Dear Fellow-Believers

Greetings to all and welcome to our website for The Unity of the Spirit.

February 28, 2015

The Essential “Christian” Confession of Faith: “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God” February 28, 2015 The Essential “Christian” Confession of Faith: “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God” In traveling throughout much of the US and the world over the last few decades I’ve often met people who profess to be Christians, usually, quite sincerely.  This has led to many pleasant conversations and I have usually felt safe in assuming a great deal of commonality in viewpoints between us, though recognizing also that there would probably be differences in details of belief and practice not too far beneath the surface.  Indeed I might not have even felt very comfortable in their churches nor they in mine.  Nevertheless, I still considered them to be fellow Christians with whom I had much in common in the essentials of our faith, and I could safely assume that we had a common ethical outlook based on our common beliefs. This comes to mind because recently there has been an avalanche of incidents regarding the persecution of Christians in various places in the world.  In the Mid-east and Africa persecution, kidnapping, torture and slaughter of Christian groups such Coptic Christians, Assyrian Christians, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Anglican Christians, Catholic Christians, and even various Protestant Christians have been taking place on a scale not seen in recent times.  In fact, there is probably more about conflicts within Christianity and persecution of various Christian groups in the news now than at any time I can remember in my lifetime. Partially this is true because persecution of Christians in communist countries during the Cold War – which was often massive in scale – was simply not known about or reported about in any detail in the Western press during that time.  Indeed, such persecution is only sparingly reported about in China today.  But, aside from all of this, let us ask another question: What is meant by “Christianity” and “Christian groups” when they appear in the news and how should I as a Christian regard them? Simply put, what is meant in the news by the term “Christianity” is the common body of beliefs, traditions and practices which have come to be identified with the Christian faith through the centuries, beginning with the first followers of Christ in the New Testament and building up until today.  What is meant in the news by “Christian groups” are those who identify themselves as “Christians” however different their particular beliefs and practices may be compared with either the original Christians of the NT or with others who also identify themselves as Christians today.  These are both very wide definitions; however, this is the reality of the world in which we live today and it seems only fair to grant the benefit of the doubt  to all professing Christians of, indeed, being Christians – unless, of course, there are specific doctrinal or practical reasons to exclude them.  On the other hand, given that this is how Christianity and Christians groups in the news are generally understood and spoken of how are we as Bible-believing Christians to understand “who is a Christian” today? And, who do we recognize as fellow-Christians amongst the many different Christian groups that exist in the world today? Only God of course knows what is in the heart of any individual and who is, if there is reason for doubt, truly a Christian.  The rest of us are left to discern as best we can on the basis of what people profess, the Spirit they may manifest, and the fruit they produce – judging (yes, judging, e.g. I Cor. 5:6-13, etc.) in the light of the clear standards of the New Testament itself.  And, it must be added, though we should all certainly give fellow professing Christians the benefit of the doubt, we are in fact supposed to judge or discern on the basis of clear NT teaching as to what right and wrong Christian beliefs and actions are. As the verses in I Cor 5 clearly show the Christian faith itself and Christian groups themselves can become corrupted. Unfortunately, this has all too often been the story of the history of Christianity and continues to be so today.  In fact, the history of the Christian church since its founding in the first century A.D. has rightly centered on two major goals: (1) the ongoing attempt to spread the Christian faith throughout the world; and, (2) the continual attempts to keep the Christian faith pure in accordance with its original beliefs and practices as set forth in the New Testament.  The way to most clearly understand this history of the Christian faith is to master the history of Bible, starting with the history of the Old Testament and culminating in the history of the New Testament. Then one must gain an overview of the history of the Christian era post-New Testament beginning in Roman times in the first century, continuing through the Middle Ages, the Reformation and all the way up until today. This is doable for any generally educated person since there are many good histories of Christianity available to read today.  However, what is most essential is an accurate understanding of the original Christian faith as set forth in the New Testament itself. Everything else – in history and today - must be measured by that and we should always make that our primary point of reference in judging true Christian belief and practice. Thankfully, then, in God’s providential care for his people, the New Testament documents themselves make clear the essentials of the Christian faith.  These essential truths are contained in the “good news” or “gospel message” which was originally preached by the first Christians for a number of years before these truths were written down in a more systematic way for their accurate spread to others and for the preservation of the truth of the Christian faith (cf. Luke 1:1-4). Indeed, that is the primary reason why they were written down in the first place and eventually collected in the form that we have them today.  