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1 George A. Mason World Communion Sunday Wilshire Baptist Church 1 October 2017 First in a series, The Legacy of Luther Dallas, Texas The New One John 17:1-3, 20-26; Ephesians 4:1-6 For the first thousand years of the church, there was only one church. People didn t need modifiers like Roman or Russian, Protestant or Catholic, Baptist or Methodist. It was just one, holy, catholic and apostolic church as the Nicene Creed puts it. That isn t to say there weren t factions and frictions in the one Church. Almost from the start there were regional differences, cultural differences and doctrinal differences so much so that the church had to hold huge conferences called ecumenical councils which, loosely translated, means oneness meetings. They had to figure out how to be one church when they were all over the place in their ideas about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Things held together pretty well until AD 1054, when the church in the East decided it couldn t live with the church in the West in regard to how the Holy Spirit was related to God the Father and Jesus the Son. So the Greeks left the Latins in what we call the Great Schism, and what developed was the Orthodox Church in the East and the Roman Catholic Church in the West, each claiming to be the one true Church. The next big threat to oneness happened half a millennium later: the Protestant Reformation. Today we begin a month-long commemoration of the 500 th anniversary of the Reformation. On October 31, 1517, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther tacked a document of grievances to the door of the chapel church in Wittenberg, Germany. His 95 theses, as they were called, set off a dispute that eventually led to the formation of what we know of broadly as the Lutheran Church. We will spend more time over the next few weeks focusing on Luther s claims, which have deeply shaped not only the church, including the Baptist church, but also the whole of Western civilization. Luther wanted to reform the one Church, not form a new one. He couldn t have conceived of such a thing. The only thing he knew was the one holy, catholic and apostolic church. However, it wasn t so much the oneness,

2 catholicity or apostolicity of the church that he questioned; it was the holiness. Church leaders had made a business out of salvation, financing their building projects by the sale of indulgences. Indulgences were certificates issued by the church that promised forgiveness of sins for a price. People could even buy them for deceased loved ones, thus making sure that they moved more quickly from Purgatory to Paradise. It was a loathsome practice, and Luther rightly challenged it with every fiber of his being, since it wrongly kept the faithful fearful. A few years ago, my dear late friend Vester Hughes organized a trip to Italy with a couple of his close friends Jim Colley, who is the painter of the pieces that hang in the James Gallery here, and the late Ann Hutchison, a former NASA rocket scientist. Vester had to go to North Africa on business, so Jim and Ann went to the Vatican as tourists. If you ve ever been to St. Peter s Basilica, you know that it was built deliberately to be the largest church in Christendom. There are even markings on the floor of the nave that indicate where various cathedrals in Europe end, just to prove its size. More than that, it s artistically ornate, what with Michelangelo s Pieta right near the entrance, exquisite statues and paintings everywhere. Standing agog, Jim mumbled, Wonder what this cost the Catholic Church? Quick as a flash, Ann shot back, Only the Protestant Reformation. And that s true, even if it isn t the whole story. A few months ago, I had the privilege of addressing the opening session of the annual meeting of the Northern Texas- Northern Louisiana Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. The Lutherans knew that our Baptist church had recently been kicked out of the Texas Baptist convention, and they wanted to show their support of us. I am deeply grateful for the hospitality of Bishop Erik Gronberg and his good tribe. His presence here today is more than just returning the favor; it s a witness to a new oneness. More on that in a minute. During that talk to my Lutheran kin, I mentioned I had been baptized a Lutheran as an infant, and then again later by immersion in another church, because they didn t count that baptism as legitimate. St. Paul tells us in our text from 2

