The Church’s Unity: Both Gift and Obligation

Third worship service in a collection of building blocks for a series of worship services based on key themes from the Belhar Confession


Love One Another by Laura James (www.laurajamesart.com)

Belhar Confession Service #3

The unity of the church is a gift, given by God, not earned or achieved. It is precious and to be treasured. Receiving this gift also brings obligations. It must be pursued and protected with great intentional effort.

Belhar References:  (excerpts from section 2) 
We believe that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain (Eph.4:1-16);that this unity can be established only in freedom and not under constraint; that the variety of spiritual gifts, opportunities, backgrounds, convictions, as well as the various languages cultures languages and cultures, are by virtue of the reconciliation in Christ, opportunities for mutual service and enrichment within the one visible people of God (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:1-11; Eph. 4:7-13; Gal. 3:27-28; James 2:1-13); Therefore, we reject any doctrine…Which absolutizes either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutization hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to the establishment of a separate church formation…(and) which explicitly or implicitly maintains that  descent  or any other  human  or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of  the church.

Suggested Scriptures

Psalm 133
John 17:20-23

I Corinthians 12

Ephesians 4:1-6

References in Other Confessional Documents

Heidelberg Catechism,  LD 21 – Q/A 54-55
Our World Belongs to God
, 40
Our Song of Hope
, VI.17
The Belgic Confession of Faith
, 27
The Westminster Confession
, 26. 1,2

Possible Songs

All those notated with an asterisk will be found in “Lift Up Your Hearts” (LUYH), to be published in 2013 by Faith Alive Christian Resources.

*Come, Worship God, PFAS 95G
     [Psalm 95:paired with O QUANTA QUALIA]
*God, You Call Us to This Place, SNC 14
     [paired with SALZBURG]
How Very Good and Pleasant, PFAS 133C
     [Psalm 133]
*One People, Here, We Gather, LUYH
     [paired with MUNICH]
*Ososo/Come Now, O Prince of Peace, SNC 209
     [paired with O-SO-SO]
*Sing Praise to the Lord, You People of Grace, PFAS 150A
     [paired with CHU LEUNG]
*Somos uno en Cristo/We Are One in Christ Jesus, SNC 179
     [paired with SOMOS UNO]
*Spirit of the Living God, PsH 424
     [paired with IVERSON]

Liturgy Resources

Prayers 

Forgive us the sins of disunity, O Lord:
pride and jealousy and narrow-mindedness.
Forgive us the sins of false unity:
lack of imagination, apathy, and indifference.
Make us one in genuine love and mutual trust.
Make us many in gifts and talents and vision. Amen.
Simon H. Baynes in Prayers for Today’s Church, © Augsburg Publishing House, 1977, p. 88 [207], alt.
Found in The Worship Sourcebook, © 2004 Faith Alive Christian Resources, S.2.2.3

God of the ages,
you call the church to keep watch in the world
and to discern the signs of the times.
Grant us the wisdom the Spirit bestows,
that with courage we may proclaim your prophetic word,
and complete the work you have set before us;
through your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.   Amen.

Taken from The Book of Common Worship, ©1994 Westminster John Knox Press, p. 373

Sovereign God,
we give you thanks for calling us your children
and for entrusting us with the care of your creation.
Help us to feel the many textures of your global tapestry.
Unstop our ears, that we may hear
your Word spoken in many languages.
Breathe into us the sweet aromas of life,
that we may taste the fruits of your reign.

Even now, Lord, even in Asia,
so vast, so deeply rooted in tradition;
where your church is small, but where religion is great,
Lord, teach us respect.
Help us learn from those who express faith in you in different ways.
Deepen our understanding of customs that are unfamiliar.
Help us discover new ways to witness in this ancient land.

Even now, Lord, even in the Middle East,
the cradle of the church, the land many faiths call holy,
and now the place where the pain of the cross is so vivid,
where the dry earth is watered by the tears of suffering,
free your people from their warring madness.
Teach us mutual respect, that the captives might be freed
and the frightened might be comforted.

Even now, Lord, even in Latin America,
where your church stands faithfully with the weak and the poor,
where martyrs are made and drugs dictate,
where we are paying for the sins of our past,
bring peace to our neighbors, O Lord.
Tear down the barriers that divide
and build bridges that bring people together for the common good.

