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John Murray on Ecumenical Relations and Prayer for Reformation

12 May, 2008

The corporate unity which belongs to the church of Christ is much broader than the unity which exists within the particular branch to which we belong. Our corporate relationship to our own denomination is, of course, the most intimate, and in that relationship our obligation is most intense. But the body of Christ is more embracive than our denomination. The body of Christ comprises all Churches which can properly be esteemed Churches of Christ. Therefore — will we, nill we — our corporate responsibility extends beyond the branch of the church to which we belong, and our corporate witness is affected by the corporate witness of the whole church of Christ throughout the world.

This brings into acute focus the situation in which we are placed as members of the body of Christ. We sustain ecumenical relations and therefore we cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility in relation to the condition and state of the whole church of Christ. If we think of the error and wrong which exist within the bounds of the church of Christ, if we think of the abominations which are committed in Zion, if we remember how the love of many has waxed cold, we cannot self-complacently congratulate ourselves that we are entirely unrelated to these evils. They are evils which exist within the body of which we are members, and they must affect and infect us.

Perhaps we have sometimes wondered why the Christian witness, even in orthodox Churches, is so impotent, why godliness is at such a low ebb, why, when it ought to be a mighty torrent, it is but a trickle scarcely seen among the stones at the bottom of the river’s channel. There are many reasons. But this is one of them — the declension and coldness in the church as a whole have affected and infected the whole body and this infection betrays itself in the low state of godliness in the individual members. There are many lessons to be learned. One of these requires special mention. It is that we should be aroused to earnest prayer and passion that God would arise and have mercy upon Zion, that the time to favour her, yea, the set time may speedily come, that the church of Christ throughout the whole world may be arrayed again in garments of glory and beauty, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.

Faith imbued with zeal for the honour of Christ and the glory of God will have no sympathy with the defeatism which is, after all, but disguised fatalism. He who is head over all things is head over all things to his body the church. He has all authority in heaven and in earth. And he is the Lord of the Spirit. Implicit in the prayer he taught his disciples to pray, ‘thy will be done as in heaven so in earth’, is the prayer that the whole earth should be filled with his praise. Nothing less is the measure of the believer’s desire. ‘And blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory.’ May we not pray for the peace of Jerusalem — ‘peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces’. And who knows but the floodgates of reformation grace and power may be opened and we shall have occasion to say,

When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them. The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.

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5 Comments
  1. 12 May, 2008 7:27 pm

    “Perhaps we have sometimes wondered why the Christian witness, even in orthodox Churches, is so impotent, why godliness is at such a low ebb, why, when it ought to be a mighty torrent, it is but a trickle scarcely seen among the stones at the bottom of the river’s channel.”

    In addition to lack of fervent prayer, I’m sure it is the constant confusion of Law and Gospel that is prevalent in most churches and even in many Reformed (“orthodox” ) churches. To keep the church under the Law when it should be free in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to keep the church impotent (see Rom 8). This is what Paul explains in Col 2:23 and is similar to the experience of “I” with the Law in Romans 7.

    Give us this day our daily bread! Help us to feed on the two words (or two moods of the one word) properly so that we learn not to swallow them down in one meaningless gulp and then choke on the confused mush.

  2. creedorchaos permalink*
    13 May, 2008 6:25 am

    Along those lines, I think Murray was onto something when he said that it’s wrong to pat ourselves on the back if some of us DO get certain things right — like the law/gospel distinction, for example — and instead recognize that we too are affected by the confusion going on in so many places. On one level, the ‘we’ needs to be understood more broadly; it’s not ‘us’ (the parts of the church that get something right) versus ‘them’ (the parts of the church that get something wrong). In this sense, WE are getting things wrong, and WE need to be called back to the truth by Word and Spirit–even as we thank God that for the faithfulness that he has continued to maintain among his church, despite his church.

    I think such a way of approaching things, when calling fellow churches and Christians to faithfulness, is much better — ‘we need to think and speak and act faithfully in this way’ versus ‘I’m faithful and you’re unfaithful’.

    That being said, the unity of the ‘we’ has to be genuine unity! Paul certainly didn’t use such a ‘we’re in this together’ approach with the Galatian false-teachers…but he DID use such an approach with the Galatians CHURCHES.

    ~B

  3. 13 May, 2008 11:50 am

    tru-dat holmes.
    we do need to tell the truth in love…covenant love…with the Lord’s priestly desire for oneness in mind (Jn 17).

  4. enu permalink
    13 May, 2008 1:05 pm

    thanks for posting that. good stuff.

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