Howard C. Wilkinson - "No More Sea" (October 11, 1959)
|Let us hear the word of God
|as it is contained in the 12th chapter of Paul's first
|letter to the Corinthians,
|we read certain selected verses.
|Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit,
|and there are varieties of service, but the same glory,
|and there are varieties of working,
|but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one.
|To each is given the manifestation of the spirit
|for the common good.
|One is given through the spirit, the utterance wisdom,
|to another the utterance of knowledge by the same spirit,
|to another gifts of healing by the one spirit...
|Testing, 1, 2, 3, 4.
|Testing 1, 2, 3, 4.
|We are members of the body
|though many are one body,
|so it is with Christ, for by one spirit.
|In the book of revelation, chapter 21, verse one,
|we find these words.
|"I saw a new heaven and a new earth
|for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away
|and there was no more sea."
|We are presented with a rather puzzling question.
|When we try to visualize these words,
|which John imprisoned on the island of Patmos as he was.
|Began to write to his Christian friends on the main land,
|I saw a new heaven because the old heaven had passed away.
|I saw a new earth
|because the existing earth had passed away.
|But instead off viewing a new sea, he observed no sea, why?
|Old heaven passed away new heaven,
|old earth passed away new earth.
|Existing sea passed away no new sea, no sea.
|The answer to this puzzle seems to lie in the fact
|that as Professor Clog from England has told us,
|the Hebrew people thought of the sea as a divider,
|Hebrews were not a sea bearing fork.
|And therefore when they came to the sea,
|it stopped them, it separated them from other people.
|This was particularly true of John
|as he was on the island of Patmos
|because the sea which surrounded the island of Patmos
|made out of that island a fortress prison,
|and kept him from being reunited
|with his Christian brothers on the main land.
|Consequently, as he was doing his viewing,
|adding his vision, explaining it
|about God's fulfillment off his perfect kingdom
|he saw in that fulfilled kingdom absolutely no sea,
|because he could not imagine
|that when God had perfectly brought his kingdom to pass,
|there wouldn't be in it any artificial barriers,
|separating people from other people.
|That God's people would not be divided from each other
|by manmade barriers or by any physical thing
|or anything which pertains to this earth.
|There would be no more sea.
|This brings rather forcibly to our attention
|the thought that while we labor and pray here on earth,
|that God's kingdom will come
|and his will be done on earth
|as it is in this perfect Kingdom,
|that we should bestow ourselves
|to eliminate the artificial barriers,
|the seas, if you please, which divide the people of God.
|We should see to it that nothing stands between us
|and the others who are his children.
|Now, the reasons why this thought is claiming
|our attention here today is that last month,
|when the University Religious Council of Duke
|had its annual fall retreat,
|to consider the word of religion here on the Duke campus
|for this year,
|the faculty and students who make up that
|interdenominational body that gives supervision
|to our religious program,
|asked me to present certain claims
|and certain important matters to this chapel congregation
|on the occasion of my next sermon here.
|And this I was very glad to do.
|I believe it can best be done through an evaluation
|of the relationship of our interdenominational program
|to our denomination program, this I would like to do now.
|To fulfill the request of our council
|and to say some things to you today on their behalf,
|which are of great importance for us as Christians.
|It has been said quite often
|that the scandal of Christianity
|is it's many, many divisions.
|It has not been said too often.
|Not only are there three major divisions
|of the body of Christ.
|That is to say the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestants,
|but the Protestant division is splintered into approximately
|300 denominational sects in American.
|Now this fact by itself would not be bad
|if it were not coupled with certain attitudes,
|which have brought about an absolutely
|absurd situation in American Christian.
|Attitudes which leads to pride and haughtiness,
|attitudes which lead to exclusivism,
|which lead to extreme competitiveness.
|I do not believe that we have to assume
|that the existence of our denomination is a bad thing,
|but the only way the existence of the many denominations
|of which you and I are members can be a good thing,
|would be for us individually
|and selectively to accept each other as we are.
|You believe one thing, you believe another,
|you believe still another, I believe something else.
|But if we love and follow the same Christ
|then we must accept each other.
|Not only accept each other,
|but accept each other without reservation.
|I must accept you even though I differ
|from you a great deal in my theology
|or in my interpretation of the Bible
|or in my liturgy or in the program of my denomination.
