For the purposes of this chat, let’s use “experience” in its meaning as a “touch of reality modified by and perceived through an emotional filter”.
In other words, three or more people can be in the same place at the same time and “share” a “common experience” — yet what perceptions and memories are produced in their brains will be different (sometimes more different than night is from day.) cf: 3 witness to the same vehicular collision producing 5 different testimonies…!
Dylan Morrison [The Prodigal Prophet; http://www.amazon.com/The-Prodigal-Prophet-Dylan-Morrison/dp/1460943503%5D has observed over the years that religious or spiritual groups based on common belief seem to fragment almost as soon as they are established. They may have all signed the same Statement of Belief, but there always comes a day in which one or more pull away from the group based on not agreeing with that same statement, no matter how “clearly” written.
This is also true also true of groups based on a common experience such as Toronto’s “Father’s Blessing” in which everyone has fallen to the carpet, praising God or barking or crying or showing any of a number of manifestations… but if anything, groups based on a common experience are typically even more unstable than groups based on a common belief.
If common belief or common experience are failure ridden, what is left? What “foundation” is there which can provide stability to religious or spiritual groups?
Only one. And it’s clearly biblical (for you Baptists and other Evangelicals out there…) Paul the apostle writes in 1Cor 3.10f, there is but one foundation upon which the Body of Christ may be built successfully: “I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
Jesus is not a doctrine or a teaching; He is not someone’s belief-system nor is He even a common experience (such as baptism, the laying on of hands, speaking in tongues — whatever that is…) Jesus — The Foundation of the Festival Celebration and Gathering Together of the Firstborn — is a living Person, and any group of people who are brought together other than through modest but real relationships with the person of Jesus Christ is bound to fail; any groups that are bound together in Him will not and can not fail.
This is where understanding a relationship with Jesus is not an experience with Jesus. Many people have or claim to have “experienced” Jesus — yet they have no abiding relationship with Him. But how can one know the difference between thinking one has a living relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ, and actually having merely a superficial relationship with Him?
There is a measure, a standard unit by which the size, amount, and degree of person’s relationship with Jesus can be measured. (There is no such “measure” by which a person’s doctrinal or strength of belief or faith or even experience may be so measured!)
What is this “measuring stick” of a person’s Jesus-relationship?
It’s their love.
There are several places in Scripture where it’s clear that if we do not love as Jesus loved, we are not His children.
1Jn 3.10: “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother. This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” [“What is right” is explained as “love you brother’.]
1Jn 3.14-16: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer [as Cain hated Able], and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us and so also we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”
“Be imitators of God, therefore, [imitate what? God’s Laws? God’s morality?]
as dearly loved children
and live a life of love, [that’s how we imitate Him]
just as Christ loved us and
gave himself up for us.”
let us love one another,
[because] love comes from God.
[Therefore] everyone who loves has been born of God
and knows God.
[Therefore] whoever does not love
does not know God,
[because] God is love.”
There are so many other passages that when someone tells me that God has “sent us here” in order to “save” the “lost”, and I dare ask them to stack up their list of verses telling us that we’re here to “save the lost” against the verses telling us that we’ve been sent here to love as Jesus loves… their list is not only smaller but holds lots of verses that are misread and/or misapplied. Love crushes “modern evangelism”.
Actually, Jn 13.34 has Jesus telling His followers,
“A new command I give you: Love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are My disciples,
if you love one another.”
This is the true basis for evangelism:
not cleverly constructed and memorized dialogs,
not cute little colored books;
not “Gospel Clowns”;
not hellishly written tracts accusing
the Pope of being the Anti-Christ and
Hollywood as being the Beast
(… therefore you better love God or go to Hell forever and ever, everlasting torment, where the worm dieth not and the rich man [Dives] is apparently still begging for drop of water to cool his tongue… and if THAT doesn’t persuade a person of God’s love, I don’t know what will…)
Back to business: The only true, evangelistic basis given by Jesus through which everyone will know He’s the Son of God is that His followers love others as He Himself has loved others — for us to love as He loves.
Let’s reconsider the paragraph up above:
“This is where understanding that a relationship with Jesus is not an experience with Jesus. Many people have or claim to have “experienced” Jesus — yet they have no abiding relationship with Him. There is a measure, a standard unit by which the size, amount, and degree of person’s relationship with Jesus can be measured.
(There is no such “measure” by which a person’s doctrinal or strength of belief or faith or even “experience” may be so measured!)”
And the only measure is how we love others — especially our enemies. (How’re you doing with that one lately? Do you even think of your enemies, much less spend time figuring out how to love them?)
If you’ve followed the reasoning up above, you can see why I say,
“What’s necessary for a group of people who come together spiritually [not religiously!] will never be able to remain united based merely on holding a common belief or claiming a common relationship — because the only Reality that will hold a group together in unity is love coming from one’s relationship with Jesus Christ.
You ever see people who truly are in love with one another find cause to separate? Oh, they’ll quarrel — and make up; they’ll fight sometimes — then go get a beer or a Chardonnay together and slap each other on the back as brothers and sisters should. But when love is lost, all that can hold them together is fear of separation, a conviction they’ll go to hell if they leave fellowship, family members who stay in the group, common friends neither is willing to give up, fear of other denominations, &c.
People in love with one another and in love with Jesus go through thick and thin, misunderstanding and (worse) understanding, hard times and easy — and they go through it together, with healthy relationships holding one another up and bracing for the worst. (I know it’s possible! Our fellowship group has walked in that place of love for five or more years now — we know of that which we speak!)
I think Dylan Morrison also says this:
“I do also feel like what the religious call “fellowship” is anything but “fellowship” — which does leave us in difficult situation!!! In fact, I’ve found a helpful tip that whenever a christian I know comes from an institutional church talks to me about “church” I immediately change the topic to “Jesus”… and the conversation seems to go better!”
One person, Tony Yeoman, apparently struggling to stop being automatically “re-routed” into doctrinal or experiential challenges wondered if he just wasn’t “ready” to face fellowship in a “regular church”. He tried to understand today’s broken, divisive church by saying, “I guess the early church didn’t have much of these issues. Meanwhile; …..????”
Sorry, Tony Yeoman! Read Paul’s letters written to the various people and groups he watched over as an apostle — none of them escaped these very problems with not loving Jesus (noticeable by not loving their visible brothers and sisters!) If Tony were able to travel 2,000+ years into the past and walk into one of the house fellowships [Gr. ekklesia] he’d find the same fallen human beings asking if he’s had an experience of Jesus like the one they had, or if he believed in the teachings of their older brothers and sisters — or risk getting kicked out of the local fellowship!
No — the “solution” doesn’t exist 2,000+ years ago but today — today, tomorrow, and the day(s) afterwards. The “solution” to enjoying unity amongst those who are following after Jesus Christ is simply this: love like Jesus Loves.
BTW: Love will also bring about a whole lot of unity amongst people who are “pagan” — people who aren’t even slightly interested in Jesus. Jesus’ love spreads His Gospel everywhere — as long as there’s a starting place — which, of course, can be you or me as well as anyone else. After all, it’s coming from Jesus anyway, and appears only second-hand through the rest of us. es