The songwriter John Fawcett wrote it in 1783, ‘Blessed be the ties that bind, our hearts in Christian love, the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.” If Fawcett is right then the fellowship of the saints is sacred to God. If it was in 1783 ait still is over two hundred years later. I think Fawcett had it together and when I go to the scripture I find verses that support that. Psalm 133 says it is good for brethren to dwell in unity and Hebrews 13:1 simply says, “Let brotherly love continue.”
As I look at the Christianity over the last forty years I see many falling away but I am also seeing an increasing desire by many to build a closer relationship with God. Even many outside the church aspire to come closer to Him or at least some higher being. On the surface this looks good, sounds good and smells good but is it His plan? God is not into the superficial. He wants it all. This is good but all too much of this ‘getting close to Him’ is done at the expense of the relationships with and service to our fellow man. James says faith without works is dead. Sometimes the embracing God is done to avoid those relationships with the saints and run from that service. Historically the convent was used by some to withdraw. I remember one prophet who spoke God’s word that she heard God say that some would have to give up friendships to follow Him. She portrayed it as she and her husband having to do this. I took it for face value but a year later I looked back and realized it was God’s word to my wife and me. The group took a turn from God’s will, we stayed and when we could no longer make an impact, God moved us on. Note I say that He moved us on, we didn’t leave till He directed it.
I will be frank. When the relationship with our brothers and sisters in the Lord suffers and often becomes nearly extinct I raise serious questions about what is causing that. We piously say that we have to give up this world to please God but let me ask, “Can you really go to God and tell Him you are pleasing Him?”
Deep down when it is just you and Him can you justify your actions? Really, can you? I am not for one moment suggesting you neglect the relationship with God. I am suggesting it be balanced. The scripture says that Jesus grew in wisdom (mental) and stature (physical) and in favor with God (spiritual) and man (social). Are we to be like Him?
I have been one who has at times walked away, not from God but from my brothers and sisters in the church. I have said, “They aren’t going to have Ralph to kick around again,” but in each case it has not taken me long to come to the realization that this is not God’s way and I cannot control what happens to me but I can control how I react to it. I have also been reminded that I have not resisted unto blood. Jesus did that for me.
Jesus said that he would let us in the world. We are there to be salt and light. Is that to only to the unsaved or is it to be even more so to those who are of the household of the faith? Paul said to do good to all men more especially those who are of the household of the faith. He did not qualify that if they have not mistreated you. What should we do? I will let that for you to answer.
Let us look at the signs this is happening.
Losing basic relationships for close ones. This is one of the first signs and is spoken of in the word. “The love of many will wax cold.”
It does not say the love for God will wax cold but that love will wax cold. Sure we see the love for God wax cold but we see in the church the love one for another is waxing cold. Is this love manifested when the pastor tells us to greet one another? I hope it is. But allow me some other times. When you are at a meeting and leave the church does the group collectively ‘wait one for another?’ I will explain. Does everyone rush off letting the guy who us closing up alone or does someone wait till they see lights on his car and movement? If someone waits does the same person do it nearly every time? If someone isn’t feeling well does someone offer to drive the person home or follow that person home? There are hundreds of ways to show love. These are only two of the many.
Support another’s character. If someone walks up to you and says, “I saw a John Smith was arrested last night. Do you think that is John who teaches Sunday School?” How do you answer that? I wouldn’t even say that I don’t know. That allows the supposition that you might have some reason to believe the story. If you don’t know it isn’t the John you know it would be better to say, “I really wouldn’t expect the John I know to do something wrong.” In that you protect John’s character by not casting any slight inference of credibility to the story. If he is innocent, either by false charge or wrong identity you have not added the load of your words. You also protect your character. If the charge is true you will not be thought to be defending a wrongful act and by not casting stones you may allow the door to be open to help John.
I have seen extensive writings bashing men of God. I wish those who spend valuable time writing and distributing these would make better use of that time.
The reputation of every Christian is my business. Allow me to explain that. Sure your reputation is mainly based on what you do. But let’s look at a very recent example of several Christians who have been in the national public eye. Because they were conservative Christians the liberal press had a field day taking things out of context, making unfair comparisons, bending the truth, and at times engaging in outright lies. This was despicable but I heard Christians bash their brothers and sister by repeating those same lies as if they were gospel and even adding to them. Often those Christians put party politics above Christian love. Brethern, this should not be.
These who are in the public eye were walking a tough enough road. And they may have been real hope for nation. The bible does not say that it is good to have a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent or whatever in office but it says a nation with a king that is righteous is blessed. More than a couple times in the last century we sold our birthright of a righteous leader for the bowl of pottage called a government handout. We have had few opportunities like the one in 2008 when there were three strong Christians in the one party vying to fill the top slot and an even stronger Christian was picked for the second slot. Sadly some Christians rejected that gift from God because it was wrapped in a skirt and blouse not trousers and a shirt and tie! The lies that we have allowed to be preached against women in leadership and ministry came home to roost! Others rejected her and her running mate because of her skin color and voted for a man who had been schooled in hatred by a racist preacher and supported abortion. May God forgive us! As an aside that preacher is condemned out of his own mouth. He is not preaching the word of God but the word of a Socialist. He proudly states that every chance he gets.
I can critique but never be critical. This is so important in the church. It is also a tactic that will put you above others in the business world. Many can be critical. But few can critique events and not become critical of people. It is an ability to look at and describe what is wrong while pointing to ways of improvement. It is showing a more excellent way without bashing and browbeating the ones involved. Paul tells of that more excellent way in I Corinthians 12 as he introduces chapter 13, the chapter on love.
Let us be prudent. I must protect my brother but never his sin. Here is the crux of conflict and the evidence of wisdom. How can I protect my brother who has committed some sin and not protect his sin? This was the problem facing the Catholic Church in the priest sex scandals. From the Vatican down the church failed the test. Covered sin is like a land mine waiting to go off. They covered and protected the sin. It led to disaster, spiritual and financial. And there have been other churches that fell into this. I mention the Catholic Church here because it is the best known example. It does not make it the worst.
I must never allow differences to divide. Here is the seeming contradiction. There will be differences in the church. They will either be in the open or they will be hidden under the rug, like a viper waiting to come out and bite. Differences in the church must be handled so they do not divide. One of the examples of this is in Acts 15 where Paul took Silas and Barnabas took John Mark. There was a dispute here about John Mark’s fitness to minister. I am not sure but there is indication Barnabas was taking the higher road in regard to John Mark. But because Paul and Barnabas could to agree, even if that agreement was to separate and work separately it ended the division. Here were two fine men of God who were unable to come to agreement over a small thing and parted. This may be the pattern we need to consider when this happens.
The Mennonite church in the 1970’s came to such an impasse on several issues regarding worship. This great organization has remained one while in some areas there may be three Mennonite churches, one old line, one Evangelical, and one Charismatic. They worship separately most of the time in quite different ways but a few times a year they have combined services. They are in these services sensitive to the others. And just as important the very effective Mennonite Relief Agency is one. They did not destroy a good work because of what are really minor differences. They fight common enemies like disasters together. Their mode of worship varies but they understand love for the others and the greater community and I believe this may have been the driver that helped them. They could not see how it was of God to not continue the good work so they had to figure out a way to continue. God bless them for their efforts. They did not come to this place without some angst and turmoil. And they made some mistakes in the process. But they got there. And I know that they still have some occasional opportunities for problems but they generally don’t take them and if they do for a season it is short.
One of the ironies of my journey over the years is it almost has what we computer programmers call a loop in it. My grandpa, William Henry Brandt was one of two men who helped construct and start a church in the Mt. Holly Springs area. It was and is still called Mt. Victory although the denominational name has gone from the original United Brethern (I think that is one neat name, United Brethern) to Evangelical United Brethern and is now United Methodist. The name is not as important to me as the spirit that is in a place. That is not in the building. It is in the hearts of the church, the people who gather there.
My journey has taken me through several Pentecostal/Charismatic congregations, back woods tent meetings, major revival meetings with Oral Roberts and Clifton Ericsson, a Methodist church during college and one Charismatic Mennonite church in the 1980’s. I have been a part of the “word, faith and prophetic movements” since that time. Today I find myself in a United Methodist congregation and am hoping they do not find a reason to throw me out because I am as sure as I can be that I am in God’s will being there even though some of my Charismatic friends think I have gone over to the enemy. I am working to show them the truth and that is difficult. That may be the time for which I was placed here. I am at peace there but not always comfortable. I have been challenged by the pastor and several teachers. The love for one another is the one thing I can point to as being at the core of this congregation.
