Tuesday, March 26, 2013

RLPB 203. EASTER: unity essential for survival and witness

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 203 | Tue 26 Mar 2013

By Elizabeth Kendal

Spiritual unity is not the same as unification. Believers will always interpret Scripture differently, observe different traditions and prefer different styles. Spiritual unity rises out of the recognition that all who are in Christ are one flock with Christ as Shepherd, one body with Christ as Head, one people filled with one Spirit and one family with God as Father.

Whilst spiritual unity may develop as a fruit of persecution, this is not automatically the case. If there has been a history of competition, conflict or suspicion between fellowships or denominations, then divisions may actually widen during persecution as groups long hostile towards each other compete for favoured status or limited resources in a desperate, fear-based struggle for survival.

Furthermore, an escalation in persecution may even serve to widen the divide between persecuted and free Christians. Paul experienced this during his second imprisonment in Rome when the churches of Asia deserted him (2 Timothy 1:15,16). The scene is repeated today, both locally and globally. Locally, free Christians might not want to risk their own security through association with the persecuted who may be regarded as criminals or targets. Globally, free Christians might not want to be burdened and challenged by the knowledge of Christian suffering. Onesiphorus should be our model, for he was 'not ashamed' of Paul's chains.

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: 'I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 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.' (From John 17:20-26 ESV.) Yet as we have seen, despite spiritual unity being a spiritual reality (we are one) it is not automatically practised and persecution does not automatically produce it. The default position of human nature is self-interest and self-preservation. Unless we commit to following truly the model of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, then our innate disposition towards self-interest and self-preservation will always work to short-circuit our best intentions, leaving the Church divided against itself (Mark 3:24).

Today, from the Middle East west across North Africa; north through Syria into Iraq and Iran; and east through to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Church is facing a trial unlike anything that has been seen in our lifetime. The stage is being set for regional ethnic and sectarian blood-letting. It is shaping up to be a multi-dimensional conflagration from which local Christian minorities will struggle to survive.  Meanwhile, a variety of anti-Christian ideological and totalitarian forces are flexing their muscles across Asia and making deep inroads into Africa and the West. We need to understand the times (Luke 12:54-56) and align with the will of the Father, the work of Christ and the movement of the Holy Spirit. We must practise the spiritual unity Christ prayed for in the garden some 2000 years ago, that the Church might fulfil her role as a sign to the world that the Gospel is true.


* the Holy Spirit will move powerfully through the hearts of all persecuted believers this Easter, to awaken those who are anxious and frightened to the spiritual unity they have with their Christian neighbours because of their union in Christ.

* believers will stand firm in faith together, the dross of fear, suspicion and self-interest burnt away, encouraging and assisting each other with selfless courage and generosity across ethnic and denominational lines.

* the Holy Spirit will move powerfully through the hearts of all free and prosperous believers this Easter, that God's love may flow through their hearts, filling them with brotherly love, selfless courage and unreserved generosity so they will seek out and assist the persecuted, across ethnic and denominational lines.

* the sacrificial love of God (as demonstrated through the cross)  and the life-giving power of God (as demonstrated through the resurrection) will be displayed in and modelled by the Church as she rises supernaturally above self to give of self sacrificially and generously. 


On the night he was betrayed, Jesus prayed for us -- the Church. Though the cross was before him, Jesus was moved to pray that we would be one -- united in him in a spiritual unity that would vindicate the Gospel (John 17:20-16). As persecution escalates and darkness spreads, it is imperative that Christians forget past hostilities, forego competitiveness, reject self-interest and practise true spiritual unity in love and obedience. This is necessary both for survival and for witness. Just as Jesus Christ demonstrated sacrificial love on the cross and supernatural power in the resurrection, may the Church supernaturally rise above self to give of self sacrificially and generously. This Easter let us pray as Christ prayed: that we who are one in him, actually will practise that unity.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)