April 27, 2015 Ryan Boettcher

One Flock, One Shepherd, One Mission (or, A Divided Church is Anti-Resurrection)

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved”—Peter, Acts 4.12

“I have other sheep who do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”—Jesus, John 10.16

 

These two sayings should scandalize us.

And maybe they do.

But I think they scandalize us for the wrong reason.

We hear that there is salvation only in the name of Jesus, and we are scandalized because that seems too narrow. Shouldn’t we be tolerant and understanding?[1] I don’t want to minimize the fact that Christianity’s particularity and even exclusivism is scandalous—when Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he noted that the message of the gospel is a scandalous one (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)—but that’s not what I want to focus on here.

I think that these words should scandal us because of the church’s many divisions. There should be one flock with one shepherd (Jesus). And instead the one flock of Jesus is scattered: divided and splintered. And we hardly bat an eye at this. Every week we confess our belief in “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” as if we weren’t aware of the divisions between East and West, between Rome and Canterbury,[2] between the various churches to have passed through the Reformation.

It is because Jesus is the only savior that divisions in the church should be unthinkable. One savior should have one church. One shepherd should have one flock. Our divisions threaten to falsify our claim to belong to the one savior. This Easter we’ve talked about practicing resurrection: living like the resurrection of Jesus is true (because it is). Living with a divided church is more like practicing anti-resurrection.

There are no easy answers to this problem. Often our divisions have occurred over important issues, and simply ignoring those issues, or pretending that the divisions aren’t real would be to act in bad faith. Sometimes people will propose becoming Roman Catholic or Orthodox as a solution to the problem, but that solves nothing, because the divisions are still there.[3] Most often we seem content to ignore the scandal. But if a divided church is practicing anti-resurrection, this is not an acceptable response.

Here are two things we should all add to the list of our prayerful concerns:

1)  We should all be praying for the mission of the church: that people in our neighborhood, city, and throughout the world would be introduced to the one savior, Jesus Christ.

2)  We should all be praying for the unity of the church: that our practice of anti-resurrection would end, and that we would all be one flock united under one shepherd.

In 1961 the International Missionary Council and the World Council of Churches merged to form one organization. They did this because they saw that the task of mission and the task of working for church unity are bound together. If we remain divided our mission lacks plausibility. But if we don’t work together in common mission, we’ll probably never find our way back to unity. Jesus tells us that mission and unity go together when he says that he must gather in his other sheep so that there will be one flock, one shepherd.

If we work and pray alongside other types of Christians, it becomes much harder to justify our divisions. At Christ Redeemer we want to be bridge builders, to build partnerships with our community and with other churches, even churches from whom we remain divided. This is another part of what it means to practice resurrection.

 

 

[1] Just in case there’s any ambiguity: yes, we should be tolerant and understanding.

[2] Even between our Anglican Church and Canterbury!

[3] There might be good reasons someone would join the Catholic or Orthodox Church, but trying to resolve the problem of unity is not one of them.

 

Listen to the sermon here.