The four Gospel records, each in their own way, are meant to show the fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promises to his people of Israel through the coming of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.  Jesus is presented in each Gospel as the Son of God who was/is the promised Messiah – sent to fulfill God’s Old Testament promises to his people and, thus, to bring salvation to Israel and to the world. Though each Gospel was originally sent to its own particular audience and emphasizes different events and themes to that particular audience, the major goal for which each was written is specifically stated in the Gospel of John: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31 NIV). Later, the apostle John confirms the same truth in a letter that he sends to early Christian believers who were dealing with doctrinal difficulties and possible persecution: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ) is born of God … everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God … I wrote these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:1-5, 13). This belief that “Jesus is the Messiah (Christ), the Son of God” is the essential defining belief of the Christian faith and the foundation of the Christian church itself (cf. Matt. 16:13-19, 1 Cor. 3:10-11, 1 Cor. 15:1-11, etc.).  Those who accept this profession in faith have the assurance of being born of God, of overcoming the present world, and of having eternal life both now and at Christ’s future return.  The Book of Acts, which follows the Gospels in the New Testament canon, shows this to be the essential defining belief of the Christian faith and the Christian church from its beginning as both the faith and the church spread from Jerusalem throughout the Mediterranean world of the first century (Acts 2:22-39; 5:41-42, etc.). Those who accepted this message in faith eventually came to be known as “Christians”.  Collectively, they believed themselves to be children in God’s family, heirs of God’s coming kingdom, and members of the universal church of the body of Christ that transcended ethnic, social or racial contexts. In the specific areas where they lived these Christians became members of thousands of local assemblies, or churches, spread throughout the Mediterranean world.  The NT Letters were sent to these local Christian churches, or to individual Christians, and were meant to confirm, correct, strengthen and encourage the local churches in their Christian faith.  It is from these NT documents and these original NT churches that all subsequent Christian history has developed over the last two thousand years. However, the essential beliefs and practices of the Christian faith are established in the pages of the NT itself and they are the same essential beliefs and practices of the Christian faith today.  However much various “Christian” individuals, groups, denominations or churches have developed their own specific ideas, traditions, rituals, practices and theologies over the centuries, the essentials of the true Christian faith which were “once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 1:3) have not changed and all other subsequent particularities of various Christian groups need to be measured against them and in the light of them.   These essentials need to be continually learned, re-learned, emphasized and lived by all individuals who profess the Christian faith and by all Christian churches “who call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, their Lord and ours”. (I Cor. 1:2). Of course, it should always be remembered that a person can be a Christian – because he or she truly believes that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” – yet still be still be wrong about certain, or even many, matters of Christian faith or practice. To be a Christian does not mean, or in any way imply, perfect Christian understanding of the faith or perfect practice of the faith.  If it did, none of us would measure up. That is why the focus must always be on the essentials of the faith, and only then, on continual growth in our Christian understanding and walk with God. This belief that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” is the most essential of all Christian beliefs and all other authentic Christian beliefs and practices are derived from, or built upon, it. Those who hold to these beliefs and live in the light of them should be considered fellow Christians however much the details of their particular beliefs and practice may be unfamiliar to us.  Does that mean that there are not particular details of their faith and practice that would – as a matter of Christian conscience – not allow us to fellowship in church on a regular basis with these professed Christians?  No, there may indeed be such doctrinal or practical differences that prevent common fellowship. In fact, there are some doctrinal or practical differences that are of such gravity that they would cause the Christian faith and Christian church to be corrupted.  These simply cannot be tolerated within the church because, as the apostle Paul strongly stated, “a little leaven will leaven the whole lump.” (e.g. I Cor. 5-6). Nevertheless, in general, those who profess Christ, despite differences, should be accepted as fellow Christians and they also deserve our prayers and support in their attempt to live their Christian faith in the midst of the turmoils of today’s world.  As professing Christians we should begin with the essentials and build from there. Unfortunately, the world in which we live is a very complicated place and even the world of Christianity itself is complicated.  Let us, however, hold fast to the simplicity of Christian faith as set forth in the New Testament itself and live our Christian lives in the light of it! Richie Temple richie@unity-of-spirit.org 

