Reflection on the Unity for which Jesus Prayed: Peter & Cornelius

Sometimes we need to hesitate, suspend judgment and be open to the prompting and move of the Holy Spirit who comes along side us to achieve the unity for which Jesus prayed.


The message I listened to today in the online Chapel Street Church service was about the prayer Jesus said for us in John 17:20-23:

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you 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. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

It got me thinking about what I see in my social media platforms: the polarization, division and disunity among the people with whom I am connected. Our nation is as divided as it ever has been in every possibly way.

When we look at the church, do we see a contrast to what we see in the world? Or do we see the same kind of division and disunity in the church?

I know my initial reaction to those questions, but let’s not jump to conclusions yet. God’s word doesn’t go out and come back void. If Jesus prayed this, can’t God accomplish it?

When I look out on the Church and think about Church history, I see a lot of division and disunity. Our history books focus on the disagreements, rather than the agreements. In fact, we see disagreement right from the beginning: Paul disagreed with the Gnostics: the Corinthians were fighting over following Paul or Apollos; and even Peter and Paul disagreed over whether to continue to follow Jewish laws on foods and religious rituals.

Disunity seemed to spring up immediately. Or did it?

Paul would say the Gnostics were not true believers. They denied the deity of Jesus and the reality of the resurrection, among other things. Paul urged the Corinthians not to identify as followers either of himself or Apollos, but to identify as followers of Jesus only. The Holy Spirit settled the disagreement over the eating of foods and Jewish rituals when He gave Peter a vision that was repeated three times followed by a “divine appointment” with Cornelius, a Gentile.

In the rest of this blog post I will explore Peter’s story, and what it might mean for us, and maybe I will come back to the other examples in future posts. Continue reading “Reflection on the Unity for which Jesus Prayed: Peter & Cornelius”

Loneliness, Singleness and the Church Family

Some values evident in the original church family have been lost over the years in western culture


Rebecca McLaughlin, in her book, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion, made an observation that inspires my article today. I make references to many people, often the same people over and over again, who inspire my thoughts. I am indebted to the many serious Christian thinkers who have plowed ground that make it easy for me to walk the paths after them.

About a third of the way into the ninth chapter (Isn’t Christianity Homophobic?), she talks about loneliness and singles in the church. She strikes some real gold – some nuggets lost in our modern culture. I’m afraid that we have developed traditions over the years in the west that have plowed under values that once informed the early church.

A tradition of rugged individualism and self determination that is, perhaps, unrivaled anywhere in the world, is inbred into our American culture. Our suburban lifestyle is uniquely American, with our manicured lawns separated from our neighbors by fences and hedges. These are, perhaps, the gentrified vestiges of the farmstead claims staked by American pioneers against world, enemies and neighbors alike.

We circle the wagons today around the family unit, which has increasingly come under “attack” from secular constructs of village-raised children and re-imagined, more inclusive family structures to fit changing societal mores. These things changes have caused conservatives and Christians to double down on the traditional, American family construct.

Traditional, though, is normative, and norms change. Not more than 150 years ago families looked different than they do today. In fact, they looked a little more like the modern family than the average person might realize.

From not long after the first generations of New World immigrants came ashore, families and communities of families began to migrate, drifting south, west and sometimes north, clearing areas for homesteads. The ever changing family compositions can be traced from one decennial census to the next. Not may households remained static from one census to another.

My father, who researches genealogies, shines some historical light on the norms of the frontier movement in writing books about those migrations. From census to census to census, the story is told.

Family units were ever changing in combination of husbands, wives, children (both minors and adults). Family often included a grandparent, niece or nephew, neighbor or border. Children were born; children died; children moved away and moved back. Spouses died. They we replaced by new spouses or neighbors who helped with the children and then became spouses… or not.

One of the main challenges of doing genealogical research through the 19th Century is in determining the relationships of all the people in those from one decennial census to another and tracing the changes from decade to decade.

The Industrial Revolution began to change the composition of family units into more static and defined structures that eventually became the “traditional” American family.

What we assume to be the traditional family unit today is of relatively recent vintage. The Little House on the Prairie is more of a sentimental, re-imagining of the way it was than history. Even then, we get a hint of the interdependence of community that was much more intimate than our anemic sense of community today. This is true even with greater distance separating homesteads than a thin veil of fences and hedges distinguishing suburban lots.

