Brent was aware of their motivations, but agreed to attend to show good will. He had no idea just how far the plot would go. After the service, per a secretly pre-arranged plan, they brought the pastor to meet Brent in the foyer of the mega church.
"Skip, we'd like you to meet our friend, Brent. He's a Catholic," they said.
Brent only had a split second to wonder why his Catholicism had been brought up before fire and brimstone started to be flung onto his head. The pastor began hollering at him phrases like, "Did you know that you worship Mary and think the Pope never sins? Did you know that you have replaced the Gospel with works-salvation? Did you know that your bowing before statues is idolatry? Did you know you believe that you eat God? Answer all this!" The barrage went on and on, as a crowd of some sixty churchgoers formed a circle around the two figures. Having never before considered or heard of such topics, Brent was confused and whimpered "...I don't believe those things." The pastor flung a final stinging attack with slow measured words "Yes, you do! You go read your catechism and tell me that you don't!"
Needless to say, Brent came away from that experience hurt. It kindled in him a desire to be able to defend his heritage, his church, or at least his spiritual self. Over the next ten years Brent gained the relevant knowledge. He studied theologians, historians, original languages, ancient Christian writings, and read the bible cover to cover repeatedly. He mastered the doctrinal distinctions between Christian churches, and the reasons behind those distinctions.
Throughout the journey, Brent had frequent opportunities for in-person or online discussions with Christians who had inter-denominational axes to grind. The objections and attacks he encountered were allegedly motivated by the quest for doctrinal truth, but what he found is that all too often the real motivation was just a love of war. Whether coming from Catholics or Protestants, too much of the debate was devoid of love. Brent concluded that most of these problems between Christians came from Christians serving themselves rather than serving God and his people.
Certainly we should feel called to challenge or correct our brethren (Pro 27:17, 1 Cor 5:12), but those precepts are subordinate to our need to accept each other in Christ and be one body. Read these verses from Jesus's prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane:
"Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one...that 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. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I 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," Jn 17:11b, 21-23.
But we all agree on Jesus Christ as the source and cause of our salvation.
"Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" Jn 17:1b-3.
And that, my brothers and sisters, is the gist of it. It's what is important. It makes us one.
So, even though oneness is the sincere desire of the heart of the Savior--indeed something he prayed for as his last prayer on earth, while sweating drops of blood in his earnestness--we have ignored him. Instead, we have twisted something good -- seeking truth -- into something bad -- division. And not only division, but division made with dissension, rivalry and enmity, resulting in endless strife. All of which Paul describes as "fruit of the flesh":
"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" Gal 5:16-24.
Examine with me Paul's dissertation on the body of Christ:
"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...The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together," 1 Cor 12:12, 21-26.
Where do we begin? Perhaps with looking at the gifts the Holy Spirit has given to each of us. I have in my lifetime attended Lutheran, Catholic and Evangelical churches. And while attending them, I have encountered and interacted with Charismatics as well. From each church, I have gathered a world of wealth, wisdom and knowledge that I treasure about the things of God. Here are a few examples:
- From the Lutherans, I learned of Jesus's love for me, developed affection for Bible stories and lost myself in hymns of unsurpassed beauty and depth.
- The Catholics were the first to impress on me just how unfathomable is our God, and I developed a reverence and awe of him. They also taught me the concept of the saints as family, how undeserved was the grace I have been given, and how if I were to explore the depths of God, I would never find an end to them.
- The Evangelicals made God intimate for me. No matter how huge and holy, they brought home just how close and compassionate he was. They taught me a love of the Word as a living force in my life. They gave me a heart for the unsaved and a desire to serve.
- The Charismatics taught me how to listen to the whisper of the Spirit moving in me and respond. With them, I embraced the freedom Christ died to give me.