Christumenical

Recently I had a conversation with a friend over an article she found online that described some beliefs C.S. Lewis held that are contrary to standard evangelical beliefs. (The article mentioned that as an Anglican, Lewis believed in purgatory and praying for the dead, among other things. However I should point out that Anglican doctrine does not teach purgatory, so if Lewis did believe in purgatory, it was not due to his Anglican affiliation.) I responded to my friend in a way that might have concerned her, saying that I have long held an ecumenical attitude toward other Christian traditions. She replied:

“I am not concerned that you are interested in ecumenical progress. My bigger concern is the erosion of the foundations of faith that can occur when in pursuit of solidarity. Some things, I feel, are just not negotiable.”

Right-on! Unfortunately ecumenicalism has earned a bad name these days, and justifiably so. Rather than concentrating on the group of Christian traditions that were the focus of its original meaning and usage, the term has come to include Universalism, which promotes the “universal” fatherhood of God and the eventual salvation of all souls regardless of belief system.

That is not what I meant when I used the term ecumenical. Still, so as not to cause any confusion when using a term that has lost its original meaning, I’ve decided to create my own term to describe the promotion of unity among Christian faith traditions: “Christumenical.”

I define Christumenical this way: of or relating to the movement among Christian (Christ-centered) churches and denominations (including Catholic, Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox) to achieve unity through authentic mutual respect and warmth, following Jesus’ observation in John 13:35 that the world will “know you are my disciples by your love for one another.” The key to this kind of love, I believe, is two-fold:

  • accepting each other as brothers and sisters in Christ based on our common beliefs in the essential Christian tenets of faith—that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, was crucified as a substitutionary atonement for all humanity, died and was buried, was resurrected from the dead on the third day, and that He is coming again at some point in the future to bring final judgment upon sin and death; and
  • maintaining a non-judgmental attitude toward the unknowable issues – matters subject to interpretation where the Bible is not crystal clear – that we tend to disagree on. As early Church father Augustine of Hippo wrote, “…in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

When I read C.S. Lewis (among other non-evangelical Christian writers), I bear in mind that I do not have to believe in everything he believed (purgatory for instance) in order to find valuable Christian insight in the rest of what he wrote. (In fact, while Lewis did not shy away from mentioning his “non-essential” beliefs, he never promoted them.) Additionally, I should not judge Lewis because he believed in purgatory and thus prayed for the dead. Why? Because I do not personally know that purgatory does not exist, and I don’t know of a single person who does. Believing in something, or not believing in something, does not make it so.

What I do know is this—the Bible makes it very clear that the area of judgment belongs to God alone, and I’d best keep my nose out of God’s business. The same can be said about other non-essential issues (outside of the basic tenets of faith). Let’s let God decide, in the long run, what’s important and what’s not, and simply follow Christ’s teaching to His disciples to love one another as Christ loved us.

So here’s my Christumenical word for the day: While many Protestant, Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox practices may look different, even foreign to us who have been worshiping a certain way or with a particular church or denomination for a long time, let’s remember that the core beliefs of these Christ followers are the same as our own. In this age of Christian persecution (a growing problem worldwide, even here in the U.S.), we cannot afford to isolate ourselves from other brothers and sisters in Christ.

Unity in Christ-Grafted into Eternity

To our finite minds, eternity is an extremely difficult concept to grasp.  Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said God has placed “eternity in the human heart” (Eccl. 3:11).  Makes me think of a built-in homing device…a beacon that keeps pointing us toward our true home with God.  But the wiring has gone bad, thus the human race looks every-which-way for answers to our questions about God and eternity.  That is what makes the Gospel message so important:  “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  –John 3:16.

Do you remember who Jesus stated this truth to?  Nicodemus, a Pharisee who came to Jesus in the dead of night to see if there was anything to the rumor that He was the Messiah.  Can you imagine how shocking this revelation would have been to this Jew’s Jew, to hear that God loves the entire WORLD, and intends salvation for EVERYONE?  If you remember from Leviticus, Gentiles were considered unclean, and spending time with a Gentile made a Jew unclean for a time.  To a circumcised Jew, the idea of spending eternity alongside Gentiles was unthinkable.

But that is exactly what Christianity teaches:  Salvation is God’s free gift to every man, woman and child, regardless of ethnicity or birth-religion.  Many believe what Paul referred to as “the mystery of God” in his writings was actually the fact that God made a way for Gentiles to be saved, too.  The message of the Gospel, then, is that God loved me (a non-Jew) enough even before I was born to create His plan of salvation from the beginning of time, for Jesus to die for me and my sins.  Paul explains this by saying that in His foreknowledge, God claimed me and saved me through grace, so that my soul will live with Him into eternity (Romans 8:29).