|And unless, and until we can have this time
|of mutual acceptance then the existence of all
|these splintered groups is a horrible tragedy,
|but if we can accept each other,
|then it may be indeed a good thing
|that we've had so many denominations.
|It is entirely conceivable that the existence
|of a great variety of the denominations
|can be a wholesome thing in the body of Christ,
|because each one represents a special attribute
|or represent a fellowship of people who are of like mind.
|Now, so long as these fellowship and groups
|recognize that others who are not in that fellowship
|and who view things differently from them
|are equally valid members of the body of Christ.
|Then we can have a healthy vigorous Christian unity.
|This is not very hard to do if we will believe
|and accept the view of the body of Christ,
|which the apostle Paul gave us in the
|12th chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians,
|he points out the body is not made up
|of a collection of one organ.
|The body is not all hands,
|it isn't a collection of feet,
|it isn't simply 180 pounds of heads.
|The body is made up of heads, feet, hands and heart
|and what have you.
|Frederick W. Robertson goes to extend beyond this says that,
|you cannot indeed have a unity of people or objects
|which are all alike, 'cause this is simply a selection.
|If you have a collection,
|when you have a bucket full of sand,
|because the particles of sand are very much alike.
|But he said you can have a unity
|only when there is both diversity and harmony.
|Diversity, such as we have in our various denominations
|and harmony such as is possible among them.
|But when each denomination among these 300
|pretends finality for itself,
|then we have a terrible situation.
|And we find that actually a great many denominations
|and religious groups do claim finality
|and exclusive rights for themselves.
|Bernard Jones tells about visiting the city of San Francisco
|and seeing three churches,
|all in a very small neighborhood in that city.
|He saw a sign on the front of the first church,
|which said "The Church of God".
|He went a short distance down the street
|and saw the bulletin board in front of the second church.
|It gave the name of that church which was,
|"The True Church of God."
|He went down the street another block
|and went around the corner
|and was confronted by the name of the third church,
|"The Only Fruit Church of God."
|Sad fact is, that this is not an isolated example.
|The three churches may not exist so close together as this
|and on the other hand they might.
|But when we accept each other
|as being members of the body of Christ,
|then we can see that people who also love Christ.
|but who look at baptism, who look at predestination,
|who look at Christian education differently
|to the way we look at it can be
|equally valid brothers of Christ members of his body.
|Now it was because of the importance of this
|that the founders of Duke University
|made certain basic decisions to run this university,
|when brought into existence.
|One of those basic decisions they made,
|was to draw up a group of aims for the university,
|included in those aim is this statement
|"The aims of duke university shall be
|to foster a sincere spirit of tolerance
|and to discourage sectarian strife."
|That was an important decision, that was a great aim.
|A second decision they made in the same spirit,
|was to erect a great chapel for interdenominational service
|and to locate it in the center of the campus
|as a permanent symbol of United Evangelical Christianity.
|In which people of every faith could worship God together
|and on the same level.
|Interesting thing about this chapel
|is that just outside the main entrance,
|you will notice the figures there of great religious leaders
|they belong to different denominations.
|There is Wesley, there is Luther, there is Savonarola.
|And then there is another person there
|a rather strange figure to find at the door of a chapel,
|when you first think of it,
|and it's in line to your attention
|it's the figure of Thomas Jefferson.
|What is he doing at the door of a chapel?
|When you remember that it was the dream of Jefferson
|that the University of Virginia
|would be ringed with denominational houses.
|You see why the founders of Duke
|put the figure of Jefferson at the door of this chapel.
|Now, Jefferson was not glad
|that we have so many denominations,
|but he was quite convinced
|that the denominations were going to be
|with us for a long time.
|So he wisely believed that what was needed
|was for the denominations to live close together
|so they would understand each other.
|So they would be able to appreciate each other.
|And so the members of one denomination,
|might by realizing how much their beliefs mean to them,
|be able to appreciate how much the beliefs of others
|might mean to them.
|So that we have here at Duke University, something
|which Jefferson wanted for the university of Virginia,
|but did not achieve during his lifetime.
|As a matter of fact, the founders of Duke made one very
|significant improvement on the plan of Jefferson,
|in having here a great interdenominational chapel
|in the which members of every denomination,
|might worship together in one congregation.
