“Mathematical” Missions

Today I’m taking a wide angle lens view of a topic that was my least favorite in elementary school and is becoming more and more apparent to me in real life: division. Not long division or fractions or exponents, although as a part-time homeschooling mom I am learning more about those, too.  What I’m talking about is division in the body of Christ.

Let’s begin by defining the body of Christ.  I am not referring to his actual body that went into heaven.  In Scripture, the body of Christ is a metaphor for all of Christ’s followers. In Romans 12, we see the whole of Christ followers referred to as “one body”:

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

In another example, the apostle Paul wrote a lengthy metaphor to the Corinthians in which he compared the way our individual bodies have many working parts (hands, feet, head, etc) that together form one body to the way Christ followers serve each other in different ways (teaching, encouraging, leading, giving, serving) that together make up one “body” of believers:

12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many….But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13; 23-26

These verses and more like them are found all over the New Testament.  We believers are called to be One Body of believers..whether we are slave or free, Jew or Gentile.  One body.  No division.

Yet everywhere I turn, I see disturbing evidence of division within the Christian community, from the early days all the way to the present time.  Some of the early Christians in Corinth began arguing over which of the apostles they followed: Paul, or Apollos, or Peter, or James.

11 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas[a]”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into[b] the name of Paul?

It is very tempting for us to latch onto a particular leader and elevate that person in our minds. We do this in politics to such an extent that the presidential primaries are more like Nascar races than sober deliberations of leadership — everybody wants to be on the winning team.  But when we do this in church, we are forgetting our oneness.  We are forgetting that we are above all called to put on LOVE and PEACE.

14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:14-16

Today’s Christian leaders have different names, but the argument is the same.  Do you follow MacCarthy? or Graham? or MacArthur? or John Piper?  How about Beth Moore? T.D. Jakes? or Joyce Meyer?

Just as people’s political beliefs fall somewhere along of spectrum from super conservative all the way to super liberal, people’s beliefs about religion also fall on a spectrum.  There are those like MacArthur who preach that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are no longer active in these present times. These believers read these words of scripture from 1 Corinthians 13

8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages[b] and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! 9 Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.

MacArthur and others on that side of religious spectrum believe the “time of perfection” mentioned above occurred when the Scriptures were officially canonized, or made official.  Then there are those in the other, charismatic camp who believe the “time of perfection” will not be attained until Jesus returns to the earth.

My take on this?  What does it matter?  Why do we argue and fuss over the meanings of words?

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.”  James 4: 1-2

Both sides could be right, and only the Lord himself knows what Paul truly meant when he penned those words to the Corinthians.  Whether I believe the time of perfection has come and gone or whether I believe it won’t be achieved until Christ returns does not trump the gospel message.  Period.

Lately it seems that members of one camp are lobbing word grenades at members of the other camp, disguised as an attempt to beware of false prophets.  Christians are prone to be as gullible as the next person, and we can easily be sucked up into the next “new” thing to hit the religious scene.  The Bible warns us to be on guard against false prophets.  In fact, we are even given a litmus test from Jesus, our ultimate authority:

15 “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. 16 You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. 19 So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. 20 Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

So in personally evaluating whether a leader is a false leader or a true one, Jesus tells us to take a good look at their actions.  Not at whether they believe miracles still happen, or whether they are good speakers or organizers or efficient at raising money.  If a leader we trust takes in millions of dollars and buys a jet and a home in Switzerland while firing staff members due to insufficient funds….it’s a pretty good guess that the tree dressed as an apple isn’t really an apple tree.

Jesus had more to say on the issue of false prophets in the context of the end times in Matthew 28.  He again warned us to beware not just of false prophets, but also of those who claimed to be Him:

23 “Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. 25 See, I have warned you about this ahead of time. 26 “So if someone tells you, ‘Look, the Messiah is out in the desert,’ don’t bother to go and look. Or, ‘Look, he is hiding here,’ don’t believe it! 27 For as the lightning flashes in the east and shines to the west, so it will be when the Son of Man[e] comes.

It’s clear we are to be on guard against false teachers rising up against us.  But if we look to the actions of those we listen to, we should be able to discern the truth. If their teachings bring us back to the truth about Jesus and confirm it, and if their lives reflect what they claim are their beliefs, then they are not speaking falsehoods.  John put it this way in 1John 4:

 1 Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. 2 This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet[a] acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. 3 But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.

There has been some internet chatter from some Christians who say that last week’s Passion 2012 conference was chock-filled with mystic, meditative (evil) prayer and that many of the speakers, such as Beth Moore and John Piper, are being deceived themselves and are in turn leading thousands of Christians down the wrong path, particularly by leading contemplative prayer.  I read those words and was struck not by the evidence presented but by the caustic, cruel tone used by the author. I go back to the direction from Scripture that we are to “over all these virtues, put on love…”  There was no love evident in the blog post that I read.  Instead, I saw division….something else that Jesus warned against.

24 But when the Pharisees heard about the miracle, they said, “No wonder he can cast out demons. He gets his power from Satan,[d] the prince of demons.”

25 Jesus knew their thoughts and replied, “Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart. 26 And if Satan is casting out Satan, he is divided and fighting against himself. His own kingdom will not survive. 27 And if I am empowered by Satan, what about your own exorcists? They cast out demons, too, so they will condemn you for what you have said. 28 But if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you. 29 For who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man like Satan and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger—someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house.

I do not pretend to understand all the underlying theological arguments that any side of the religious spectrum wish to make.  Rather, I prefer to keep my mind occupied with simple truths that are found in Scripture.  All this backstabbing really accomplishes is division.  Because when it all comes down to it, only one thing matters:

Who is Jesus?

If you believe that Jesus is God’s son, that he suffered and died to pay the price for our sins; if you confess Him as Lord and Savior and repent of your sins…that is ALL that matters.  The battle for your soul has already been won, Christ is the victor, and you will share in the prize.  Those who prefer to use scriptures to help them model their prayers, and those who prefer to pray the Lord’s Prayer only, and those who pray without ceasing, casting prayers throughout the day as circumstances warrant, and those who go into a closet to privately pray — all of these practices do not have any bearing on the state of a person’s salvation.  If it did, Jesus would have told us so.  Instead, he said:

16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

18“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.  John 3:16-21

In Christianity, it seems to me that our greatest “mathematical” missions are not division and subtraction, but rather are addition and multiplication.  We are about adding people to the fold…spreading the Good News, ultimately allowing the Lord to multiply the effects of love on a lean, mean, sinful world gone bleak due to division.

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