Worthily Walking Before God

(Eph 4:1-6, NKJV) I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, {2} with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, {3} endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. {4} There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; {5} one Lord, one faith, one baptism; {6} one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

Nazarenes have always been concerned with what it takes to "walk worthy of the calling with which you were called." It is called holiness of life and heart. It is one of the central emphasis and reasons for the existence of the denomination from a historical perspective. Yet, that emphasis is not new, nor is it just a sole possession of the Nazarene Church. We find Paul talking about that, indeed we tend to interpret most all the Bible from that perspective.

Therefore, it is necessary that we understand just what it means to walk worthy of our calling, not just as we understand it in our cultural context and setting, but what it meant for Paul and the early Christians. Only then can we really, with effectiveness, do so.

We can sum up what Paul sees as worthy walking with one word. Unity. As you look at the list Paul is giving here, they are all to promote a unity among the Church. We are to act and react in humility with each other, in a gentle spirit rather than harsh words, *bearing* with one another in love. All these things don't come naturally to us. It didn't come naturally to them of that time, and certainly not in our individualistic age when a person's *rights* are supreme. One could say in our culture that not only is it a natural tendency to act in self-serving ways, but it is socially acceptable and defensible. It is no doubt the reason that in our country and culture, you find the very opposite of unity among Christian groups.

How does Paul describe this unity that he is talking about?

One body. Paul uses this analogy of the Church in other places. Yet here he says that there is only one body. Now in Paul's day, that was easy to say. There were not all these various denominations to deal with. How do we interpret "one body" in this day? Did Paul mean to indicate that it should include a concept of just one physical church on earth in addition to the understanding of a spiritual Church in Heaven? This wasn't an issue with him was it? Well, yes it was. We will get back to this in a moment, however, suffice it to say for the moment that in Paul's thinking there was not a division between a spiritual Church and a physical Church. The churches that he and the other apostles were establishing were all just *one* church. Period.

One hope, which we find in Jesus Christ's sacrifice. Notice that even though Paul is talking to those in the Church, it is still a *hope*. The early Church did not have a concept of going to the alter to pray for forgiveness and that was it, you were in. The early Church was united in the one hope that they had, of a future salvation even as they were in the process of "working out their salvation with fear and trembling". The fulfillment of the Kingdom at the end of the age was yet to come in its fullness where our salvation would be made complete in Him. Until then, it remained a hope, but it was a common hope that unified the Church.

One Lord. The lordship of Christ in our lives and the Church was critical. How was this lordship expressed in the early church? First century writings of Clement and Ignatius clearly indicate that the lordship of Christ was expressed through the bishops, presbyters, and deacons. Ultimate in that was the bishop who was a representative of Christ among the people of the Church, so much so that Clement, the bishop of Rome writing to the Corinthians towards the end of the first century states in no uncertain terms that to do anything apart from the bishop was to be in schism from the Church and from Christ. This differs drastically from our private view of the lordship of Christ in our own lives apart from an accountability to the community of faith. The "one Lord" concept of the body, the "one head" of the Church was manifested in a direct sense within the Church itself of Paul's time with its leadership.

One faith. This one is a little tough. Does Paul mean here that we all have one saving faith? Does he mean that we will all believe exactly the same thing? Well, there were some central teachings which were held by all in the early Church. You don't see the vast divisions of belief and practice that you see in current day America. Paul instructs the Corinthians:

(1 Cor 11:2 NKJV) Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.

He then goes on to talk about issues which from our perspective would seem culturally induced, non-essential and non-critical issues of the faith. To the Thessalonians Paul says:

(2 Th 2:15 NKJV) Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.

Unity of faith appears not to mean a totally identical set of beliefs in each person, yet there was so much unity in what was held that there was not only a unity in doctrine, but a unity in the *expression* of those doctrines so that the symbolic things like head coverings for women were passed down as part of the faith which was to be held to. This whole concept is foreign to our time where practice is divorced from our doctrine so that it is changeable, dispensable, and considered a non-essential, culturally affected part of the faith. The early Church felt that this was critical enough that blood was shed over what to believe in some cases, often over single words that would give a different spin on the nature of Christ than what was held to be of Apostolic teaching. Apparently Paul and the other Apostles taught their converts that there were a central core set of beliefs about who Christ was and how that faith was to be expressed in worship that formed a foundation for the one faith that was to be an element of unity among them.

One baptism. In the early Church, there was only one way to enter the Church. Unlike our concepts, there were no ideas of a human organization on one hand, and a divine church in Heaven. The Church was established by Christ and the Apostles and thus what they had was of a divine origin. Though it had a hierarchial structure, it was not seen so much as an organization as much as it was a living body of Christ, the family of God, through which the Holy Spirit as Christ promised would make them one with Him and one with each other. The entrance into this family, this body of Christ was through baptism done within this one body of Christ. John 3, Rom 6, and the practice universally exhibited in Acts, as well as the command of Christ in Matt 28 all point that there was no artificial division between the ritual and entrance into the Kingdom. To be "born again" into this family meant to be born both of water and the Spirit. Both physical and spiritual were seen as a unified whole which bonded every Christian together as being part of this one body. Until that ritual had taken place, the Church did not see that person as being part of the communion of believers, as those in training to be baptized initially were not even allowed to watch the members of Christ take the communion elements but were sent out midway through the service. Thus the early Church was unified through one birth into the family of God.