|So that instead of having a house here for the Methodist,
|a house there for the Presbyterians
|a nearby one for the Lutheran,
|we'd all be mixed up together in the pews
|and in the pulpit and in the choir.
|And would worship God, not as denominational people,
|but as Christians.
|We could very easily make a mistake at this point though,
|and so right now I would like to make a distinction
|between two words; one is interdenominational
|the other is non-denominational.
|The word non-denominational refers
|to the absence of all denominations.
|The word interdenominational refers
|to existing denominations working together.
|The duke chapel is not a non-denominational chapel
|seeking to abolish denominations.
|It is an interdenominational chapel seeking to bring
|the denominations to a working and loving harmony and unity.
|The significance of this could
|scarcely be overly emphasized.
|And yet it is the tragic fact that many people in America
|today have not seen the significance of this truth.
|You would think that it would not be necessary
|to preach a sermon on a topic like this,
|either in Duke chapel or anywhere else in America today,
|because haven't we had a whole generation of
|Hasn't there been a whole generation when we've had
|ecumenical conference on every level and in every land,
|by now we should have learned our lesson.
|But friends, I stand here to say to you this morning
|that there is no topic that deserves the attention of an
|American Christian congregation today, more than this topic.
|There is no truth which American Christians need to learn
|anymore than this truth.
|And there are several reasons why this is true.
|I would like to point them out at this time.
|First, there is a tremendous spirit of competitiveness
|among American Protestant denominations,
|denominations who would deny that they believe
|they are the only ones who are right,
|the only true church of God,
|who say yes, other denominations have their claims
|but who act as though only their denomination is worthy.
|Who compete for percentages of population of membership,
|who compete for places in residential areas or cities,
|et cetera .
|Now to give you an idea of how far this has gone
|in American Protestantism.
|Let me remind you that in spite of the fact
|that the Protestants have only twice as many members
|in America as do the Roman Catholic,
|The Protestant support 17 times as many local congregation
|as do the Roman Catholics.
|The Protestants keep 17 times as many church furnaces hot
|as do the Romans Catholics,
|they support 17 times as many pastors
|and raise 17 times as many budgets
|to take care of only twice as many members.
|Is it any wonder, therefore,
|that 80 cents out of every Protestant dollar
|that is contributed to the church goes for the upkeep
|and the maintenance of the local church
|with only 20 measly cents left
|to give to other people in the glory of God.
|I say to you that we have not heard this message enough
|in American Christianity, in American Protestants.
|We've done a lot of talking about it,
|but we haven't acted as though we believe it
|because the spirit of competitiveness has come in.
|There is a second reason why we need
|to think more about this,
|and particularly the students of Duke University body
|who are students here need to think of it,
|is that, the individual Protestant denominations
|having great Christianity in them
|nevertheless, fall victim to human standards
|even in the church program.
|So that very often we find any denomination,
|and every denomination standing in need of correction.
|Because lots of times their programs reflect
|not the glory of Christ but pride
|and denominational exclusiveness.
|Now, how can they best be corrected?
|Can the Methodist correct the Baptist the best?
|Can the Baptist correct the Episcopalians best?
|I think not.
|All of our denominations can best be corrected
|when they need it by an interdenominational voice
|which represents all denominations.
|Now, this is an interesting thing
|because you see the interdenominational movement
|such as the Duke University Religious Council,
|North Carolina Council of Churches,
|The World Council of Churches,
|National Student Christian Federation.
|These are all children that have been created
|by the denominations,
|so that it means the child must correct it's parents.
|But this is not anything unusual very often children have
|to correct their parents, don't they?
|An illustration of this is given in a series of events
|which began in the year 1875,
|when a college president was having a conversation
|with a Bishop,
|the Bishop made the statement
|that he believes the end of the world was near
|because said he everything has been invented,
|which the mind of man is capable of thinking of.
|Everything has been made, invented, fashioned,
|that will ever be fashioned.
|The mind of man has exhausted itself.
|Well, the college president said,
|sir, I'll have to disagree with you there
|because I believe inventions are only beginning.
|Mankind will invent many other things.
|I believe that within 50 years,
|a machine will be invented by which man
|will be able to fly.
|The Bishop was outraged said to the college president,
|sir, you are guilty of blasphemy
|because God has reserved light for his holy angels
|and the bird, man will never fly.