3 Ephesians: There is one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. Now that s a lot of ones and alls. It s a shame that one and all have had such a hard time maintaining the one and all. I mentioned in that address that though Baptists are not strictly speaking Protestants, we were part of the Radical Reformation in Europe and later the Separatists in England, we certainly learned from Luther about splitting from the one church and making a new one. Lutherans have split a few times since then, too, but we Baptists have perfected the art of the split, don t you know?! There are probably 20 to 30 Baptists conventions of a sort in the United States alone, depending on how you count. There are scores more worldwide. Jesus said, Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. We have said that where two or three Baptists are gathered in Jesus name, two or three churches will form in the midst of them. This is not all bad. The truth is, the Reformation habit of splitting has been good for the churches just not so much for the Church. W. A. Criswell, the late pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, said that Baptists are like cats: the more they fight, the more they multiply. But at what cost? We have many Baptists, but are we more Christian for it? One of the leaders of the Southern Baptist fundamentalist takeover movement years ago said that right doctrine was so important that it would be better to have seven pure churches than thousands of impure ones. But here s the thing having a pure church is never possible since we will never have pure people. We re all purely people, not pure people. This is why we all need Jesus to begin with. This was Luther s point to begin with. Since the Reformation, we ve been separating from each other, making each other other. As long as the West was generally Christian, this separating within Christianity was like a branding exercise to help different denominations gain or maintain market share. But that s like playing college intramurals. Your opponents are your schoolmates. You re all really on the same side, but in order to make a game of it, you have to put on different uniforms. And all the 3

4 while, the real contest isn t being waged. We fight one another, carving up territory and constituencies, when the real fight is not with flesh and blood at all, but with the divisive spirits that dehumanize creatures and desecrate creation. Make no mistake: people outside the church aren t longing to join our fights; they re wondering when we re going to join theirs fights of love against hate and justice against injustice. So where do we go from here? Let me suggest some directions on this World Communion Sunday. First we need to stop seeing splitting as winning and start seeing winning as oneing. When we kick people out of our churches, or churches out of conventions, for disagreeing, that s not winning. When we remove ourselves from fellowship with churches or institutions because we can t tolerate our differences, we aren t winning. We win by oneing; that is, uniting not because mergers and acquisitions are good and spinoffs bad, but because commercial metaphors fail to capture the organic truth of being the body of the one Christ, who can t be divided. When brothers and sisters in Christ see Christ in each other, rather making each other other, we strengthen our witness. For too long we have assumed that unity means watering down doctrine and weakening faith. But that focus on our differences from each other ends with losing sight of Christ in each other. If we begin with Christ and not our differences about Christ, we will find each other, too. We will turn the other into another a sister or brother. In John s Gospel, Jesus prays that his followers will be one, even as he and the Father are one. What kind of oneness is that? It s certainly not sameness. The Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father. Likewise, the Spirit is not the Father or the Son. Each person is who each is only in relation to the others, and none of them is who each is without the others. This oneness is deeply relational and spiritual. It requires difference; it doesn t just tolerate it. The new one we should be seeking in the church, therefore, is genuine community, not forced conformity. This truth leads to the second one: we need more-concrete gestures toward this new 4

5 oneness that will help us see the way. A new book by Brian McLaren is titled We Make the Road by Walking. In other words, we don t wait for someone to make the road before we walk it; we make the road by walking it. So,when Bishop Gronberg invites a Baptist preacher to open his synod, he is making the way for oneness by doing so. And I hope that by his being with us today and co-celebrating at the Lord s Table, we are doing the same. For too long, Communion has been divisive. Think of that: the thing we call communion divides! Baptists think of it as a symbolic memorial whereby we remember Christ s sacrifice for us. Lutherans believe that in the sharing of the Supper, Christ is in, with and under the elements of bread and wine, making him truly present with us and for us as we partake. When we eat and drink at the Lord s Table together today, even if we don t agree on its meaning, we choose to emphasize that it s the Lord s Table more than the Lord s Table. We focus on the one Lord of one and all. The same can be said for our membership and ministry policies. In our church, a Lutheran now can become a member of our church by declaring her faith in Jesus Christ and affirming her previous baptism. She doesn t have to be baptized again, as if the first one didn t count. One member of our church, when we were considering this policy church years ago, told me he worried that we would lose our Baptist identity and become just a general Protestant church. And that is a danger if oneness again means no distinctness. But Baptists and Lutherans, Methodists and Mennonites, Presbyterians and Pentecostals, all have something to contribute to one another by being themselves in unity with one another. We don t have to have one Church in order to be One church. We need only to have a new understanding of one. Lutherans have now forged clergy-sharing relationships with other churches that have their origins in the Reformed movement. They recognize the legitimacy of their ordination and their authority in each other s churches. This is a beautiful witness, and Baptists can learn from it. Listen, friends the world 5

6 doesn t need churches that all look and act the same. The world needs churches that look and act together in the name of the one Christ, who is Lord of one and all. 6

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