January 2020 Member Letter
January 9, 2020
It felt strange to write “2020” in the date line for this letter! Yes, another calendar year has gone by, and yes, even though it’s hard to believe, it is the year 2020 on the Roman calendar. As an organization and for financial reasons, the Church uses the Roman calendar year as our fiscal year, which means we have now begun a new fiscal year, number 10 for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. This is quite a milestone, with nine years now complete.
What will the next year bring? I don’t think anyone can accurately predict what will happen. We do know that Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church, and He will continue to “build” His Church until He returns to this earth.
It is the current condition of the world that should concern us, not to the point of despair, since we know the ultimate outcome, but with deep concern for the human lives that are being destroyed. And with members scattered around the world, there is always the potential that someone in the Church will be directly affected by a natural disaster or terrorist attack.
I am sure we all think a lot about these events—watching the news and shaking our heads. What has the world come to? We should pray all the more fervently for God to protect us from the evil one (Matthew 6:13) and to send Jesus Christ back to this earth soon. We enter 2020 with this hope uppermost in our minds. What can we do or, to put it better, what should we do in this next year?
This past week I attended the Winter Family Weekend in Louisville, Kentucky. This has been a long-standing church activity that is attended by more than 1,000 people annually. This year’s WFW was again outstanding. Members of the Louisville congregation, under the direction of their pastor Nathan Willoughby and his wife, Amanda, did an exceptional job of making everyone feel welcome and organizing the many activities.
The theme for this year was “The Spirit of Unity.” This is found in Ephesians 4:1-4. Notice how many ones are found here—one body, one Spirit, one calling, one baptism, one Lord, one God. All of these are easy to understand. When we are told there is one calling, we understand that. When we are told there is one baptism, we understand that. But how do we understand one body in light of where we are today in Church history? How would you define unity when it comes to the Church? How would you define “one body”?
While some may consider this to be skirting the question, the true answer is that God knows who are His (2 Timothy 2:19), and for us to go down the road of attempting to identify everyone who is a member of the one body—the Body of Christ—only leads to unnecessary judging and hard feelings. We are all responsible for knowing that we are part of the one body rather than trying to identify others. Of course, I am not speaking of those who are part of the world’s so-called Christianity. And I am not referring to those who reject the truth. But God knows those who are truly part of that one body, whether we do or not.
During the course of the few days in Louisville, there were numerous seminars exploring the concept of unity in the Church today. During the Friday evening Bible study, Mark Winner, the pastor of the congregations in Atlanta, Jefferson and Macon, Georgia, expanded on the adjectives used in Ephesians 4:2-3—“with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” He explained that these qualities are essential if we are to have true unity in our congregations.
Unity is difficult to define. I asked several individuals for their definition of unity, and they all struggled to give me a clear definition. One person said, “Unity is when we are all unified!” Another person said, “I really can’t define unity, but I know it when I see it!” To me, unity in the Church must be measured on a sliding scale, with the two extremes on opposite ends. The ideal for all of us—the perfect unity—is that embodied in the relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ. We read about this type of unity in John 17, which records the final prayer that Christ prayed on the night before He died.
Notice especially verses 20-23: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me, that they may be made perfect in one.”
Our goal is to be one as the Father and Christ are one. I believe we can all agree that we fall short of that degree of unity! When the New Testament Church began, the members had an extremely high level of unity. One of my favorite verses in all of the Bible is Acts 4:32: “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul.” This is not the same picture we see in the epistles of John. By the time we get to the end of the first century, there are serious problems, including heresies being taught. The picture of one heart and one soul doesn’t seem to properly describe the Church at the end of the first century.
In my sermon on the Sabbath I mentioned that our goal is to always promote the kind of unity that God the Father and Jesus Christ have. We are somewhere on that scale, but we must strive to move the marker closer to this description—and further from the division that characterizes the world we live in, which is the opposite extreme. In Matthew 6 Christ gave us the model prayer as an outline to use in our own prayers. One thing we are asked to pray for is that we be delivered “from the evil one.” This evil one is, of course, Satan. He creates chaos and division wherever he can. The good news is that we don’t have to give in to those things that cause division, but we must be “endeavoring” to keep the unity of the Spirit. It is, and will continue to be, hard work!
As we look forward to a new fiscal year with a new budget and an updated strategic plan, we will have opportunities along the way to measure our progress. I hope you will take the opportunity to do that as well. How are you doing? Are you promoting unity, the kind of unity that represents the oneness of God the Father and Jesus Christ? It isn’t easy in our world today, but with God’s help we can be a body of people who are unified in our efforts to preach the gospel, obey the commandments and love one another.
Sincerely, your brother in Christ,