Church Write-Up: Unity, For Me and Against Me, and Prayer vs. Protest

For church this morning, I attended an African-American Baptist church.

The pastor was preaching about unity among believers, as well as Jesus’ statement in Matthew 12:30 and Luke 11:23 that whoever is not for him is against him.

The pastor was saying that those who are not for Jesus—-in that they believe that Jesus is the Son of God and follow him—-will not go to heaven after they die.  They are actually against Jesus, even if they may think that Jesus is a nice guy or an insightful religious teacher.  According to the pastor, we should be rooting for Jesus.  We should not be like we’re watching a ball game and we do not care who wins.

Regarding unity, the pastor seemed to be treating unity among believers as a criterion for salvation.  He said that there will be unity in heaven, so how will Christians fit in when they go to heaven if they are not united on earth?  The pastor did not explicitly try to reconcile this position with justification by grace through faith alone, but perhaps there are ways to harmonize the two.  There is, of course, the usual way that a number of Christians smuggle works into salvation, namely, to say that the works and attitudes of love that are conducive towards Christian unity are an inevitable outgrowth of authentic saving faith.  Another way is to say that the believers are unified around faith in Christ: in heaven, they will be united in being “for” or “with” Jesus (to refer back to the pastor’s point about Matthew 12:30 and Luke 11:23), as they acknowledge that Jesus is the Supreme Son of God and praise and worship him accordingly.

The pastor shared that the council of elders’ meetings, even though they have minor disagreements, have always ended in enthusiastic unity.

The pastor was also commenting on the current political scene.  He criticized the protests in the streets, saying that believers should pray instead.

The pastor also spoke in favor of unity in the home, encouraging people to seek therapy if they struggle with issues in their family.  He admitted that he himself has sought therapy in the past and was helped immensely by it.

Here are some points:

A.  I struggle with Christian exclusivism, and I cannot picture a way out of that for me.  I wondered why exactly Jesus put things in such stark terms: why is a person who is not for him against him?  I looked at some commentaries: the Word Biblical Commentary and a Hermeneia commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.  Most of the comments focused on Jesus’ exorcisms and his gathering of the people of Israel, since the context of the passages is Jesus’ exorcisms, and Jesus in the passages contrasts gathering with scattering.  The Israelites who are not repenting in response to Jesus’ message are not contributing to Jesus’ gathering of Israel unto God; they are, in effect, contributing to the scattering of Israel, since they are creating a situation in which some are gathered, and some (namely, they) are not.

B.  On the current political scene, I remember watching a documentary on the Bible, hosted by Christiane Amanpour.  The last segment of the documentary was about IHOP, the International House of Prayer.  I do not recall if I learned this from the documentary, or from online reading, but I heard that there were people who left Ivy League programs in political science so they could devote time to prayer at IHOP.  They figured that prayer would improve the political and international situation more effectively than any contribution they could make as advisors and experts.  I initially thought, “What a waste!”  Since then, my response has been ambivalent.  Maybe prayer has worked: prayer can soften leaders’ hearts, or God can place roadblocks in the path of certain disastrous plans.  Could these Republican health care plans have been stalled because some Christians have prayed for that?  On the other hand, do we not need moral advisors and experts?  Daniel and Joseph were political advisors.  And do we not need peaceful protest to express to leaders what we support and oppose?  I would say that the Civil Rights movement was good, to cite an example.

I’ll stop here.

 

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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