Unity in Diversity

John 17:20-26

Some of you know that I collect typewriters. I love them for their quality, and variety, and for their historical associations. I have a typewriter like the typewriter that Ernest Hemingway used to write most of his novels. Each time I use it, I am reminded of how he  once said, “Writing is easy, you just sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  And I have a typewriter like the one that Theodor Geisel used to write the books loved by generations of children. Sometimes, when I use my Smith-Corona Silent-Super, I imagine what it was like for Dr. Seuss to create Cat in the Hat, the Grinch, and bevy of Star Bellied Sneeches. I am just getting warmed up. I have typewriters like the machines used by Agatha Christy, Orson Wells, Larry McMurtry, and Cormack McCarthy. Cormack McCarthy gave his well used Olivetti to charity. It brought $154,000 at auction.  He replaced it with another just like it he bought at a yard-sale for $14.00.

My love of typewriters can be traced back to the place of honor that they held in my family. Both my mom and dad could type. We had one TV set and four or five typewriters.The newest generations may find this hard to imagine, but I took typing in junior high, and made it through high school, college, and two graduate degrees before I even saw my first affordable home computer, an Apple II owned by Tom Dawson who lives less than a block away. My need to accumulate typewriters—which certainly makes me something of a luddite, can be traced back to a typewriter that I was not able to buy.

I spied the typewriter of my dreams in a window of a shop in downtown Lexington, Kentucky. It was a beautiful, dark green Olympia portable. It sucked me into that store like a Hoover picking up dust bunnies from a hardwood floor. I did all I could to keep from drooling as my fingers danced on the keys. A clerk clerk spied me and came over with dollar signs in his eyes. I wanted to deflate him just a bit, so I told him that I was just a poor student attending the Methodist Seminary on the G.I. Bill. Only then did I ask the magic question: “How much does it costs?” To my surprise, the clerk, did not quote me the price of the typewriter. His face became hard like flint as he said, “You and I cannot walk together. I am a baptist and you are a Methodist, and the Bible says, ‘How can two walk together unless they agree?’” I was about to say, “I don’t want to walk with you; I just want to buy this typewriter.” However, before I could get the words out of my mouth, the owner of the store—who had walked up behind us, said, “You Christians, you cannot even get along with one another, and yet you seek to convert us Jews.”

I was so embarrassed by that clerk’s behavior, that I left that store never to go back. That was more than forty years ago. However, that little episode was the harbinger of things to come. Today, thanks to the internet, I can find all the typewriters I want.  And thanks to the internet, aggressive atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins point to a lack of unity in the church as a major flaw in the witness of the church.

Our divisions multiply constantly. Today, estimates on the number of denominations range from just over 200 to more than 40,000. Even the higher number does not include all those fiercely independent churches that have sprung up all over the world.

Some churches try to get round this lack of unity in the church by amplifying it. They boldly insist that their way is the only way, and that all other churches are dead ends, leading nowhere at best. These churches appeal to the young, and to anyone else who has a need, whether conscious or unconscious to be told how to believe and think.

At some point, virtually everyone of these dominations and churches have said, “Let’s just forget theology and follow the Bible.” Then they lay-out their presuppositions and take an approach to scripture that rules out any other approach. Let me give you a few notable examples.

In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church was the only game in town. The church helped Europe to achieve a remarkable unity, but it  unity at all costs, using every took they had at their disposal, no matter how harsh.. Using the same Bible that we have today, the medieval church once had the state execute people who committed adultery, or had intercourse with other people of the same sex. Church authorities cited appropriate texts from Leviticus and Deuteronomy, but they over looked how Jesus set these horrific commandments aside when he rescued the woman taken in adultery, saying, “Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone.”

Using the same Bible that we have today, Mormons practiced polygamy, until it was outlawed by the United States. They pointed out that Abraham had both a wife and a concubine, that Jacob had two wives, that King David had eight wives, and King Solomon had seven hundred wives and 300 concubines. By the way, even if you allow for kingly exaggeration, Solomon had to have the longest honey-do list in the bible. Monogamy is justified by a creation narrative wherein a man and a woman, two, become one flesh.

Using the same Bible we have today, the Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to deny the fully divinity of the Eternal Word that was incarnate in Jesus Christ. They say “The Word” was “a” god, not “the” God. If they really understood Greek grammar, they would not continue to make this mistake.

Using the same Bible we have, in the post Darwin and post Einstein world, many churches have denied Christians the right to a scientific world-view. When Harry Emerson Fosdick started seminary, his grandmother told him that if he gave up on the idea that the whale swallowed Jonah, he had to give up the Bible entire. My grandmother told me the same thing about God’s creation of the world in six literal days. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that God did not create the sun and moon until the 4th day. How then could the first three days be three literal days? This kind of thinking slams the door hard on 64% of millennials who say that the church does not take science seriously and closes the door on most others who think it without saying it.

