A number of circumstances lined up recently to bring the functionally divided state of the Church to my attention once again.
Firstly I was listening to a local pastor bemoaning the seeming inability of his fellow ministers to work together.
Two days later I was in a prayer meeting where a speaker shared about a miraculous coming together of Perth Christians across the denominational spectrum to work in concert 45 years ago.
We could all sense that there was a “spirit of unity” at that time we rarely see today.
Most significantly, something between these two incidents gave me a sense of a new word from the Lord.
I was in a team meeting at our local church when the other ministers spoke of a recurring pattern.
Church folk enthusiastically volunteer for a task then “don’t turn up” on the day.
A scripture immediately sprung to mind; “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.” and I could see a heart divided in two (Ps 86:11).
Where the heart of an individual, congregation or city-Church is divided this is a sure sign of the absence of the fear of the Lord so that God’s kingdom purposes are being frustrated. One of the greatest needs in the Church today is the recovery of the biblical vision of the heart.
The Centre of it All
Reflecting upon the fragmentation of revivals in his own eighteenth century, pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards1)wikipedia.org “Jonathan Edwards” turned to a core biblical text; “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov 4:23).
Edwards correctly discerned that “heart” stands for the generating centre of all our thoughts, choices and feelings. If the “heart” is like the trunk of a tree, the branches are our mind, will and emotions.
Everything flows from the heart; it is not merely the source of strong feelings!
Someone, for instance, may respond passionately to an appeal to participate in a church working bee but if there is no follow through then their “heart” was never in it.
A united heart means a unified person coordinated in every aspect and action of being.
A whole heart wisely guides a mature person away from evil and towards good (Eccl 8:5; Prov 9:10).
Whoever fears God from their heart will shun division and work closely with others (Deut 10:12; 2 Chron 19:9). The present apathy about a functionally divided Church is a sign that we have gone into cardiac arrest and need an electroconvulsive shock from the Spirit to revive us.
The only way this can come is through a greater vision of God’s heart seen in the cross.
God’s Broken Heart
The glory of Jesus is in making visible the heart of his Father.
The glorious heart of the Father is publicly displayed through Jesus’ signs and wonders but hidden to normal sight in the cross (John 2:11; 11:4, 40; 12:40).
The revelation of the generating centre of God’s inner being occurs in the place fallen humanity never seeks glory, suffering for others.
In great pain Jesus prays; ““Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again”….“My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death…. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”” (John 12:27-28; Mark 14:34, 36).
The agonising alignment of the will of Jesus with the will of God is an agreement that means the Son in his frail humanity will take on the heart of the Father for lost humanity.
We have a glimpse of the dimensions of what this will cost Christ in the prelude to the Genesis Flood, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great…and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil…And the LORD regretted that he had made man…and his heart was filled with pain.” (Gen 6: 5-6 cf. Ezek 11:19). The pain hidden inside the heart of God across the ages breaks out in full view on the cross; ““My God, my God why have you forsaken me”” (Mark 15:34).
To be united with the pain-filled heart of the God is the glory of Jesus where his humanity reaches complete oneness with his Father in love for us (Heb 5:7-8).
This explains his prayer; “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,” (John 17:22).
This is not some abstract ideal for it becomes real in the heart-experience of forgiveness.
Forgiveness unites our hearts to God’s undivided heart through connecting us with the cost to Father and Son of Jesus’ sacrifice for us (Luke 23:34).
The apostles ministered in the power of this connection.
When Peter preached at Pentecost his hearers “were cut the heart” and cried out in holy fear “what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37 cf. Heb 4:12-13).
The will of his hearers was coming into alignment with the will of God through repentance and the receiving of forgiveness (2:38).
As the Church lived in such all forgiving love they “were of one heart and soul…” (4:32 cf. Jer 32:39).
As the grace of God’s heart uniting us to him is forgiveness (Heb 13:9), our hearts are bound together in forgiving each other in love.
This explains why the exhortation to “put on love which binds everything together in perfect unity” is preceded by the command, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Col 3:13-14 cf. Eph 4:32-5:1; 1 Pet 4:8).
Contrary to popular practice a mature Church sustains extraordinary forgiving love by “walking in the fear of the Lord” (Acts 9:3). After all, Jesus warned that grace is lost “if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”” (Matt 18:34-35).
Such a Church “bears with one another in love” in order to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3).
Where the gospel is proclaimed as a message of full forgiveness for those who cause God untold anguish the Word creates an undivided heart walking in the fear of God.
» This is Christian normality.
We however live in a Church with a divided heart expressed in divided words portraying a divided image to the world.
» This is the spiritual tragedy of our time.
Jesus taught that only a Church visibly “one” in his “glory” can reveal his unity with the Father “so that the world might believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20ff.).
Confess that as individuals, congregations and city-Church we are dominated by an ungodly fear that flows from a divided heart breeding competition and distance between us.
Recognise that only a sovereign divine visitation of the all-forgiving love which draws all things together in perfect harmony can heal our fractured hearts and make us whole (Col 3:14).
Pray that in the light of the cross we might each have a revelation of the depths of the psalmist’s words: