Can the Church Become a True Light on a Hill?

Some years ago I met a bright young student at Beeson Divinity School who shared a conversation with me about Christian unity and his desire for serious preparation to pursue an academic career as a teacher. I only remember that conversation now (I have had so many like this one over the years) because this young man reminded me of our conversation just a few years ago when we reconnected in Waco, Texas, at a small group meeting at Baylor University. resizeThis young man, Dr. Charles (Chad) Raith, is now the assistant professor of religion and philosophy at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Dr. Raith completed his B.S. degree at Georgia Tech, received an M.Div. at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, and then his M. Th. at Regent College (Vancouver, B.C.). He then chose to do his Ph.D. at Ave Maria University in Florida, obviously a Catholic school. His doctoral research was focused on how John Calvin used Thomas Aquinas in his commentary on Paul to the Romans. He became the first Protestant to complete a doctorate at this conservative Catholic school.

Chad Raith is one of the finest young ecumenical scholars that I know in the evangelical world. He is also making a huge contribution to teaching and moulding students in both mind and spirit. If I had a young student who wanted a college mentor in theology and philosophy who would care about him or her in a deeply personal way I would connect them with Dr. Chad Raith.

Chad has also been an active part of my work with the Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation over the past two years. In addition, he has spoken for ACT3 in a Chicago event that we had in 2013. Our lives are now powerfully linked by a common concern for the future of the church and its unity. Recently we shared an email exchange in which Chad wrote to me about something that he has been working on as an author, namely a commentary on the biblical book of Job. What he said was so good that I asked him if I could quote his letter.

Dr. Raith wrote:

I’ve doing quite a bit of work lately on the Book of Job. I’ve been asked to write the commentary on Job for the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. I’m struck by the sheer hopelessness and the sense of meaningless that many contemporary people feel about the world they live in – modern interpretations of Job are quite revealing! And I’m all the more convinced that our disunity does nothing more than contribute to the sense of disorderdness and disorientation that many people feel. A fractured body of Christ becomes just another indication of the general lack of coherence and meaning in this world – a world in which there’s no God who has spoken into the world, who has incarnated himself in the world, and is working to bring this world to himself in love. For the modern Job, we’re just a bunch of blind sufferers groping to find meaning in a universe without it. The church can be a light on such a dark hill – but not if we keep trying to put out each other’s lamps! But you and I believe that this is what we do through our disunity.

Thanks Chad. Well said my friend. My great hope in the New Year is that we who influence leaders in the Christian Church will light lamps for Christian unity rather than perpetually “put out each other’s lamps.”

11 Comments on “Can the Church Become a True Light on a Hill?”

  1. I have been walking the walk for over 40 years now and have also enquired of the Lord regarding the denominational make up of The Church. In brief, I have come to the conclusion that it’s not problematic at all. Firstly, God does not recognize them. Secondly, they only help ensure that heresy does not spread, thirdly, there are both Christians and non Christians to be found in every congregation and every denomination or non. fourthly, there are many para church structures (Gideon, FGMFI, Samaritan’s Purse, World Vision to name a few that bring co-laborers from across the spectrum. In effect so called church denominations are not and should not be looked upon as impediments to the church as a whole. In the past there was a much higher degree of territorial control than today and that is as it should be. We should all seek too pursue or relationship to Christ and quit fretting about denominations. Of course the fact that there are denominations allows for individuals to decide which group’s theology lines up with his/her convictions more closely so that he/she could cast his/her lot in with that congregation.

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