One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One Mission
We all hate it when there is an awkward silence around the table. There we are with people we know well, and no one is speaking. You hear the forks touch the plates, you notice when someone clears their throat. You avoid random eye-contact, exchange furtive glances at allies. It’s embarrassing. There is an elephant in the room that no one can talk about. His weight squashes small talk.
Awkward silence around the table is not how we picture heaven, is it? How could we? There is supposed to be joy around the table at the banquet hosted by Messiah, where we all feast on rich delicacies together, right? Wasn’t that Isaiah’s vision?
Who else will be there?
But I’m wondering how that’s going to work out. What if Jovan is there (name changed since this is posted on the internet). If he is there, sitting near me, how can there be anything but an awkward silence? I’ll come back to Jovan in a minute to explain.
Wouldn’t there be an awkward silence around the table if Northern Irish Catholics had to
sit near Protestants? What if Rwanda’s Christian Hutus were seated next to Tootsies? What if the World War II vets were all in the same area, Christians from France and Germany, England, Italy and the United States – all mixed together like a tossed salad?
Germans and Christianity (my people)
Let’s think about this more deeply. Let’s stay with WWII for a moment. My ancestors were German. I want to ask them some questions. I want to ask those that have been Catholics since the conversion of the Germanic tribes what it meant for them to call themselves Christians?
I want to ask those who have been Lutherans since the 16th Century and Reformed (Presbyterian) for all that time too, what did it mean to be Protestant Christians? What did it mean to affirm the great slogans of the reformation: “sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura” (grace alone, faith alone, scriptures alone)? What did it mean to proclaim “ad fontes” (back to the fountainhead – the sources, the origin)?
Here is my question: if after hundreds of years of catechisms and sermons, how was it that so many of us were so easily and completely seduced by the demonic doctrines of Hitler’s fascism?
Could it happen again?
This is World Communion Sunday: these questions have to be asked. One of the most frightening questions that refuses to leave the background chatter in my head is “Why should this not happen again? What is to prevent it? If hundreds of years of Christianity failed, what is to prevent it now, when there is even less general Christian education, less Bible reading, less church involvement, less of a Christian consensus?”
As you know, our family spent a decade in Croatia, one of the republics that had been part of the former Yugoslavia. Most of the citizens of that federation wore the name “Christian.” The vast majority were either Catholic or Orthodox Christians. Muslims, mostly in Bosnia, accounted for about 17% of the population. They all fought each other at various times and places during the war, but in the end, especially in Bosnia, the Croatian Catholics were in alliance with the Bosnian Muslims against the Orthodox Serbs. Or we could put it this way: Christians plus Muslims against other Christians.
In Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo, the scene of a horrible siege and numerous atrocities, a Catholic priest said this: “If merely 10% of my people were really genuine Christians, this war could not have happened.” Well, it happened.
Would there be an awkward silence around the table if Serbs and Croats, Orthodox and Catholic Christians were seated near each other?
Would there be an awkward silence if I had to sit near Jovan? Jovan was a young man who finished the seminary where we taught. He was from a different background but applied to become a pastor in the Reformed (Presbyterian) Church. Most of our congregations were Hungarian-speaking, but Jovan was put in charge of one of our few Croatian-speaking congregations.
After the horrible ethnic war that broke up Yugoslavia the newly independent Reformed Church in Croatia had to organize itself. During that process, Jovan led the people of his Croatian-speaking congregation into an anti-Hungarian furor. They split away from the Reformed Church, and formed their own new denomination, undoing a unity that had been in place since the 16th century.
Bringing it close to home
I hope I am not boring you with stories of a situation that is over a decade old and from a little place far away that has nothing anymore to do with us. I only do so because of how quickly our defensive walls would go up if I began by talking about whites like us sitting at that table with blacks or Mexicans or other immigrants. And if I ventured to say that our Christianity had anything at all to do with our politics, or our social policies, some might want to tune me out if not fire me. It’s much safer to talk about Nazi’s or Balkans.
But we must make it personal; this is at the very heart of our Christian faith and cannot be left standing silently like an elephant in the room. It was our Lord Jesus himself who said that the very authenticity of our witness to the gospel was at stake in the question of our unity:
[Jesus, in prayer says:] “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
“So that the world may believe” – the authenticity of our witness to the truth of the gospel is at stake. Please tell me how this issue could be successfully avoided.
The joy of diversity
Listen; this not a bitter pill to swallow, this is a source of joy and delight. How many of you enjoy French cuisine? How about Italian sauces? Do you like to eat Chinese? How about Mexican food? Doesn’t variety enrich us? Isn’t it better that there is variety? Yes of course. When everything is monochrome we do not call it beautiful; the beauty is in the bouquet. It is the variety of birds that makes watching them interesting. It is the diversity of fish that makes the aquarium a pleasure.
The foundation of unity
It is not simply a matter of taking pleasure in diversity, it is that the truth is that underlying all of this diversity is unity. There is only one God; he has only one Son. His son has only one Body. The Body of Christ is not a dismembered corpse, but a living single body. There is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:4-6).
There is not a body of Christ for blacks and one for whites; one for Mexicans and one for Caucasians; there is only One Body and we are all equally members of it. This was the lesson the apostle Paul was at pains to teach his ethnically mixed congregation in Corinth:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Let us extend the banquet metaphor since Paul just brought up drinking: the wine in our glasses at the great banquet table will be the same wine: the wine of the Spirit. We will share that same wine with Croats and Serbs, Hungarians and Romanians, Hutus and Tootsies, Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, yes blacks, and yes, Mexicans of the illegal and the legal variety.
What should we do?
So what are we to do in the mean time? Well, at minimum, we are to live in such a way now that there will not be any causes for awkward silences around that table. We are to live in such a way now that we do not deny our differences any more than we deny that there are dozens of ways to prepare fish. Rather we celebrate our differences as the variety that gives life joy.
The body of Christ is One. We Christians have One Lord, one faith, and one baptism. We have all been sent on the same mission: to declare that Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus Christ is not our tribal god, but the Lord of all! There will be a day when “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. “ No nation can claim him; no social group owns him; he is not the mascot for any political party. Today, on World Communion Sunday, we gather around His table proclaiming, not an idea, not a wish, but the truth: Jesus is Lord!
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.