In the beginning the Bible describes man as being in direct, intimate communion with God, The Creator. It was only after Adam and Eve decided to break off this intimacy by disobeying and then hiding from God that the relationship changed.
Likewise, when God populated the earth with mankind after the creation, God’s plan was apparently for all men to be united with a common ancestry and language. Once more at the
However, in calling Abraham, God established a differentiated people separated for a distinct purpose. These Hebrew people were to be different and were appointed a mission. Part of their mission was to maintain their distinctiveness by not intermingling with the non-Hebrew people who surrounded them. The covenant that God made with Abraham’s descendents was a “them and us” type covenant:” Come out from among them and be ye separate” was the herald’s cry. At the same time, within the Abrahamic Covenant and the subsequent Law of Moses were hidden the seeds of divine blessing on all nations- “Through you and your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed”. This hidden or underlying blessing was a commitment to a special unity of all mankind, in contrast with the exclusiveness and separateness of the Old Covenant with its many outward, physical distinctions.
In describing the wonders of the New Covenant fulfillment, the Apostle Paul proclaimed that eye hath not seen nor hear heard the things which God hath prepared for his own. Likewise, in another passage, Paul stated that if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are past away. Behold all things are become new. Newness was the hallmark of the new spiritual creation through Christ and his fulfilling work.
Unfortunately the extent of this newness has been lost on many in the subsequent generations of followers of Christ. Most have assumed that somehow, this newness was not achieved, at least in its fullness, because mankind is largely misguided and too often evil in thought and deed. Somehow the work of Christ on the cross is supposed to be incomplete and therefore ineffective in transforming mankind. In the minds of many, the world has remained divided into opposing camps with no hope of unity in Christ. The world has continued to be viewed as made up of diametrically different and irreconcilable groups: the hardworking and the slothful, the law abiding and the lawless, spiritually minded and secularly minded, the responsible and the irresponsible, the churched and the “unchurched”. In nearly all cases, the former groups have been conceived as the minority and the latter groups as the majority. This divisive picture of the state of mankind is a throwback to the Old Covenant arrangement and not at all new. At every turn it sounds like the same old concept of “them versus us”. It is a picture of exclusiveness and a sure formula for conflict. In fact, Christianity over the centuries has nurtured the idea of being under siege by Satan and his unbelieving followers. Separateness and a sense of persecution were and are the Christians’ badge of honor.
Our old, misguided eschatology, which states emphatically that Christ’s work is incomplete after the passage of two millennia, demands that one accept as a fact that the Gospel was never meant to be effective in redeeming and re-uniting mankind with either his Creator or each other. According to this tradition, God’s plan was always to stand by and watch mankind sink deeper and deeper into depravity until he finally decided that it was time for judgment. In this scenario, judgment and destruction are the true answer to sin, not redemption.
The truth of the matter is just the opposite. Paul tells us as much in describing the glories of the new covenant in Romans 5 and Hebrews 8. In Ephesians 2:14 Paul tells us of the unity that comes through Christ. Those who were previously excluded are now to be included. This is a big part of the newness promised.
The question remains as to what power is going to transform mankind in such a way as to make the promised unity a reality. We know from history that the transformation will not be achieved by more of the same old message of fear, judgment, and spiritual siege. The common answer to this question is that the Return of Christ in judgment will achieve this end. That response rings a bit hollow when one considers that this supposed transformation involves the destruction of all God’s creation including the vast majority of mankind.
In describing and comparing first century spiritual powers, Paul told the Corinthians that love was the true source of power, far beyond anything else they might experience. I am reminded of a comment by Stephen Ambrose in his book entitled, “Comrades”. In this book the author speaks eloquently about the gift of friendship and how it enriches our lives. In telling his story, Ambrose relates the friendships of various well-known men. In one example, he speaks of a well-known man who he says did not have real, intimate friends in his life and who suffered calamitous failure in the climax of his career. The man was gifted in many respects but remained aloof from those around him. Ambrose postulates that this man failed in his life’s endeavor not because of a lack of ability or effort, but rather because of a lack of love. The question is stated thusly: “What could this man have been if someone had loved him?” That is the same question that is set forth by fulfilled eschatology: “What could mankind become if everyone realized that someone loved them- that they are the child of the King and not the beggarly, woe-begotten sinner they previously believed?”
Likewise, the author, Scott Peck, in his book, “The Different Drummer”, speaks of the necessity of giving up the age-old conflicts that separate us into factions. He speaks of the act of community building, a state or condition in which men and women work together for common good, without the need for leadership hierarchies, rigid rules, and stifling bureaucracies. It all sounds rather utopian, somewhat like the utopia of “all things new.” Peck goes on to note that a sense of community is often brought on by a crisis. A bonding of previously isolated individuals occurs when there is a common obstacle to overcome. Unfortunately throughout history the so-called leaders among us have used this “community in crisis” as a means to solidify their political power base through the practice of “scapegoating”. This involves identifying some other group as the cause of his group’s crisis. The struggle against the external enemy becomes the unifying force in this so-called community. This group cannot maintain its identity and purpose for existence unless the crisis of persecution can be maintained. This is not the type of unity defined by Peck or by the Bible.
God’s plan is and always has been one of unity, between mankind and himself and between individual human beings as well. I John 4:16 defines the unity of love so well, “God is love and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him”. No closer relationship could be imagined and no greater degree of newness could ever be achieved.
In the book “The Different Drum”, author Scott Peck relates the following story or myth:
The story concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times. Once a great order, as the result of waves of anti-monastic persecution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the rise of secularism in the nineteenth, all its branch houses were lost and it had become decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left in the decaying mother house: the abbott and four others, all over seventy in age. Clearly it was a dying order.
In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage. Through their many years of prayer and contemplation the old monks had become psychic, so they could always sense when the rabbi was in his hermitage. “The rabbi is in the woods, the rabbi is in the woods again”, they would whisper to each other. As he agonized over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to the abbott at one such time to visit the hermitage and ask the rabbi if by some possible chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.
The rabbi welcomed the abbott to his hut. But when the abbott explained the purpose of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him. “I know how it is”, he exclaimed. “The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore.” So the old abbott and the old rabbi wept together. Then they read parts of the Torah and quietly spoke of deep things. The time came when the abbott had to leave. They embraced each other. “It is a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years,” the abbot said “but I have failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?”
“No, I am sorry,” the rabbi responded. “I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that is that the Messiah is one of you.”
When the abbott returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, “Well, what did the rabbi say?”
“He couldn’t help,” the abbott answered. “We just wept and read the Torah together. The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving- it was something cryptic- was that the Messiah is one of us. I don’t know what he meant.
In the days and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi’s words. The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery? If that’s the case, which one? Do you suppose he meant the abbott? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbott. He has been our leader for more than a generation. One the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly Brother Thomas isa a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light. Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people’s sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. Often very right. Maybe the rabbi meant Brother Elred. But surely not Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him. He just magically appears by your side. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah. Of course, the rabbi couldn’t possibly have meant me. I’m just an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? O God, not me. I couldn’t be that much for You, could I?
As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off, off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.
Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed this aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends.
Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi’s gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality in the realm.
This tale provides a powerful glimpse into the possibility of building and maintaining a community through the exercise of mutual respect and cooperation. It is perfectly in keeping with the unity message which lies at the heart of the Gospel.