The distance that separates people in modern western life, however, might as well be miles. We live as if we don’t need our neighbors, and we largely don’t even know them. Those fences and hedges might as be walls.

In that sense, the observation that McLaughlin makes reveals the back-filled soil of modern western culture that covers an ancient value that has been plowed under in the process of all those years of western development.

Continue reading “Loneliness, Singleness and the Church Family”

God Is Always Doing a “New Thing”

We need to be open to hear God’s voice and the direction He wants us to go in these present times


I think many Christians, most of them, look a bit skeptically at the charismatic element of the Church universal. We conjure up images of the prosperity Gospel and “holy rollers”. The New Testament, though, reads like a charismatic diary.

 The dispensationalists will say that God worked like that only for a time, only until the New Testament was “codified” into a cannon. Now we don’t need God to speak to people directly through prophetic words and such. We don’t need signs and wonders because we have the Bible now.

They might be right, but maybe not. God doesn’t fit into the boxes we prepare for Him.

I have come to view all the movements in the history of the Church as various times in which God emphasized specific things to His people for specific purposes. The move to get the Bible in print in plain language for the masses enabled worldwide, grassroots growth of the Gospel. The move to emphasize that salvation is by God’s grace that we receive through faith was necessary to counter error in the notion of how salvation works.

In my view, denominations formed around these movements as people put down tent stakes and tried to camp on those things God was emphasizing at particular times, but God is always doing a new thing.

Not that God changes, or that the truth changes. We change, and the flow of history changes. God is always working through it all to accomplish the ends that He has planned from the beginning.

I think we can never go wrong asking the question: What is God doing now? What does God intend for a time such as this? What is God saying in these times?

So, I am open to the possibility, which I think is a probability, that God is still “speaking” in these times through people to whom God is willing to entrust His voice. There are disparate voices, of course, even in the Church, but it’s always been like that.

I don’t believe God will say anything that contradicts what He has said in the past, but He might be saying things that contradict what we believed in the past. God might be calling us to new ways of doing things.

When God became flesh and lived among the people to whom He had intimately and directly revealed Himself, they didn’t recognize Him. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were amazed as Jesus opened the Scripture to them to reveal all the ways it spoke of Him. They didn’t see it until He opened it up to them.

In the same way, we need to have the humility to recognize that we might have wrong ideas about things. Maybe they aren’t “wrong”, but they just aren’t effective any longer in this time. The last thing that I want is to remain standing still when God is moving.

We need to be open to God showing us “new things” that we didn’t previously understand or appreciate. We have to consider the possibility that we might not recognize God when He is speaking today in the same way that God became flesh, came to His own people, and His own people didn’t recognize Him.

I say these things only as a preface to talk about an article, Continue reading “God Is Always Doing a “New Thing””

The Need for the Church to Address Racial Injustice

Everyone agrees there is a racial disparity problem. Only people on the fringes deny the problem.


Christians who seek to follow Jesus as he followed the Father are as earnest in doing justice as they are in preaching the Gospel. The Gospel and justice go hand in hand. The evangelical church, however, has fallen short on the justice side of the equation. The void left by the church has allowed new, competing philosophies to take over the cultural space.

Critical race theory has become the loudest voice in that arena. Many Christians who are justice-minded have gravitated toward the voices that come from a critical race theory platform without realizing that critical race theory is another gospel that runs antithetical to the true Gospel.

Critical race theory defines the problem and the solution in terms that are sometimes contrary to the Gospel and to biblical truth. That is not to say there is no redeeming value to critical race theory, or that people who espouse CRT are wicked or evil. It’s just not the Gospel. Inevitably it’s a solution that doesn’t get to the heart of the problem and doesn’t bring about true justice.

The Gospel offers true justice.

The Gospel says that all humans are made in the image of a holy God. The problem with men is the orthodox idea of sin – the tendency to do wrong and the failure to do right, which we know we ought to do. Love God and love your neighbor is a simple formula, but we want to go our own ways and to please ourselves rather than love God and love our neighbors.

