, Georgia. The pastor spoke from Ephesians 6 where Paul writes about engaging in a battle against spiritual forces and encourages his readers to stand firm. The sermon contained nothing new. But I noticed something I hadn’t before that got me thinking. Paul concludes his description of the “full armor of God” with an injunction:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

While it’s true that the huge fault lines created by the Great Schism and the Reformation had not yet appeared in the church, still there were divisions. Even from the very beginning there were Grecian Jews who complained that their own widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food (Acts 6). Culture divided the church between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, men and women. Yet Paul’s vision was of a church somehow still united, a church so devoted to following Jesus that it would pray for all the saints.

In our own day the church looks more divided than ever. Not only are there various denominations (and groups refusing to become denominations), the church is also divided between Democrats and Republicans, black and white, those who favor gun control and those who oppose it, pro-gay and pro-marriage, pro-abortion and anti-abortion. All the diversity found in our nation appears also in the church.

Some want to exclude those who differ in matters of politics or social policy by refusing to acknowledge that they are really brothers or sisters. Some want to deny that God’s grace might save a man without making him pro-gay or might deliver a woman without making her anti-abortion. But Paul makes it clear that all the divisions that separate us are nothing compared to the faith that unites us, faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God.

I certainly don’t want to pretend that the issues that divide the church are unimportant. They are not. However, we don’t have to let those divisions keep us from enjoying our unity in Christ. That enjoyment will present a powerful testimony to the world and open our own eyes to the possibility that each of us might be in some measure wrong. We can disagree. We can urge one another to see different points of view. But in all our interactions we must treat each other with love and respect. There should not be any name-calling or sarcastic put-downs. We ought not to mock or deride one another. We gain nothing by regarding one another as wicked or insane.

I confess, I have been guilty. I have joined with those who vilify fellow Christians for religious or political differences. Forgive me. With God’s help I will do so no longer. Instead, I will pray for all the saints.

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2 Responses to All the Saints

  1. Doug Bogart says:

    Unity! What a concept.
    One faith, delivered to Peter and the other Apostles, the authority to teach it passed down through the laying on of hands to their successors (episcopoi,bishops) and still proclaimed through the teaching authority of the Church in union with Peter’s successor.
    It’s only through the legitimate authority of a teaching magisterium that we have any chance of unity. If each of us is free to interpret Scripture (me and Jesus) we will continue to have divisions that scandalize our world.
    Chip,I totally agree that those things which unite us as brothers in Christ are of primary importance and I hope you don’t hear me mocking, deriding or vilifying.
    Someday I would really love to have the time to sit down and discuss why we became convinced of the need for and the blessing of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. It is so wonderful to be home in the bosom of the Church Jesus founded on Peter.
    Peace in Christ,

    • Chip Burkitt says:

      I’d just like to point out that the Catholic church is not the only one claiming authority through apostolic succession and maintenance of the traditions of the church fathers. The Orthodox tradition does the same. Even Protestants, though they locate authority in scripture alone (as if that were really possible), lay claim to an authority that goes back to the first century, relying solely on the undoubted words of Jesus and his disciples found in the New Testament, and Charismatics claim a continuing revelation that interprets scripture according to the ongoing revelation of the Holy Spirit. All these traditions lay claim to an absolute authority, at least on certain matters, and all tend to exclude one another on the basis of that authority. What I would like to see is an abandonment of the claims to exclusivity while holding on to those things we all agree on. A worldwide church that becomes truly one would have an incalculable impact for the kingdom of God.

      May God bless you in all things as you continue to trust in him, working with all diligence for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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