I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:3-6.
Peter M. Prange
It’s worth celebrating.
Exactly 150 years ago last month, on Oct. 21–22, 1868, ten pastors representing two church bodies met in Milwaukee to discuss possible gospel partnership.
Unity of the Spirit
For more than a decade, their Lutheran synods made accusations and counter-accusations, especially in print. In many ways, they hadn’t really taken the time to listen to one another and to understand one another’s story in Christian love. But now they put down their swords for a moment, opened their Bibles and their hearts together, and discovered a wonderful reality: They shared “the unity of the Spirit,” a unity God had called them to keep “through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
After less than two days together, these representatives of the Wisconsin and Missouri Synods recognized each other as members of “orthodox Lutheran church bodies” and quickly resolved to “practice pulpit and altar fellowship.” The Missouri Synod’s theological giant, C.F.W. Walther, was said to have uttered a memorable lament about his newly-discovered Wisconsin brothers: “If we had known all this before, we might have been united ten years ago already” (The History of the Wisconsin Synod, pp. 129,130).
It is a rare thing when believers agree on the teaching of the Scripture. It is sad to note that even this great fellowship has deteriorated and broken since that start 150 years ago.
Fellowship of faith
Fellowship is a precious blessing. The apostle Paul understood not only how precious it was but how important. As a faithful apostle of Jesus, he was determined to celebrate the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace and to be thankful to God for his gospel partnership with others.
True, Paul had a sharp, theological mind and could debate scriptural teaching with the best of them (Acts 9:20-22; 17:2-4). When people stubbornly denied indisputable, scriptural truths, he shook the dust off his feet and moved on (Acts 13:46-51; 18:4-8).
But Paul craved unity and pursued it feverishly. Like Jesus, he was exceedingly patient toward those who trusted in the Savior yet struggled to grasp his sometimes “hard-to-understand” (2 Peter 3:15,16) teaching. Paul learned that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1). He realized that even inspired apostles were not finished products in knowing and understanding every sacred truth (1 Corinthians 13:12). God’s broken people live and die by faith alone, hopeful that the Spirit who began the “good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Only then will knowledge and understanding be perfectly complete.
Until then, God’s people stumble along together imperfectly, united spiritually in the bond of peace. Yes, there are believers in many visible churches, but we don’t all believe the same. Sadly, we note those who do not teach God’s truth and avoid them for the sake of our own faith and to be faithful witnesses to God’s truth—like Paul. But we can thank God that we are not alone in our knowledge and trust of Jesus as the world’s only Savior. So we celebrate our deeper blessed fellowship of faith, pray for others with joy, and give thanks for the Lord’s work in creating faith in human hearts.
It’s worth celebrating.
Contributing editor Peter Prange is pastor at Bethany, Kenosha, Wisconsin.
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Author: Peter M. Prange
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018
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