January 27, 2015

The Unity of the Spirit - in the Bond of Peace” As the new year of 2015 begins I am reminded that it was twenty years ago this spring that we first began publishing The Unity of the Spirit newsletter which, after being published quarterly for some twelve years, gradually evolved into this web-site. As regular readers can see we have taken the opportunity of the new year to refresh and update the website. This has primarily been the work of my dear wife Dorota who has put a great deal of time and effort into this task.  Her work, of course, builds on the original work of Adam Kleczkowski who started our website, and on the on-going contribution of both Dorota and our brother in Christ, Scot Hahn. We are also grateful to our nephew, Piotr Kusek, whose suggestions helped initiate the update. We hope that this newer and more up- to-date look and format will make the website even more inviting and easy to use while still retaining the original feel of both the original newsletter and the original website. Our purpose from that beginning in the spring of 1995 has been to help build up the body of Christ on the basis of the fundamental truths of God’s word as well as to explore specific, detailed, and sometimes more controversial Christian subjects in a spirit of Christian unity and peace. Thus, the name chosen for our publication and website: The Unity of the Spirit – in the Bond of Peace, which is taken from the beautiful section of Ephesians: “I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4:1-6 ESV). With the start of the next twenty years our goals at The Unity of the Spirit remain the same. To the best of our ability we will continue to make available the best knowledge and understanding of God’s word that we are aware of through our own articles, blogs, books and audio teachings.  In addition, we will continue to recommend what we consider to be the quality works of others even if we have some disagreements with their perspectives.  Of course, though finding very much that we agree with in the works of others that we recommend, we can only vouch for our own articles, etc. which set forth our own understanding of God’s word.  In all that we present and recommend we assume a high level of Christian maturity on the part of our readers and we rely on them to think for themselves and to judge all that they hear and read on the basis of their own mature understanding of God’s word.  As fellow Christians, we are all children in God’s family and, despite differences, we recognize and accept as our fellow brothers and sister in Christ – from whatever background, denomination, church, or fellowship - all who sincerely “call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, their Lord and ours.” (I Cor. 1:2).  Of course, it would be naïve to think that Christian unity in all matters of faith and practice will be achieved this side of the return of Christ.  Divisions had already begun within the pages of the New Testament itself and they will certainly not all be resolved now some two thousand years later.  In addition, every local church or fellowship must apply the principles of God’s word to its own unique circumstances and this produces legitimate differences in the practices of churches and fellowships around the world. Nevertheless, we believe that despite our differences we as Christians can for the most part be unified on the fundamental truths of the Christian faith and that we can continue to learn and grow together as the family of God and body of Christ.  It has been the basic assumption of The Unity of the Spirit from the very beginning that the Bible – according to its original intent and meaning - is our only standard for truth in matters of Christian faith and practice and it is there that truth must be found and established. Nevertheless, we also believe that true Christian unity should, and must, transcend denominational and sectarian groupings so as strengthen God’s people around the world.  We are all growing and none of us has a perfect understanding of the truth in all of its dimensions.  We, at The Unity of the Spirit, continue to learn from fellow Christian believers, especially biblical scholars, from across the denominational spectrum.  And this is as it should be. As fellow Christian believers we are all united “in Christ” above and beyond denominational differences and we should endeavor grow up “into Christ” in all things.  Thus, the goal of every Christian in the world should be Christ-likeness in all that we think, say and do in all of life’s endeavors.  On this we can surely be united as fellow-Christians as we move forward to the ultimate time of Christ’s return when we will all see him “face to face” and “be like him, for we shall see him as he is”. Therefore, let us as children in God’s family and members of the body of Christ continue to grow up together in Christ as God’s people.  And, as we grow in our own personal walks with God and within our own fellowships and churches let us “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” To start this new year I append three of my favorite articles from our past years that are representative of what we stand for at The Unity of the Spirit: One God, One People of God, and One Hope of Salvation One Spirit – One Body The People of Faith Richie Temple richie@unity-of-spirit.org   