Even now, Lord, even in Africa,
where your church grows rapidly,
where faith is exuberant, but where there is famine and oppression,
break the cycle of suffering among our sisters and brothers
and help us to respond to their needs in ways
that bring your message of hope to those who languish in despair.

Even now, Lord, even in North America,
where so much affluence causes so much indifference—
North America, the land with so much to give
yet a land held prisoner by its possessions—
help us to assume the role of a servant, as Jesus did.
Open our eyes to all parts of your creation
even now, Lord, even if what we see frightens us.
And help us to trust you to guide us as we act faithfully. Amen.

(Sections of this prayer may be spoken in various languages.)
Taken from Reformed Worship, © 1990 Faith Alive Christian Resources, 16:40.
Found in The Worship Sourcebook, © 2004 Faith Alive Christian Resources, S.4.4.19

Lord as you have taught us, we bow down before you in all humility, gentleness, and patience, supporting each other with love and trying to keep the unity of the spirit by the bonds of peace, that we may become “one body and one spirit,” according to our common calling and vocation.  With one voice, repenting of our divisions, we commit ourselves to working together for reconciliation, peace, and justice, and we stand together in imploring you: help us to live as your disciples, overcoming selfishness and arrogance, hatred and violence; give us the strength to forgive. Inspire our witness in the world, that we might foster a culture of dialogue and be bearers of the hope which your gospel has implanted in us. Make us instruments of your peace, so that our homes and communities, our parishes, churches, and nations might resonate more fully with the peace you have long desired to bestow upon us. Amen.
From Syriac liturgy used by Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches in Aleppo. Syria. Liturgies for Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2004,
www.oikoumene.org.

Affirmation

We believe that Christ's work of reconciliation is made manifest in the Church
as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another.
That unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the Church of Jesus Christ.
We believe that this unity of the people of God must be manifested
and be active in a variety of ways:
in that we love one another;
and that we experience, practice and pursue community with one another.
Nolan Palsma, Pitcher Hill Community Church, North Syracuse, NY, RCA Belhar Confession: Singing Praying and Preaching. © 2012 Reformed Church Press

Glossary

Confessions and Testimonies:

(Note: When we use the term “Other Confessional Documents” we are using the term “confessional” broadly to include those which have been formally adopted as a Confession of Faith by a denomination, but also those which more loosely are considered a Testimony or Declaration of Faith by a denomination.)

Belhar – the Belhar Confession
BC – The Belgic Confession of Faith
HC – The Heidelberg Catechism
OWBTG – A Contemporary Testimony: Our World Belongs to God
OSOH – Our Song of Hope
WC – Westminster Confession
WCRC – The Worship Statement of the World Communion of Reformed Churches
WLC – Westminster Larger Catechism
WSC – Westminster Shorter Catechism

Hymnals/Resources:

ELW – Evangelical Lutheran Worship
CSW – Contemporary Songs for Worship
GSW – Global Songs for Worship
LUYH – Lift Up Your Hearts
PFAS – Psalms For All Seasons
PsH – The Psalter Hymnal
SNC – Sing! A New Creation
SNT – Singing the New Testament
TWS – The Worship Sourcebook

General Hymns:

*Abana in Heaven, GSW 44
*All Are Welcome, LUYH
     [paired with TWO OAKS]
*Be Thou My Vision, LUYH
     [paired with SLANE]
*Canto de esperanza/Song of Hope, LUYH
     [paired with ARGENTINA]
*Faith Begins By Letting Go, SNC 172
     [paired with LUX PRIMA]
*God of Grace and God of Glory, LUYH
     [paired with CEM RHONDDA]
Let Streams of Living Justice, ELW 710
     [paired with THAXTED]
Lord, You Call Us
     [JOYOUS LIGHT Morningstar MSM-50-7800 SATB and Congregation]
*Perdón, Señor/Forgive Us, Lord, LUYH 2.2.1
     [paired with CONFESSION]
*Psalm 51, SNC 50
The Church of Christ, in Every Age
, ELW 729
     [paired with WAREHAM]
*The Church’s One Foundation, PsH 502
     [paired with AURELIA]
Belhar Hymn, David Alexander 
     [sung to O WALY WALY, Unity, Reconciliation and Justice: Apppendix C, p.87]

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