>The following is a message that I gave at the Indy East District Men’s Lenten Breakfast on March 8, 2008.

John 17:20-23 – 20″I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

When I heard this year’s theme for the Lenten breakfasts, the first thought that came to my mind was Aerosmith’s version of “Come Together.” I know, I know, many of you may be wondering why Aerosmith instead of The Beatles. Well, The Beatles haven’t released a new album since about a decade before I was born. And to make myself seem even younger than you think, when I was in high school, the movie Armageddon came out. Its soundtrack included four Aerosmith songs, one of which was “Come Together.” I actually did not know that “Come Together” was originally recorded by The Beatles until about a month ago. Therefore, every time I think of the song, I can hear Steven Tyler singing it in my head, for better or worse, I’ll let you decide. Now all of this brings me to a key point. I looked at the lyrics the other day, and that song makes no sense whatsoever. In fact, it makes so little sense that there is speculation all over the internet as to its actual meaning. Some say that it is total gibberish; others say that each verse is referring to one of the members of the Beatles; still others say that it was written for a political campaign that never materialized; and of course, there are others who argue that it is about drugs and sex. Through all the confusion concerning these lyrics, one thing is perfectly clear. Nobody really knows what this song means. Thankfully, this is not the case when it comes to Scripture. Yes, there are certainly times when Scripture is confusing and doesn’t seem to make any sense, but Scripture is more than random phrases thrown together, which cannot be said for this song.

There is a very clear and direct reason for Scripture. You see, Scripture is the revelation of who God is and what God has done. The Gospel of John is written with a purpose in mind. In fact, John states his purpose very clearly in John 20:30-31. The apostle writes, “30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John writes so that his audience may come to put their trust in Christ. John’s concern is for people to be unified with Christ. Perhaps this concern is clearest in chapter 17.

John 17 is part of the “high priestly prayer,” and it is the culmination of a dialogue that begins after Jesus washes his disciples’ feet in chapter 13. At the beginning of chapter 18, they go to the garden where Jesus will be betrayed by Judas. In other words, this is one of the last times that the disciples are talking to Jesus before his crucifixion. And what is the primary thing on Jesus’ mind? Unity. But not just unity – unity of the believers. And not just unity of the believers, but unity of the believers for the sake of the world.

You see, there’s a reason why we are called to be one in the body Christ. It’s not so that we can all agree on every issue. Unity for the sake of unity is misguided. There are issues in which the body of Christ should agree, and there will be some that deviate from the witness of Scripture. In these cases, unity can do more damage than good. What good is unity when it comes at the expense of the truth of the gospel? Charles Spurgeon, a British preacher in the 19th century, speaks on this subject.

A chorus of ecumenical voices keep harping the unity tune. What they are saying is, “Christians of all doctrinal shades and beliefs must come together in one visible organization, regardless… Unite, unite!” Such teaching is false, reckless and dangerous. Truth alone must determine our alignments. Truth comes before unity. Unity without truth is hazardous. Our Lord’s prayer in John 17 must be read in its full context. Look at verse 17: “Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth.” Only those sanctified through the Word can be one in Christ. To teach otherwise is to betray the Gospel.

Strong words. Very strong words from Spurgeon here. We are not called simply to agree on all issues – that is not unity. We are called to be unified through the truth of the Word. The truth of the gospel, sanctification through the Word, is how unity is accomplished. You see, it is only when we give up our desires, our priorities, our agendas that we can truly be sanctified through the Word. It is a matter of submitting our whole life to Christ. Our spiritual life, our physical life, our intellectual life, our relational life, our political life – every aspect of our lives must be submitted to Christ. If this is not the case, then all the unity in the world is for nought. The world can be unified in a lie. The world can be unified in the inconsequential; however, unity in the truth of the gospel is getting exceedingly difficult in today’s world.

We live in a world in which the prevalent thought is “I’m okay, you’re okay. Let’s believe whatever we want.” It’s a world in which people can believe anything as long as it makes them feel better. And there is certainly no shortage of belief systems out there. In fact, I came across a rough estimate that stated some 4,684 different religious groups in the United States alone. This is the world that is around us every day!

John Wesley is often quoted as saying, “Think and let think.” Too often this has been used to lead us down a cushy path of theological relativism; however, the full quote is “we think and let think except in matters that cut to the root of Christianity.” “Except in matters that cut to the root of Christianity.” There are some basics of the faith that we cannot sacrifice for the sake of unity, and one of those basics is the authority of Scripture when it comes to the Christian life. Scripture is not just a historical anthology that merely covers a few thousand years. It is not something that gives us some neat ideas about how to be better people, but otherwise has no bearing on our personal lives. NO! If that is all there is to Scripture, then how is it any more relevant than any book out there written by people such as Dr. Phil? It can’t be. If Scripture is just about self-improvement, then there are other books that we could substitute – books that may be less challenging and make fewer demands on our lives; books that would be much easier to swallow. Scripture is not just a book.