Finally, using the same Bible have today, many churches continue to keep women out of the ministry and out of leadership positions in the church.  They often cite 1st Timothy 2:12 where-in the apostle writes”

“I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent.”

A friend of mine was about to join a fast growing church. She was attending Membership Classes when she noted that there were no women on the church board. She asked two questions, “Why not?”, and “Will that ever change?” Instead of honestly answering the first question by citing 1st Timothy 2:12, the leader answered the second question saying, Well, I suppose we would have women in leadership if the right woman came along.” After hearing this man insult every woman already attending the church, my friend decided to become a Moravian.

There is one denomination among all the churches that historically and consistently runs counter to the tendency to divide.

The Ancient Moravian Unity grew out of the ashes of Huss. Luke of Prague went to the very heart of the gospel when he followed St. Augustine in recognizing the Bible as a ministerial, not an Essential. Both Augustine and Luke of Prague said that if a believer knew the Good News about Jesus, possessed the Holy Spirit, and lived by the two great commandments, to love God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self, it was possible to be a Christian without even possessing the Bible. This has to be so, else the moment we leave our Bible at home, in a drawer gathering dust, or the moment someone takes our Bible away from us, we would cease to be Christian. Muslims believe God is incarnate in a Book, the Koran. That is salvation by book. Christians believe that God is incarnate in a person, Jesus of Nazareth, who died for our sins, rose again to give us a future and a hope, and sends the Holy Spirit to be our advocate. That is salvation by a person, Jesus.

Now don’t get me wrong. The Ancient Unity loved and revered the Bible. They called themselves “Brethren of the Law of Christ,” and they tried to live by the Sermon on the Mount. Their approach to doctrine was like that of Jesus—they did not obfuscate, they simplified, seeking the Great Principals underlying the text of Scripture. Jesus simplified the Old Testament Scripture when he said that “all the law and the prophets” depended upon the two great commandments, to love God, and to love one’s neighbor. (Matthew 22:37-40) Moravians simplified the Gospel of the New Testament when they maintained there was only one essential: A heart relationship with the triune God who reveal himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that issues in Faith, love and hope.

According to several of Zinzendorf’s biographers, the Renewed MoravianChurch had sizable groups of people who allied themselves doctrinally with the Ancient Unity, or with Lutherans, or with the Reformed, Anglican or Anabaptist churches. The Elders of our church were so tolerant that they assigned bishops to represent each one of these strophe, or doctrinal divisions. Moravians like to remember the experience of the Revival of August 13, 1727.  This “outpouring of the Holy Spirit” did not unite Moravians in a single creed; but in a single person, Jesus Christ.

There are two kinds of Christians in the world today. The first receives the Bible as authoritative, and believes that all truth is found in the Bible. They say that all the facts of life and science must be brought into agreement with the Bible, and they perform any mental exercises necessary to do just that. They do this even when they must ask their members to ignore commonly accepted facts of science. The second receives the Bible as authoritative, but believes that the Bible itself teaches two forms of revelation. The first form of Revelation is Special Revelation, which includes all the Mighty Acts that God performed on behalf of Israel in the Exodus and afterward, and the Might Act that God performed for the whole world in the life, death, resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The second form of revelation is the Natural Revelation that God makes in the physical, observable world around us. As the Psalmist says, “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” Moravians believe that both forms of revelation are progressive, meaning that later generations often know more than former generations.  Thus Paul knew more about the gospel of Jesus than Moses; and we know more about astronomy than the author of Psalm 19. He wrote, “the Heavens are telling the glory of God.” Imagine what he might have wrote if he had a view through the Hubble telescope! Moravians are not afraid to read the Bible and the Daily Newspaper (or the Internet)!

I believe that a lot of people living today are ready for a church like ours.  Our motto continues to attract them:

In Essentials, Unity;
In Non-Essentials, Liberty;
In All Things, Love.

Therefore, I believe the Moravian Church is at its best when we accept one another in spite of our differences. I believe that Jesus prayed for our Unity when he prayed:

“Father, may they 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.”

Some say that this unity is the unity of a creed.  Moravians have always held that it is unity in a person, Jesus Christ. For me, as for the historic Moravian Church, the one essential is not adherence to a creed, but is and always will be a heart relationship with the Triune God who reveals himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that issues in Faith, Love, and Hope. Of course, I Welcome those who believe differently from the way I believe. Some of the people I admire most in this world consider themselves Fundamentalists of one kind or another. The question is, “Will they continue to welcome me?”

Finis

Worth Green, Th.M., D. Min.

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