The “Us” Factor

 

by Brian Knowles

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ll of the teachings of our Lord Yeshua (Jesus) were important, but none more so than his instructions on prayer. Prayer is at the heart of godly living. First, he taught us that we should not pray ostentatious prayers - prayers “to be seen of men” (Matthew 6:5).

            Prayer is “intimate communication” between God and one’s self. As I have written elsewhere, we should not be “spiritual exhibitionists,” putting on a show of piety for our neighbors. If we pray that way, there is no reward from God - only the empty honor of men (Matthew 6:5b).

            Instead, Yeshua instructed, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you,” (Matthew 6:6). It is from this statement that the idea of Christian “prayer closets” arose. Actually there may be more to this that our English translations let on. This may be a reference to the Jewish custom of pulling the prayer shawl (tallit) over one’s head in order to pray anonymously. Of course this instruction does not rule out communal prayer.

Give us this day…

Sometimes the smallest words are the most important. In what might be better called “the disciple’s prayer,” Jesus taught his followers to pray, “Our Father…give us this day our daily bread and forgive us, forgive us our debts…” etc. etc. (Matthew 6:9 ff.). Here Jesus was teaching his disciples to think as part of a believing community, not as an assortment of isolated individuals. The reference to “daily bread” may hearken back to the Exodus when God gave the whole migrating populace a daily supply of manna.

            If you read closely the writings of Paul, you will see that he too encouraged the group mentality. He wanted us to think and function as a body. He wrote to the Corinthians: “…there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.  And if one member suffer, all members suffer with it. Now you are the body of Christ and members individually,” (I Corinthians 12:25-27).

            What, today, is the “body of Christ”? My working definition is found in I Corinthians 12:13: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free -- and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.”

            The “body of Christ” is made up of anyone who has God’s Spirit and who seeks to follow its leading.

            Who has God’s Spirit? Those who produce the fruit of it (Galatians 5:22 - 25); those who display the gifting of the Spirit (I Corinthians 12:1-11); those who seek to obey God (Acts 5:32); those who are evidently converted and undergoing the transformation of their minds in a godly direction (Romans 12:1-3); those for whom God and Christ are at the center of their lives (Philippians 1:21).

            Now here’s the rub: Many well-meaning Christians will screen out others because they don’t share identical doctrinal beliefs with them. They insist that the “true” church holds to a certain rigid set of non-negotiable doctrines and dogmas that distinguish true Christians from false. From the time of the so-called “Church fathers” countless thousands of believers have suffered and died in the name of this mentality. An “us versus them” approach has resulted in a house divided against itself. It has resulted in Christians murdering other Christians in the name of Christ! Something is terribly wrong with this picture.

            Helen Ellerbe has written, “The Church, throughout much of its history, has demonstrated a disregard for human freedom, dignity and self-determination. It has attempted to control, constrain and confine spirituality, the relationship between an individual and God,” The Dark Side of Christian History, p. 1, Introduction. Of course in context Ellerbe is referring to the Catholic Church, but the same factors may be seen throughout the whole of the Church down through its history. We see them in many manifestations of the Church, even down into small, aberrant cults and denominations like Jim Jones’ People’s Temple. The issue is control: control of tithes, doctrine, people and even human logistics.

            The point is, as Christians, we are all in this together. And while there is such a thing as doctrinal truth, we can’t all claim to have fully apprehended it. Collectively, doctrinally, we are a work in progress. Hopefully we are all moving in a godly direction - albeit at different rates of speed. Meanwhile, I can’t think of a single denomination with which I can agree 100% doctrinally speaking. Does that mean I reject them as Christians? Not at all!

            While we learn, those who persecute the Church from the outside couldn’t care less about our internal doctrinal distinctions. They see us all as “Christians” and therefore as “infidels” to be persecuted out of existence. Whether they are Leftists, communists, Islamists, Hindus, Buddhists or humanists, they want us gone. They oppose any manifestation of Christianity or Judaism.           

            As believers in the God of the Bible, we need to support, actively help, pray for, rescue and encourage each other. And, no, I am not here writing of “unity of error” (as some would see it), but of Christian solidarity. I am not speaking of the kind of “syncretism” being advanced by some today. Real Christianity is incompatible with religions that seek to undermine it, or water it down. We don’t need a universal world religion that blends together all the religions of the world in one incongruous pot. And we don’t need false gospels.

            Christians and Jews need to stand together in the face of an increasingly hostile world. We don’t have to agree on all points of doctrine to do that. Even in the apostle’s days, there existed no complete unity of doctrine - even among the truest of true believers. Even today, we find variances of belief and practice within denominations - from the smallest to the largest. Perfect unity of doctrine and practice is unlikely to appear before Messiah comes. In the meantime, we are all Christians of one sort or another. As such, we ought to pray for each other. We ought to defend one another when we are in trouble.

            During World War II, there were Christians like Corrie Ten Boom who protected God’s Jewish people from the demonic horrors of Hitler’s Nazis. Today, these noble souls are memorialized in Israel as “righteous gentiles.”

            Virtually every day, one can read of Christians and their pastors who are being persecuted and murdered for their faith. According to an article on Christian Post.com (June 8, 2011),  “An interfaith conference has revealed that 105,000 Christians are being killed every year simply because of their faith.” Put another way, a Christian is murdered every five minutes on planet Earth. Who is to say we should not pray for and help these people because they believe differently than we do about some point of doctrine? “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” (Galatians 3:26-27).

            Christ is our common denominator. He is the Head of the Church - not any man. He is the unifying factor. His people are “us” - Jews and Christians alike. It is he who will eventually straighten out our doctrine and our practice. It is Yeshua ha Mashiach (Jesus the Anointed One) who will rule as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). God’s Torah (instruction or direction) shall usher forth from Zion (Isaiah 2:3).

            In the meantime, “Can’t we all get along?” (Rodney King.) Can’t we learn to think “us” instead of “me”? Can’t we show some sense of solidarity with our persecuted brethren?