My cartoon for June 1, 2009 has received more than the usual response from readers. I received a nice vote of confidence from many readers, while others were not so sure. They were a bit skeptical of the cartoon, while also being thoughtful, considerate, complimentary, and in some cases, quite informative. I think that, perhaps, some of those who took issue with the cartoon didn’t quite get what I was trying to say. Hopefully, this blog post will provide some clarification.
The point I am trying to make with the cartoon is simply this: that we should try to remember that those who have a relationship with the Father through Jesus are your brothers and sisters in the Lord. The guy who is following Jesus along with you is your brother, even though he may be in a different group with a different label. The cars on the train represent the different denominations within Christianity. Though separated by their disagreements, the characters in the cars recognize that they are still united together on one train, because they are both connected to the engine (Jesus) and the coal tender (the Holy Spirit), and they are both running on the same track (the Word of God). Both of the characters are heading to the same destination. Salvation is not found in denominations, but in Jesus. Without the engine (Jesus), the cars aren’t going anywhere. The theme of the cartoon is the unity of the church in Jesus Christ.
Of course, I understand that there are those groups which are not a part of the true church. That is why I included the car that is labeled “false religion”. It may look like the other cars, but it is not connected to the engine (Jesus), it is off on the wrong track of false teaching, and it is not going anywhere. In Romans 16:17, the Apostle Paul warns us about them.
I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.
These people are not serving our Lord Christ. They lack a relationship with Him.
I have been involved in various church denominations and Christian groups in my life. One thing I hate is to hear someone in one denomination belittling or ridiculing their brothers and sisters who are in a different denomination. Certainly, there are disagreements among the brethren on various issues. I, of course, have my own views on such matters, based on my own understanding of the Bible. But we should not allow such disagreements to cause us to lose sight of the fact that we are still brothers and sisters in Jesus. The Apostle Paul wrote about this in Romans 14:1-4:
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
If we are serving Jesus, even if we disagree about some things, He is able to make us stand.
There is, however, one thing that we absolutely must agree upon: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, this is the issue of first importance.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
I believe sound doctrine is important, but I do not believe that doctrine alone can ever unite the Body of Christ. Unity will not be achieved by a creed or a list of principles. Unity is found in a person, Jesus Christ. When we are all rightly related to Jesus, then we will begin to be rightly related to each other. I chose 1 John 4:2-3 to go along with the cartoon because I think those verses point to the one central thing that brings us together as Christians: our relationship with Jesus. It is also the main thing that separates us from the rest of the world.
In the book of John, chapter 17, Jesus prays to the Father on behalf of the future church. Here is a portion of that prayer, from verses 21-23:
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their (the apostles’) message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
What will bring us to complete unity? Jesus in us, and we in Jesus. I believe that God is in the process of answering Jesus’ prayer.
Another cartoon of mine tries to make the same point about the unity of the church in Jesus Christ.