Within the church and outside it, there is always a sense of dismay when people professing a faith of the same tradition simply don’t get along. Within the church, there is a kind of assumption bordering on wishful thinking and downright blind hope that all is well whenever the conversation swings to what a community believes in and what it accepts as truth. There’s also an equal degree of consternation when one branch of a faith tradition seems to be at odds with another or when someone within the tradition professes a knowledge of God’s doings over and above another person within that same community of faith; when there is on the part of one a sense that God’s revelations are solely their own. Simply put, we want to believe that what we believe is what everyone else finds to be true.
Apparently, the church Paul was addressing, not that far removed in years from the life and times of Christ Jesus seems no better educated or enlightened than our aging universal church has proved to be. Paul was up against a shower of factions struggling with one another over what to believe and which leader held the inside track on knowing the mind of God. For Paul, there was only one answer as to who was in charge – who should be guiding the church and who was actively living out the principles and purposes set forth in Christ Jesus, God’s living word. The one in charge, always in charge, is the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is fully in charge then the lives of those who follow the Spirit of Christ will grow and the community will thrive. However, we know, in any given church, there is a tendency to follow the Apollos, the Simons, even the Pauls rather than to follow the Spirit of God. Caution should prevail when any among us believe and speak as though our concept of truth is the truth. How do we know? How can we put our beliefs to the test?
I often remember a lesson I learned back in the days when an alive and full Christian faith was still new to me. I thought I had it all, thought I knew it all and I wanted to share what I believed to be God’s truth with anyone who would give me five minutes of his or her time. Wisely or not, my pastor gave me the opportunity and the forum to spread my version of God’s truth by asking me to teach a class during the season of Pentecost.
One of the class members was a wonderful woman with a great faith of her own named Cecilia. I didn’t know much about Cecilia but she certainly seemed like a good and gentle person. I was to discover just how strong her faith was for when I recited the Acts 2 passage emphasizing the need to “be born anew” in Christ and then offered my own story of a saving faith, this poor woman broke down in tears. I had described a moment when God had become real to me and Christ became my personal savior. Though my intentions were honest, my approach was foolish. Without meaning to do so, I had naively proposed that faith in Christ was evidenced in one spectacular turnabout moment. This broken-hearted woman came to me after the class in tears to say she had never had such a moment in her life and therefore felt as though her faith in Christ couldn’t be as real or as true as mine. Her tears, however, were real and her sincerity obvious. I knew then that faith in Christ comes to us in many ways, each of us different.
I‘m not sure God was trying to make a point but I got it anyway. I didn’t have a corner on truth. Here, in this class, I was teaching about the power of the Holy Spirit and yet, I had taken credit for something in my own life, which the Spirit of God had accomplished not only in me, but in this dear woman of faith in quite ways. Two different examples of Christ’s love in two different lives and both completely influenced by God’s love only.
George Whitefield is quoted in the journal on Christian History as saying: “Young Christians are like little rivulets that make a large noise, and have shallow water; old Christians are like deep water that makes little noise, carries a good load, and gives not way.” This was Cecilia…an older Christian, older in the faith than me whose waters were deeper than mine, who had carried many a good load and who didn’t give way to the trials of life. She was a special gift from God…one seasoned Christian to one younger in the faith and not fully ready to appreciate the uniqueness of God’s gift of light and enlightenment. Cecilia had traveled down many paths and I had just learned how to walk.
In the church, in the world, we are too often inclined to set up rules, draw lines in the sand and dare others to join our way rather than follow God’s way. Like the church in Corinth, sides were being taken, leaders followed to the exclusion of the community as a whole and Christ was being left on the sidelines. Faith should never be a sports competition…the stronger wins; the weaker fall behind. It should never be a contest of wits over realm…God’s place among us. It should always begin and end with our relationship to Christ and with one another. The other night I found myself in a place where I was to join the crowd by praying a standard prayer of release and accepting Christ with my hand upraised indicating my decision to do so. Eyes closed, prayer said, words repeated, hands raised in response to the statement, If you followed the formula, if you say the prayer, if you offer your life, if you admit your sins, then Christ has entered you, freed you and saved you. Well, I didn’t raise my hand. Not because I don’t believe prayer is needed. Prayer is always needed. Not because I don’t believe I should ask forgiveness for my sins. I should and do ask for forgiveness for my sins. Not because I don’t want Christ in my heart; Lord and Savior over my life because I always want that. Not for any of those reasons did my hands remain in my lap. I simply didn’t raise my hand because I remembered Cecilia and her faith. I remember her courage; the courage it took to share her relationship with Christ, when it was so different from mine. I remembered Paul and his prayer for the young community of faith in Corinth, which had strayed into factions instead of building up the relationships that bind one to another and all to Christ Jesus. I didn’t raise my hand because I knew I didn’t need to prove my faith or myself at least, not this way. My life and the way I lived it would be proof enough. Someone, many someones had planted the seeds in me, someone, many someones had watered them, but only God, can give the growth. For me, for Cecilia, and for you. “For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.” Together, we are the church. Amen.
 George Whitefield. Christian History, Issue 38.