As a journalist and former crime beat reporter, I understand how perspective plays into stories.  It is true that if you ask 10 witnesses to give an account of “what happened,” you will get 10 different answers.  Like trial lawyers, journalists try and piece the different perspectives together to create a likely scenario of the truth.  Likewise, the myriad of Christian factions (Evangelicals, Episcopalians, Orthodox, Catholics, etc.) all see and interpret Scripture and God’s work in the world slightly differently.  (We Evangelicals are probably in for a few surprises, when we make our “final destination.”)

But one essential truth all Christian faiths share in common – eternal salvation for Gentiles is at the heart of the Gospel.  God loves Gentiles every bit as much as Jews, and His plan from the beginning was to bless Gentiles with His free gift of grace.  We were never an afterthought.  But if you look closely at the plan’s blueprint, using Paul’s analogy of tree grafts (see my last post), we Gentiles are the branches thoughtfully grafted onto the rootstock.  The foundation of Christian faith is the rootstock, and the rootstock is as Jewish as circumcision itself.

Unity in Christ-Grafted Branches

There is a tree in our garden that bears four different types of apples: Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Fuji and MacIntosh.  I am not an orchardist and I don’t know the first thing about grafting trees, but I know this is the technique used to produce the unique apple tree growing in my yard.  Moreover, grafting is how most of the fruit trees found in nurseries are created; very few start out as seedlings.

The rootstock will always match type for type with the scion, in other words, apple rootstock with apple graft.  But in this way, the orchardist is ensured of getting the exact variety of apple desired (Fuji, for example), instead of something wild that might grow out of the rootstock, which often occurs, depending on conditions.  From aboutfruittrees.com:

The process of grafting a fruit tree entails taking the scion, or above ground, part of a tree and attaching it to a rootstock. The rootstock will then become the roots of the tree and provide the required nutrients through the graft.

We know this technique has been around for a couple thousand years at least, since Paul used it in his letter to the Christians in Rome (chapter 11) to illustrate how a Gentile can become a child of God…a spiritual son or daughter of Abraham.

But back up the horses a moment, and read through chapter 10, which is the backdrop to chapter 11 and begins with a heart cry for Israel:  “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved!” (vs. 1).

Chapter 10 ends with a cry from God’s own heart, quoted from the prophet Isaiah:  “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations” (from Isaiah 65:2).

From Genesis 1:1 to the last word of Malachi, we learn of God’s persistent love for the Jewish people, despite their persistent betrayal of His goodness toward them.  However, His sorrow and frustration over their behavior did not negate the Covenant.  The promise made to Abraham that he would father a great nation, and through his seed all the nations of the world would be blessed, stood the test of time and was fulfilled in Yeshua, the Messiah, Jesus.  Fulfilled, yet the promise did not end there.  Most of the Jews of Jesus’ day rejected Him as the Christ, yet God still did not reject them.  His plan of salvation for the Jews continues to this day.

Think about it.  More to come.

Unity in Christ

Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, ‘You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.’ He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.  –John 11: 49-52

I wonder if this passage of Scripture amazes you as it does me?  If you read the Gospels, Caiaphas was no friend to Jesus or what would become the Christian movement. He, in particular, hatched the plan that put Jesus to death, thinking he was saving the region of Judah from Roman reprisal if Jesus and his followers created a ruckus (thereby eliminating a personal thorn in his side while he was at it). How utterly brilliant of God to use this man as a prophet to proclaim His own purposes!

And for what purpose did Jesus come? I personally think the Evangelical Church takes a short-sighted view of who Jesus came to save. It was not the whole world first, creating a melting pot of believers that includes Jews. He came to bless and to save the Jewish nation – which had lost sight of the Messiah’s mission – and then, through them, the “scattered children of God,” including Gentiles. Remember God’s promise to Abraham (paraphrased), “through your seed the nations of the world will be blessed.” First and foremost, the Messiah was thoroughly Hebrew, while his target audience was predominantly Jews. It was not until the book of Acts that we see God’s full plan unfold, embracing Gentiles, too.  Addressing this topic in his July newsletter, David Brickner, Executive Director of Jews For Jesus, writes:

“I am so thankful that Jesus brought salvation to the Jewish people, but I am equally grateful that His purposes extended so much further. How strange it is that some Christians either forget or dismiss the first part of [John 11: 49-52] — that Jesus gave His life for the people of Israel. For whatever reason, to some Christians salvation for the Jewish nation seems irrelevant, passé or somehow unnecessary.”

We dare not trod underfoot the special place the Jewish people still hold in God’s heart. I truly believe the uniqueness of the blessing we Gentiles receive through the legacy of our Jewish brethren (in the gender-neutral sense) will become apparent in the hereafter. This does not mean God loves Jews more than He loves Gentiles; only that they share an ancient bond that time and distance cannot break, which has yet to be fully realized.

In Christ, we do not lose our identity, which makes Gentiles’ unity in Christ with Jews all the more special. Let’s join together in prayer for Jews the world over, that their eyes would be opened to the singularly Jewish gift of salvation given to them in Christ. And let’s be aware of our own salvation, extended to us despite Caiaphas’s tragically misplaced attempt to “save” the nation of Israel.