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January 28th, 2013

If you were in Bost Memorial Hall yesterday for our dedication service, you know how thoroughly I’m intrigued by the Apostle Paul’s declaration that “there is no difference” among those who are justified.  (Here’s a link to yesterday’s sermon manuscript.)  To borrow from Pastor Paul Cummings, “How justified are we?”  We are so justified that God sees no difference between the redeemed sex addict and the redeemed goody-goody whose lifelong reputation is staying on the straight and narrow.  There is no difference in their distance from God apart from Christ.  In Christ, there is no difference in their absolute and comprehensive pardon.

I’m not done with that theme, because Paul is not done with it as we move to Romans 3:27-31.  He knows this is one of the hardest lessons of the Christian life to learn.  It has not gotten easier 2000 years later – in fact, it may have gotten harder.  Think of it: in Paul’s day there was ONE group that thought of itself as having its theology and practice closer to the heart of God than anyone else – the Jews.  They really believed that by birth, by education (in God’s law) and by behavior they were proud insiders.   They genuinely thought they had a corner on God, that their religious system empowered them not only to anchor the parade of the righteous, but to run it.

With that introduction, take a moment and click here to read today’s paragraph in The Message.

So why do I say the problem is worse in our day than when Paul wrote Romans?  Because now we have TENS OF THOUSANDS of Christian groups (denominations, we call them), each of which has been formed with the idea that their theology and practice is closer to the heart of God than anyone else.  Whether or not they say it out loud – or even whether or not they still believe it – at their inception, each was formed because on some level they felt they could not be linked in name, association, and mission to others who also profess Jesus Christ as Son of God, Savior, and Lord of all.  Each sincerely felt that their understanding of baptism, or their grasp of how churches should be governed, or their way of evangelism, or their balance between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will, or the lines they drew about behaviors ranging from sex to Sabbath to dancing, required a separation from their brothers and sisters in Christ, required a new name and group, one they really believed would make Jesus much happier than the group they left.  Add to that mix of denominations all the local churches today, from small home groups to megachurches, who believe that NO denomination is close enough to being right that they can associate or cooperate, and therefore they are proudly “independent.”  Of course, to be fair, I should also say that my own denomination, the United Church of Christ, has shown by its history that the effort to include EVERYONE is disingenuous and counterproductive as well, conveying its own exclusivity around how inclusive everyone else should be.

My point is that the problem of religious superiority Paul spoke of is only further complicated in our own day.  What Eugene Peterson (in The Message) calls “our proud insider claims” still plagues the witness of the church to the reality of who Jesus is.  The world notices our arrogance and separatism and, for some at least, it is one more reason not to believe.

So what should be our response?  The primary response is personal.  When you meet with, pray with, or work with another Christian whose blind spots seem intolerable, just keep telling yourself, “There is no difference.”  God sees him or her the same as he sees me.  It will change the way you relate.  When you distance yourself from the person or group that doesn’t have it right, you show you don’t get it.  When you choose to move toward them instead of away from them, you’re headed in the right direction.

Corinth is undertaking an initiative beginning this year to find ways to honor and connect Christians who are otherwise disconnected – right here in our community.  Pray for me as I meet with some fellow pastors today at lunch and continue the process of establishing the Hickory Church Connection.  More details to follow!

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