Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
The Greek word here translated “dwelling place” in the King James as “rooms” is monai also translated “abide”.
14:23 “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and abide home with them.” 15:4 “Abide in me as I abide in you.” 15:10 “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” Jesus intends us to abide in him, to remain in him, to find our present and future place in his life, to gather with others in his body the church and to be reunited with him and the Father at death – or when he comes again, whichever comes first. St. John
There were predictions of Christ’s final coming yesterday, and we’re still here. There have been such predictions before and will be again. That Christ will come again is a matter of faith in his promise, when he will come again he said only the Father knows, but in that day let us be found doing his will and enjoying his love.
Professor C.S. Lewis, in the Preface to Mere Christianity, his BBC lectures during WW II, wrote, “Christianity is . . . like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. . . . in the rooms, not in the hall, . . .there are fires and chairs and meals. . . . you must be asking which door is the true one; . . . the question should. . . be, “Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this?” . . . When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.”
Despite our divisions into our separate rooms the Church has always remembered Jesus’ prayer that the disciples and the church might be one as he and the Father were one, united in being, united in thought, united in action. Throughout history Jesus’ disciples have lived in the tension of spiritual unity and corporate division. Our first lesson tells of the death of Stephen the first martyr, chosen by the apostles to ensure the unity of the
church by making sure that the Greek-speaking widows were not neglected in the daily distribution from the common supply of food. We call Stephen and his fellows the first deacons in the church. Several times in Acts we read of actions to preserve unity when division was threatened. Paul’s letters to churches in Jerusalem Corinth, in , and in other places tell of the effort to preserve unity. Our epistle readings this Easter season from Peter, describing the church as “living stones, built into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, who have received mercy,” all descriptions that seek to preserve spiritual unity. Rome
But as the Church grew in numbers and time passed, spiritual unity broke down. The Gnostics came to rely on secret spiritual knowledge and broke the connection between faith and morals. They said, “if we are saved by faith (by which they meant the secret spiritual knowledge of Jesus’ teaching) then what we do with our bodies doesn’t matter. The Gnostics were, and are popular. You can feel part of a spiritual elite and not have that interfere in any way with how you behave. To witness to the truth against the Gnostics the gospels were written, and the Epistle of James writes “faith without works is dead.”
In Egypt a priest-philosopher named Arius tried to explain how Jesus saves us and it took several councils of bishops writing what we call the Nicene Creed to state the paradoxical truth that Jesus is both and at the same time fully and completely God and fully and completely human. An Arian church continued for several hundred years.
Some church divisions were over matters of conscience that could not be resolved. Other divisions came by what we now see as historical processes. In the eastern Mediterranean people spoke Greek; in the western
Mediterranean people spoke Latin. The dividing line is the border in the Balkans between Catholic Croatia and Eastern Orthodox Serbia. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches have been divided since 1056. But both churches are working toward resolving the issues that divide them. One of them is about the Holy Spirit in the Nicene Creed. The Latin version says that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (Latin filioque). The Greek says that the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. Both agree that the Spirit is worshipped and glorified with the Father and the Son. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church has said that if our churches can resolve other areas of disagreement we will not insist on the filioque.
About 500 years ago the Western – Latin speaking – church divided north and south for reasons both religious and political. Much of northern Europe became Protestant; much of the south formed part of a renewed Roman Catholic church England chose a third way, looking to the early church for a renewal that retained much Catholic practice with renewed attention to the Bible. For other reasons religious and political the Protestant churches divided into many fellowships, many of them brought by immigrants to
We gather Sunday by Sunday in many rooms, and such is the power of familiarity that we assume that is what God intended. But the American denominational system is not the only way the church has been organized. In many parts of the world through history there has been one church that officially included all the people. Dissenters were forced to leave. Immigrants to
founded churches that either sought to reproduce the familiar church at home – or to be deliberately something very different from the church at home. Compare the colonial church in America Virginia which sought to reproduce the Church of England and the colonial Congregational church in New England which sought to purify that church by reference to the New Testament and John Calvin. In all the colonies the various churches were influenced in various ways by their American experience.
For the past 150 years Christians have worked together to recover spiritual unity and to understand and overcome our corporate divisions. I have spent much of my ministry in this ecumenical work.
Today Anglican and Roman Catholic delegates are meeting at the Bose ecumenical monastery in northern
in the 3rd session of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission. Previous sessions have come to significant agreement on theological questions. ARCIC III is studying how the local and universal Church discerns right ethical teaching. The local Roman Catholic bishop visited the meeting. He said that his cathedral’s baptistery is older than the division of Christianity, and he invites all Christians to use this baptistery, for baptism is common to us all. He also said, “The more we love our Lord the easier it is for us to come closer to one another.” Italy
One way we witness to spiritual unity and seek to overcome corporate division is through full communion agreements. These witness to agreement in faith and on that basis agree to invite members to share in holy communion and in common ministry. Such an agreement with the
was concluded this year. The Agreement with the Moravian Church is 10 years old. Discussions with the Lutheran Church and other American churches continue. Discussions with the Eastern Orthodox churches continue, and interfaith dialogues are beginning. United Methodist Church
So let us remember that Jesus intends us to abide in him, to remain in him, to find our present and future place in his life, to gather with others in his body the church and to be reunited with him and the Father. And as Professor Lewis wrote, “When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.”