One God. Paul identifies God as the Father. Even when we talk about the Trinity, the Father is seen in the early Church's understanding as the unifying source of divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit from the eternal perspective. It is the Father where we say that we have only *one* God and there is no other. Yet we realize that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are of the same essence as the Father because they are eternally within and coming forth from the Father. It is the nature of this total unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that exist because of this sharing fully in the divine essence of the Father that becomes the ideal and type of unity that should exist in the true Church of God. Thus, ultimately, it is in the Father that all our unity is to be found, who exist "above all, and through all, and in you all." It is the Father working through our one Lord Jesus Christ and the one Spirit that binds us together into the one vine of God.

Thus Paul puts the differences that we have in ministry and function within the context of our unity:

(Eph 4:11-16 NKJV) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, {12} for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, {13} till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; {14} that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, {15} but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head; Christ; {16} from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

Ultimately, the gifts we are given for God by ministry are to be a unifying element in the Body of Christ. Once they began to promote schism, discord, and division, they become counter productive to the purposes and nature of even God Himself and what Jesus prayed for in John 17, that all of us who come to believe on Him would be *one* evidenced by our love for one another. This is a central core teaching of Jesus, of the Apostles, and of the Church itself for many centuries.

At this point, I want to add a personal note. I usually don't do this, but I feel that the time is right for me to make sure that none of you who receive this devotional are under any false assumptions concerning myself. For some of you, this will be a story that you have already heard, though much briefer. Some of you know me personally when I was pastoring and know part of this story. Other of you this will be just an interesting side note. So take it for what it is worth.

When I resigned my pastorate back in March of this year, I basically stated two reasons to the board. The first was because I have been dealing with just where my ministry in the Church would eventually end up. Although I felt that God had placed me in the two pastorates that I held, I had become convinced by the beginning of this year that the pastorate was not to be my final position of ministry for Christ. I had come to this conclusion after a long and difficult internal process in searching out God's will for my life. My personality and talents I felt were designed by God to fit into a different place in the Body of Christ, as we have just talked about. The question was just where this was to ultimately be. It had seemed for some time that God had not given any clear direction to that end.

Originally, I had placed in my mind that I would make a decision before my two year review came up which would have been last month, so that I could either resign or give them a confident "yes I will be your pastor for the next four years" without reservation. However, the second reason I gave the board sped up that process somewhat. I told them that it was a theological reason, but I refrained from telling them exactly what that was. One lady asked, but I felt at the time that I didn't want to cause an unnecessary distraction to what I had accomplished there in doing just what we have been looking at above, creating a unity of purpose in ministry within the Body. Now I feel that enough time has passed that I can let this second reason more fully leak out. Some of you with connections to that Church and the pastors on that zone will no doubt leak this back to the Church there, and that is OK. I think that although this will cause some "waves" there, it will not I pray cause a loss of unity to what they are doing there now with their current pastor.

The issue I was dealing with was the Church. What was it? Before, I had always just accepted that this was the way things were and you had to fit into it. I never gave much thought to all the denominations, except to feel that although there were none completely "right" I felt I was in the right one for me. I solidly felt that it had the most accurate doctrine and practice. Yet, a critical issue began to loom before me. Through some readings I was made aware of the predicament of those whose position it is to search out truth among the denominations. Among all the various competing denominations and Christian Churches, each claiming to be based upon the Bible, each claiming to be lead by the Holy Spirit, each one attempting to get back to what the New Testament Church was suppose to be; strangely enough not many of them agreed on central doctrines like the fall of man, how salvation was appropriated, man's ability to cooperate with God in grace or lack of it, and the list could go on and on. Either the Holy Spirit was a very confused member of the Godhead, or the type of unity which Paul was talking about, a unity of faith, was a pipe dream. Neither of those being a valid option for me, I was left with one conclusion: that there was a valid and full expression of the faith consistant with the Holy Spirit and the Gospel.

The problem was, how was one to decide upon which group had the right spin on the Bible, who was really lead by the Holy Spirit and who was not? What authority do they use to determine that?

Most people just accept the faith that they are born into. No questions asked and the difficult questions like these are brushed aside as not relevant to them. Those that are faced with this decision usually base it upon the fellowship of the church, the friendliness of the people, how comfortable they feel there, what programs that the church has for their kids and teenagers. Yet such things don't even address whether the church is validly proclaiming the Gospel of Christ in unity with the Apostles. These are some of the same reasons given for people joining cults, or even a social club. Admittedly, much is made today of making the visitor feel welcome, constructing the services to appeal to those outside the Church to draw them in, doing surveys to find out what people are looking for in a church, marketing the Church, etc. This stuff works too, that is in the context of increasing attendance. But such things don't define what the Church is. Rather, the American scene for anyone who is seeking what group to belong to is more like a shopping mall of choices and it becomes a matter of personal preferences rather than conforming ourselves to the image of Christ. Rather, we pick the image of Christ that conforms to us.

Others, will try to think through the faith of a denomination or group. They will examine its doctrine and when they find a point of disagreement decide to continue looking on down the road. I found this out the hard way at the first mission church that I pastored. I placed an insert into the bulletin that listed out our Articles of Faith. One couple that visited were really excited and pleased to come to our little church, and pledged that they would be back...that is until they read the Articles of Faith. They were from a more Calvinistic background. They didn't come back even though we visited them several times and tried to explain our doctrine in a positive light. The Church had to conform to what *they* felt was a correct doctrine. Thus they kept shopping.

When it comes to trying to find the correct doctrine and the one faith, what you run into is a multitude of groups which in effect are saying, "I am of Wesley" and "I am of Calvin" and "I am of Luther." And those who have gone non-denominational and proclaim to be more like the New Testament Church, it often is the interpretation of the pastor of what that is which becomes the defining criteria.

Thus, I had to ask myself what the defining criteria of any group, Nazarene or otherwise was, to claim to be the same Church of the Apostles when that is based upon a particular man's or men's view of what the Church is? What is the authority upon which the Nazarene Church can truly claim to be teaching and holding to the truth of the Christian faith?

The only authority that I saw was founded in the doctrines hammered out in the first 1000 years of the Church's existence, when the Church was still one visible body of Christ on earth as well as in Heaven. Not that they didn't have denominations with various different beliefs and practices back then. They just didn't call them that. They were called sects and heretics. Those groups that we felt, however, were not Christian but cultic were those who rejected traditional teachings like the Trinity and the two natures in one person of Christ. We as Nazarenes considered ourselves part of the Christian tradition primarily because we still held to the historic Christian teachings on these matters. Teachings that arose not out of a tradition of interpretation seen through the eyes of any particular man, but through the eyes of Christ and the Apostles. Every truly Christian church's authority to call itself Christian rest upon that authority and the degree that they conform to it they become more in the fullness of that original faith first taught by Paul, Peter, and the whole group of Apostles.

To make a long story short, I realized that there was still a "body" of Christ in a literal sense or what I like to call the original Church not started by a specific man but which can trace its beginnings back to Christ and the Apostles. For me that journey has lead me to the Orthodox Church, the Eastern half of the early Church. I can't explain all the reasons here why I went this way, though I know many of you will ask questions and I'll do my best to answer them. This, in my understanding, is not so much a repudiation of my Nazarene roots, but a fulfillment of what I see the purpose of the Nazarene Church is, to be in the fullness of the faith, walking worthily before God in my calling, unifying myself to the historic body of Christ in a more literal way than ever before. I believe that true unity and oneness can be had not by ignoring differences and trying to get along, but by going back to that historic faith and living it out. In other words, conforming myself to it rather than expecting the Church to conform to what I want. Just as the seed in the parable of the sower does not conform to the soil to be fruitful; but the soil to it, so all those who fully conform themselves to the image of God found in the historic faith constitute the "Church" and apart from that foundation we have no real authority and faith.

I want to make it clear that I in no way am saying here that "this is the Church and everyone else is going to hell" like some groups have said. The Heavenly Church is broader than just the visible Church and like the Centurion there are those outside the visible, original body of the Church who are mystically part of that Body of Christ. The Orthodox Church does not pretend to make any judgement as to the eternal destiny of anyone in the other groups even if they might be considered not in the fullness of the faith as delivered from the Apostles. Nor do I think that there are not a lot of true Christians in the Nazarene Church, nor do I condemn anyone who feels they should remain there. We all have to follow the light given to us by God.

It is for that reason, that I feel I had to follow the light given by God to me or be condemned within my own soul for violating my commitment to God to "Go Where You Want Me to Go." As a matter of fact, that song took on a whole new meaning for me when we sung it at our services. This was not an easy decision to make nor has it been easy to implement. I definately wasn't seeking to leave the Nazarene Church. Rather, it has stemmed from an obedience to God's leadership in our lives to the light He has given us on this critical issue. It definitely would have been much easier to have stayed where we were. But to do so would be to violate my commitment made to God at the alter when I was entirely sanctified for His service. I could do no other. So feel free to ask questions. I'm not trying to convert anyone. Rather, I wanted to clear the air so you would each know where I am at and stand at the current time.

But it comes back to the central question that Paul was answering. What does it mean for the Church to be in unity? How do we accomplish this? Is it a present reality in our lives and churches? May God lead each of us into the fullness of what He has for us in His Church as we become one with Him and each other.

In His grace,

Rick