Jesus offers salvation by taking on the sin of all people (of all races) on himself and setting us free from the wages of sin. Jesus does that so we can have relationship with God who, then, begins to work within us to will and to act according to His good purpose. That reality is borne out in the process of personal sanctification (vertically) and in just relationships with our fellow man (horizontally).

We do not achieve salvation by anything that we do. It’s a free gift available to all by grace. We simply need to embrace it. Salvation takes away the shame and the ultimate consequence of sin, which is death (physically and spiritually). It frees us up to live as God intended by the help of the Holy Spirit who takes up residence within people who yield to Him. We demonstrate that by our love for God and our love for people.

Racism is the sin of partiality. In Christ, there is no Jew nor Gentile; no male nor female; and no black, nor white or brown. We are all one in Christ, and the ultimate goal of the Gospel is to unite all humanity in Christ with God the Father. The picture of that ultimate goal was given to the Apostle John in a vision:

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb….” (Rev. 7:9)

Everyone agrees there is a racial disparity problem. Only people on the fringes deny the problem of racial injustice.

The evangelical church, however, has had a very mixed track record on the issue of racism. Many Christians with a heart for justice are (rightfully) responding to the voices who are speaking to the issue of racial disparity, but some of those voices are preaching a false gospel that is, in many ways, antithetical to the true Gospel.

Continue reading “The Need for the Church to Address Racial Injustice”

Focus on Love to Remain on the Narrow Path

The narrow road is where the innocent and the wise travel in the maturity of love.


When the church reaches “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ…. [t[hen we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there….” Ephesians 4:13-14

This a verse that ended a sermon in a series on the love chapter – 1 Corinthians 13, given by Jeff Frazier at Chapelstreet Church, The Greatest of These, May 24, 2020.

The sermon began with the observation that 1 Corinthians 13 is not really the “ode to love” that we often think it is. The First Century Corinthians probably didn’t embroider 1 Corinthians 13 and hang it on their walls. Paul was chiding them for all the things they were not doing and doing wrong.

The Corinthians were a worldly, wealthy, educated and diverse people. If Corinth had magazines, they would have been candidate for the list of 10 best towns in which to live in the First Century Roman Empire. They were sophisticated in all the ways of the world.

But they fell short when it came to love.

Love, of course, is the greatest attribute of a Christian. That’s the point of 1 Corinthians 13. (1 Cor. 13:13) Though the Corinthians were rich in many things like eloquent speaking, even prophecies and faith, Paul says even those things mean nothing without love. (1 Cor. 13:1-2) A person could even give all his wealth away and offer his body to hardship, but without love, nothing is gained, says Paul. (1 Cor. 13:3)

The Corinthians thought they were pretty hot stuff. They had much in this world and much in the way of talents and resources, and because of that they were boastful and proud.

The beautiful list of what is love is a list of what the Corinthians lacked.

We could read it this way: the Corinthians are not patient or kind. They are envious, boastful and proud. They dishonor others and are self-seeking, easily angered and keep records of all the wrongs done to them. They delight in evil and do not rejoice in truth. They aren’t protective, trusting or hopeful, and they don’t persevere. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

The Corinthians were full of jealousy and pride about their own spirituality, and they didn’t appreciate each other. (1 Cor. 12:16 -22) They were puffed up with their own knowledge. (1 Cor. 8:1) They were given to argument, strife and disunity over which leaders to follow. (1 Cor. 1:10-12) At the same time, they tolerated sexual sin, greed, idolatry cheating, slander and drunkenness in their members. (1 Cor. 5:1-5, 9-11)

The Corinthian church was rich in the way of worldly wealth and talents. They were even full of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but they were poor in the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23)).

Paul goes on to say that love is the greatest fruit of the Holy Spirit. Love is the ultimate goal of the Christian, because God is love (1 John 1:9), and He desires us to be transformed into His image. (Rom 8:29) We don’t need wealth, resources, talents, knowledge or even the gifts of the Holy Spirit if we have love.

Love, including all the fruits of the Holy Spirit, is the sign of mature Christianity.

Jeff Frazier said that Paul could have written the love chapter to much of the American church, and I think he is right.

Continue reading “Focus on Love to Remain on the Narrow Path”