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What divides us

Picture a world divided: religiously, politically, economically and socially.

Religiously, some stress faithful, traditional worship, as they learned it. Many focus on morality behavior. Others say it is about prophetic action, especially to right injustices.

Politically, some like government programs from “we, the people.” Others favor local government for our community. People sometimes fight the government for taking property and infringing on individual rights.

Economically, do the rich patronize the poor by creating jobs? The Middle Class earns its own way, and the poor beg for help.

People divide socially into us/them: nations against nations, civilized against developing, and races against others.

Sound familiar?

That’s a picture of first century Judaism. The Sadducees emphasized faithful, traditional worship of the Temple, running the government in cooperation with Rome, and showing charity to the poor. The Pharisees’ life was about the morality of keeping the Torah and working faithfully at the local community/synagogue level. The Essenes waited, prayed, and called prophetically for God’s justice to overthrow the religiously corrupt, the politically compromised, and the abusive rich. Then there were those who were tired of waiting (later called the “Zealots”). Now was the time to revolt against the worldly powers.

Toss in those of Greek cultural background, Romans, Egyptians and immigrants from old Babylon. The world was divided.

Incarnation

Into this comes the Father, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Eph. 3:14) in Jesus Christ. Jesus prays, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one . . . Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. . . . 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” (John 17:15-23).

Sacrifice

Paul declares what Jesus did on the cross. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross” (Eph. 2:14-16).

What divides us is that we have continued to define truth as “my view”. Collectively, we continue to make the faith primarily a moral religious system of control, law and judgment. The “truth” is that first and foremost God acts in Jesus Christ to faithfully keep his promise to save us and his world. We have put our actions, our morality, above God’s grace.

Moral Therapeutic Deism

A few decades ago, Christian Smith, a Notre Dame sociologist, summarized that the majority of Christian youth in America were moral therapeutic Deists. Religion was defined in terms of moral rules and behaviors. One believes to feel better. God exists, but he is not active.

About that time, I visited some “contemporary” churches and often heard messages about self-help, how to live a better life. This moralism divides us.

Biblical theology is about what God is doing in Jesus Christ and through his Spirit to unite us.

Bill Hybels makes the distinction between “do” and “done.” He says his Christian Reformed church upbringing focused on what we must “do.” He grew up in my neighborhood, and I agree. The Gospel is first about what God has done in Jesus Christ. This is what unites us. “What God has brought together, let no one divide.”

Author

  • Dr. Thomas Wolthuis is a CRC pastor serving as the English pastor of the Chinese Church of Iowa City. He has been a campus minister, institute president, professor, pastor, and church planter. His Biblical Studies podcasts are at www.geneva-ui.org.

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