One of the biggest mistakes that has occurred in Methodism in the past forty years was the advent of the term “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” The Wesleyan Quadrilateral was a term coined by Albert Outler in the mid-1960’s to discuss Wesley’s means of theological reflection. It is a matrix by which one takes into consideration Scripture, tradition, reason and experience in developing a theological foundation. The way that the term has been interpreted over the years has had a profound influence in certain sectors of the United Methodist Church.

What is a quadrilateral? It’s an object with four sides. People have taken this concept to mean that the four sources for doing theology are equally relevant. In other words, tradition is just as important as reason, which is just as important as experience and all three are just as important as Scripture when it comes to developing a theological understanding of the world. But you see, this is a flawed approached. It is not one that John Wesley used. Nor is it the approach that we are to use as United Methodists. Outler himself has said that he regrets using the term “quadrilateral for “contemporary use because it has been so widely misconstrued”. In Wesley, we see somebody for whom Scripture was primary because Scripture, as the revelation of who God is and what God has done, is the final authority for all things regarding the Christian life. For Wesley, and for us today, Scripture is the primary source of our theological understanding. The other aspects – tradition, reason and experience – are all important, but they cannot superceed what has been revealed through Scripture. In John 17, that is what Jesus is talking about – God’s word is truth, and for us today, in 2008, Scripture is a witness of God’s word. There is no room for theological relativism when we see Scripture as authoritative in our lives – our whole life, every aspect of it.

I heard Jeff Greenway, the former president of Asbury Theological Seminary, say on several occasions that the biggest issue facing the United Methodist Church in the next 20 years is not the political hot topics that keep coming up, but the authority of Scripture. Because if Scripture is authoritative in our lives, and we submit to Scripture, then many of these hot button issues are no longer issues, and we can truly be unified as the body of Christ, which brings me to another key point – unity is not for ourselves, but for the world.

The unity of the body of Christ is necessary to serve as a witness to an unbelieving world that is in desperate need of a Savior. One of the primary complaints that I have heard about the Church is that it is full of hypocrites. Of course, I want to say, “Come join us, you’ll fit right in,” but that is often not the best way to approach the subject. But do you see what the problem is here? People within the local congregations are not living out the Christian life Monday through Saturday. Being a Christian is not just a Sunday morning obligation to attend worship service; it is an entire lifestyle. But when we fail to live out our faith, when all we see in the news is Christians bickering back and forth, when we hear about local congregations dividing and fighting over the color of the carpet, why should the world think otherwise?

We do not exist solely as a local congregation. We do not exist solely as the South Indiana Conference. And we do not exist solely as the United Methodist Church. We exist as the body of Christ. Jesus’ prayer is that we can all be united so the world may know who Jesus is and so that the world may know that it is loved by God. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter if you are United Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, or Pentecostal. Do we have some theological disagreements with some of our non-United Methodist brothers and sisters? Of course we do. Are those disagreements so wide that we cannot come together with them as representatives of the body of Christ to a hurting world? I don’t think so. So I believe that infants can be baptized and that people do not have to be immersed in their baptism. That doesn’t make me a better representative of Christ than my Baptist brothers and sisters. Sure, it makes for a good, light-hearted theological conversation from time to time. But ultimately, if I were to use that as a point of contention, then I am the one that is going directly against what Jesus is praying for in John 17. And I am adding fuel to the fire that stops us from being representatives of Christ to an unbelieving world.

It is important to recognize that our unity is in Christ and Christ alone. It will not be found in theological systems, it will not be found in denominations, and it will not be found in individual ministries. It is only when we are all looking to Christ, submitting ourselves to the Word that we can truly be the body of Christ and show the love of Christ to the world. I want to close today with a quote. It comes from A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God. Tozer was an evangelical pastor, preacher and writer during the first half of the 20th century. Hear now his words,

Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.

When we turn our eyes away from Jesus, we start looking elsewhere for what should be right in front of us. Unity in the body of Christ comes when we all are in Christ, even as the Son was in the Father. So let’s come together. Let’s come together and turn our eyes upon Jesus. It is then and only then that we are truly ready to be witnesses of Christ for the world.

Just some musings from a traveling pilgrim.

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