December 24, 2014

The Christian Message in the Christmas Season

As Christmas day - the day in which we celebrate our Savior's birth - nears I would like to extend our heartfelt greetings from The Unity of the Spirit to all of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ from anywhere in the world who may read this online message. As a lifelong Christian believer who grew up within the institutional Protestant church but who has been involved primarily with the house-church movement for most of my adult life I've come to appreciate Christmas in its many dimensions amongst various Christian traditions. What unites us all and what always must remain primary during this Christmas season is the Christian message itself. That is ultimately what Christmas is about if it is to remain true to the biblical accounts that set forth the events and significance of our Savior's birth. As many other Christians through the years - especially those who are children of the Reformation - I confess that I even use the word "Christmas" itself with some reserve. It is not of course a word that is used in the Bible itself and its post-biblical designation as a "holy-day" to be celebrated once a year near the end of our December goes beyond the biblical witness and, indeed, involves a good deal of pagan notions and traditions mixed in with its more biblical aspects regarding the birth of Christ. The much later additions of Santa Claus, etc. to the Christmas tradition have, of course, just pushed it even farther away from the true significance of the birth of Christ as explained in the Bible. Nevertheless, the word Christmas is a part of the language, thinking and culture of the world, especially the Western world, that grew out of medieval Christendom. Therefore, I use the word but, unless speaking in a wider secular context, I use the word to refer primarily to the event and significance of the birth of Christ. Fortunately, this significance has continued to shine through in varying greater or lesser degrees in both the institutional church - Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox - and in the non-institutional church through the last two thousand years of Christian history. Thankfully, since the Christian message - including the significance of the birth of Christ - is a simple message it is hard to totally obscure its meaning. From its simple beginnings some two thousand years ago up until today the "glad tidings of great joy" of Christ's birth and its significance for the world as recorded in New Testament has continued to be proclaimed to the world. God's word is not bound and its liberating truth shines through the darkness that has tried to dispel it. Centuries and centuries of tradition and the often mishandling of the New Testament scriptures have not completely covered over the simple truths of God's plan of salvation accomplished through his Son. Thus, for most Christians around the world, enough of the light of the truth shines through that the Christmas season is a time of joy and blessing often accompanied by special, and often beautiful, church services and warm family gatherings. However, for quite a number of other Christians Christmas can actually be a time of stress or even more difficulties or loneliness than usual because of the circumstances they face in the world. As with so many things in life it is perhaps better to not allow ourselves to get too high or too low emotionally in the midst of Christmas holidays. Instead, we should focus our lives on the Christian message itself; that is, the purpose for which God sent his Son. This, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with festivities, parties, or material gifts. In fact, it doesn't even have to do with "family", unless, of course, we are speaking of the family of God. All of those other things may or may not be well and good depending on how they are done. However, the true Christmas message is simply the Christian message: that God sent his Son into the world to bring salvation, meaning, and hope to a world in desperate need. It is this Christian message that is intended for every individual person in the world no matter what their family, nation, race, ethnicity, or station in life - high or low - may be. As I so often do at this time of year I will summarize this Christian message with the liberating truths of Paul from his Letter to the Galatians: "But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but God's child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir." (Gal. 4:4-7). Let us as God's children rejoice in this joyful and liberating Christian message in this Christmas season of the year! Richie Temple richie@unity-of-spirit.org

September 28, 2014

Romans and the "Obedience of Faith"

Paul's Letter to The Romans is....... (read more)

June 17, 2014

Summer Reading

Another excellent school year ...... (read more)

March 28, 2014

Living in Newness of Life

Spring is finally breaking out ...... (read more)

January 28, 2014

The New Year for The Unity of the Spirit

The new year has begun ...... (read more)
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In the Bond of Peace
There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (Eph 4:4-6 NIV)
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