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Thomas Aquinas was a great gift to the church. He stands among the greatest minds the world has ever known. This doesn’t mean, of course, that he did not have his flaws, one of which goes to the heart of his intellectual labors. He saw it as his goal to synthesize the wisdom of Aristotle with the wisdom of the Bible. Now, Aristotle was no intellectual slouch either. That said, Thomas’ goal ought to immediately raise flags for us. Even a dummy like me can see: why would anyone want to synthesize the Bible with anything? What does the Bible lack that Aristotle brought to the table? The Bible is sufficient to tell us that the Bible is sufficient. We don’t need Aristotle — or Aquinas — to remind us that at the end of the day we don’t need Aristotle or Aquinas. What we need is the Bible.

This propensity for mixing the Bible with our own wisdom did not die with Thomas. Because we are inveterate syncretists, we are inveterate synthesizers. We want to combine our philosophy with the Bible. We want to combine our political theories with the Bible. We want to combine our psychology with the Bible. We want to combine our economics with the Bible. And we want to combine our understanding of the business world with the Bible. Of course, we all ought to believe what the Bible says about each of these things. The trouble isn’t bringing the Bible to bear on questions of wisdom. The trouble isn’t asking what the Bible tells us the state is called to do, nor asking what the Bible tells us about the human soul. The problem is taking a body of “knowledge” built on an unbiblical worldview and then trying to mesh that with the Bible.

Consider, for a moment, how little Scripture and how much psychology we have in the field of business. Consultants there are eager to tell us of the vital importance of developing a “vision,” of putting together a “mission statement.” While it is always good to know where we are going, it is always better to go back to the Bible. There we are told to mediate on the Word of God. We are told to seek out the wisdom therein. What we are not told is to have a “mission statement.” If anything, we are given a mission statement — seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. 

This is not merely Jesus’ mission statement. It is not merely my mission statement. It states the mission for all of us, which means in turn that it states the mission of missions. This is what the church is to be about in every corner of the world. And when the church in one corner reaches out to aid the church in another, this is where that aid ought to be moving.

Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians that the body of Christ is made up of different members. We all have different callings under our one, grand calling. His caution, however, is that too often we confuse our specific calling with God’s general calling. That is, we are seeking to build our own little kingdoms rather than seeking His. When our peculiar mission is driven by our peculiarities rather than His one grand mission, we are upside down and likely in the way. When we seek to syncretize our end with His, we miss our true mission.

Every Lord’s Day where I worship we confess together our faith. Some Sundays we sing together the Apostles’ Creed. Some Sundays we sing the Nicene Creed. I often remind the congregation that each Lord’s Day we do not worship alone. Instead, we are lifted up into the true and eternal Mount Zion where we meet with the souls of just men made perfect (Heb. 12:22–24). But it is not our local congregation alone that is so lifted up; rather, the church across the globe gathers together there. The Lord’s Day is like a celestial “wave” whereby as the earth spins on its axis the saints of God rise up to give Him praise.

We are not united, of course, by a common tongue. We do not share the exact same history (though we all have Abraham for our father). We are not of the same skin color. What unites us is our common faith. We confess the same Lord. We have the same mission. Together we are called to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. And together is the only way this will come to pass.

God has indeed given each of us a part to play, a little mission that works toward the single grand mission. The serpent, however, delights in our confusing the part with the whole. Our glory, however, isn’t found in building up our little corner of the kingdom. Instead, our glory grows only insofar as His kingdom grows. We must decrease, but He must increase. And as we die, so we live. In other words, when we seek first the kingdom and His righteousness, all these things will be added to us. His kingdom is not only forever, but it is for everywhere. May He be pleased to give us eyes to see that “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun does His successive journeys run.” May we see “His kingdom stretch from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more.”

Holding the Rope

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From the November 2008 Issue
Nov 2008 Issue