There is a scene - although seemingly so common - that is vividly etched into my conscience. The result of which compelled us into the right direction - from a definition of conscience.
A Small Blue Book
The circa was 1970 - the year Nancy and I were married. Faith had been awakened in us and as we entered into the study of Brother John Conley - pastor of Fifth Avenue Church of God - I said to him something like this: “I need help in studying the Bible.” I don’t remember if he said anything in reply, but I do remember that he turned to his right toward the bookshelves lining his office and retrieved a small blue book. As he handed it to me I saw that it was a devotional commentary including Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
Included on those pages was the author’s own translation of Philippians 1:27-28. And as that small blue book still sits on my own bookshelves this is it - word for word.
“One thing you must see to whatever happens–live a life that is worthy of a citizen of the Kingdom and of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you, or whether I go away and hear how things go with you, the news will be that you are standing fast, united in one spirit, fighting with one soul the battle of the gospel’s faith, and that you are not put into fluttering alarm by any of your adversaries. For your steadfastness is a proof to them that they are doomed to defeat, while you are destined for salvation–and that from God.”
Imprinted On Our Hearts
I am struggling not for a metaphor to describe what happened next - but which one to use. The one I have employed most frequently over the ensuing years is that the words leaped from the pages of this book and imprinted themselves on our hearts. Another that comes to my mind is that they provided a key that unlocked the window to a vista that is so broad and breath-taking that it staggers the ability of our minds to comprehend. Having said it that way an impetus is provided for the writing of this chronicle which may serve as an introduction to a larger treatise: A Chronicle of City-reaching from One Couple’s Perspective of 45 Years.
Through these two simple verses a passion was released in our hearts for the reconciliation of the Body of Christ. The word unity is commonly used - but over the years our understanding has developed more toward the essence of the term oneness. Unity can often be construed as something we do - and as a result God responds to us. Oneness is the initiative of God as verified by Christ’s great prayer for us - His church - recorded in John 17. He did not pray for unity - but for oneness. As He only responded to the initiative of His Father, we can only respond to the initiative of our Lord–His prayer.
Being One In Spirit
Indeed Paul takes up this theme again in Philippians 2 - “then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” 2:2. The next verses - an early form of hymnody - lay the wherewithal squarely at the feet of the Saviour. While never being stripped of oneness with the Father, He did lay aside the cloak of this impervious equality to wholly and completely identify with us: “From heaven He came and sought her To be His holy bride;.” There is only one word capable of encompassing the breadth of His actions and that is humility: “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” 2:8.
The intercessory oneness of Christ is the seed from which springs forth the shoot of humility in His Church thus giving rise to the fruit of unity. If our focus is only on the evidence - rather than on the authentic motivation - our efforts succumb when the drought of testing comes.
An Adequately Laid Foundation
This may seem to be a bit of a digression from the opening words of this chronicle - yet if this foundation is not adequately laid it would be the epitome of futility to set one more stone in the wall.
Paul was writing to the Church at Philippi - the whole church - while under house arrest in Rome. He did not know whether he faced imminent release or death in the arena - yet he exuded a confidence for the Philippian Church that escaped the bonds of his current state: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” 1:6.
He longed to be with them once again - but realizing that might never happen his confident appeal was that he might hear a sound coming from them. This sound was the one voice of harmony: “that you are standing fast, united in one spirit, fighting with one soul the battle of the gospel’s faith,...” This is a clear and distinct “Caedmon’s Call”: “Now [we] must honour the guardian of heaven, the might of the architect, and his purpose, the work of the father of glory” (Caedmon’s Hymn circa 658-680).
His Unfailing Call
This is the hope that sprang forth in our hearts for the Church in our city and our state - one that would eventually take us to the nations. Though it has waxed and waned over the years–His unfailing call has proved to be our firm foundation. In this present day our expectation is heightened as never before.
Through the media of narrative - and what we believe is Biblical ecclesiology, it is our desire to share with you from our perspective and experience what was, what is and what is to come.
Elect from every nation,
yet one o'er all the earth;
her charter of salvation,
one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with every grace endued.
Samuel J Stone - 1866
To be continued...