That congregation has helped me to take another step, to repent for some pride that I carried from other church backgrounds. I am better for that and have become intensely aware that it is very easy for a person, church or group to fall into that trap. I am including it here because I want others to, as Paul wrote, “Let a man examine himself.” Let each one look at his or her own heart.
In Psalm139 verse 23 and 24 David asks God to search his heart and see if there be any wicked way in him.
Psa 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts,
Psa 139:24 and see if any wicked way is in me; and lead me in the way everlasting.
Note that God will lead us, we have to follow that leading.
Too often Christians see a wicked way as smoking, drinking, adultery, homosexuality, drugs, theft, and murder. But allow me to ask, “Where does religious pride fall? Is that a wicked way?” How does God view not properly recognizing my brothers and sisters in the Lord for any reason, color, nationality, gender, church affiliation, just to name a few. What does the scripture say?
It is covered more than a few places but it is no clearer than it is in a verse that we hear every nearly time we partake of communion. The scripture talks about not discerning the Lord’s body.
1Co 11:29 For he who eats and drinks unworthily eats and drinks condemnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
1Co 11:30 For this cause many among you are weak and sickly, and many sleep.
Yes, the Lord’s body is represented by the broken bread but in communion it is also physically present in the brothers and sisters who share that time with us. And if we do not recognize or discern them Paul says, “for this cause many are sickly among you and many sleep.” I have heard several interpretations of the sickly and sleep. They range from spiritual sickness and unawareness to physical ailments and premature death. I believe all apply.
About twenty years ago I participated in a worldwide communion service. People around the globe met in arenas and there was a service that spanned every continent except Antarctica. The men who collectively set this up were Paul Cho in Korea and John Osteen in Texas. Audio in several languages was available on the downlinks. I had the privilege to be part of the team who managed the site at the Zembo Mosque in Harrisburg Pennsylvania. We sent out over a thousand letters to churches in the York and Harrisburg area. We did not ask for money in the letter. That was covered outside that mailing. It was simply, “Will you participate?” Some didn’t respond. Those didn’t bother me. Pastors get lots of things and it may have conflicted with something good happening at the local church. It may have just been not given attention. They may have read it and thought it was a scam. But I was taken aback by some of the calls we got. We got calls from churches in one denomination that clearly told us that if the elements weren’t made in a certain way, blessed by and handed out by their clergy they were advising their congregations to stay away. We invited them to have their clergy come, bless the elements and help with the handing out. They declined the offer. Some called and stated the cup had to contain alcohol, others were adamant it should not. As an aside out of love if I were a pastor it would not contain alcohol and I wish all churches would do that. I fear the practice of two cups because it could be a disaster if there is a mistake. I could not take the risk of hurting a recovering alcoholic. Some would not come because it was not in a church building, some because of the particular building. The excuses reminded of the people invited to the marriage supper. But several thousand came. The men who did the satellite downlink and video projection were not committed Christians but I saw more respect for what was happening from them than some of the church. We offered them the opportunity to participate. I am sure some would have heartburn with that action but it was done out of love. I remember Matthew 8:11 and 12.
Mat 8:11 And I say to you that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven.
Mat 8:12 But the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
For lots of silly reasons they did not discern the Lord’s body.
We used most of the elements that were shipped to us. And we had a backup plan. We had mapped out a plan if the number who came was greater than the number of sets of elements. There was a grocery not far away. We would have gotten small cups, bread, grape juice and if at all possible everyone would be served. We would have been one.
I will go back to the beginning of this. “Blessed be the ties that bind our hearts in Christian love.” John said, “Little children love one another.” Paul said, if I “have not love I am a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal,” a bunch of annoying noise. Jesus said, “By this will all men know ye are my disciples that you love one another.”
Fawcett got it right! Now we need to follow.
Other Articles by Ralph Brandt
Christian Perspective On Hatred Feb 20, 2007