|Now Professor Puthole who relates to this,
|say the interesting thing about this conversation
|is the name of the Bishop.
|He was Bishop Marvin Wright,
|and at his home were two young sons named,
|Orville and Wilbur.
|And so it happens is that the children often have to correct
|the mistakes and arrogance of their parents.
|The children of the denominations,
|the interdenominational groups
|often have to correct their parents
|because of pride, haughtiness, selfishness and narrowness.
|So we need to hear more about this in all of our churches.
|The third reason why we need to is
|that when this kind of thing happens,
|it militates against the very reason
|for the existence of the church.
|If we agree with Cyprian that he who does not have
|the church for his mother cannot have God for his father,
|then it becomes extremely important
|that we get mother unified.
|There is the psychiatric repercussions of
|splintered parenthood are known
|in every clinic across America.
|But what you and I have to face as Christians is the fact
|that the spiritual repercussions of splintered parenthood
|are just as devastating.
|I think it is no accident that the main burden
|of the high priestly prayer of Christ
|was that his disciples should all be one.
|The reason he gave her this was
|that the world might believe that God had sent him.
|Now, the implication of this is that
|if his disciples are not one at least in spirit,
|the world will not believe that Jesus is the Christ,
|and therefore any denomination or religious group,
|which is trying to advance itself
|and to discredit all other Christian groups
|ought to go out to the miniature golf course
|and get one of their signs
|put it over the door of the church I played putt putt.
|Spiritually speaking that's what any
|religious group is doing.
|Which denies the prayer of Christ that his disciples
|should all be one as trying to discredit
|every other Christian who is not in his group.
|There is a fourth and last reason why
|it is extremely important that we get
|this interdenominational spirit of unity.
|And this is one of which we customarily are not aware.
|Many Christian churches, conventions, conferences
|have officially adopted this idea.
|Sure, we belong to the North Carolina Council of Churches,
|National Council, The World Council,
|why do we not have an item in our budget for these things?
|And then they relax and think they have done their duty
|by sending off some money to Geneva or to New York,
|and then being narrowly secretarian in Dura
|or in Albuquerque, or Atlanta,
|but the important test of Cooperative Christianity
|is not what we send to Geneva but what we do where we live.
|The test of your Cooperative Christianity
|is not want council your congregation belongs to back home,
|but what you do on the Duke campus
|and what you will do when you return to Starsdale
|to be an electrician.
|Where you live is where you show what you really believe.
|AJ Wolf, who retired last June from this faculty,
|was fond of telling a story about the time
|when he was an official of a mission board in
|A young lady came into his office
|and offered her services as an African missionary.
|She wanted to go over in Africa
|and help the poor benigned Negros over there.
|Dr. Walton said, I thank you for the offer of your service.
|And I think within a few months we'll be able to send you,
|in the main time one of the teachers,
|of a Negro school in Nashville is heavily burdened,
|Will you please go help him?
|She would not.
|She was quite willing to go across the sea
|and do her Christian duty,
|but she was not willing to do it where she lived.
|If we are going really to be ecumenically minded Christians
|co-operative interdenominationally minded Christians,
|we need to get in the habit of it while we are here at Duke.
|If you don't do it while you're students here,
|you won't do it when you return to Miami beach.
|You need to worship together.
|You need to learn to sit down at the Lord's table
|with other Christians.
|You need to learn to work side by side in a committee
|of the University of Religious Council or in the wide
|and see how other Christians really live with Christ
|as you do or maybe better than you do.
|In closing I wish to reassert the fact
|that what we are pleading for here is not the abolition of
|our denominations quite the opposite of that.
|Indeed, in this interdenominational chapel,
|no body serves unless he is fully accredited
|by his denomination.
|Dr. Stewart Henry was asked to be
|the presiding minister morning,
|not primarily because he is a member of the Duke faculty,
|but basically because he is a fully ordained minister
|of the Presbyterian church.
|I serve here in this chapel not because I'm appointed
|by the president of Duke university mainly,
|rather he appointed me chaplain to the university
|after satisfying himself that I am an ordained minister
|of the Methodist church.
|Next Sunday, Dr. Henry Billpot, will preach in this pulpit,
|not because he's vice president
|of the University of Florida,
|but because he is an ordained minister of the
|Southern Baptist church.
|Next spring, Dr. Kiel Weidel will preach here as an
|ordained minister of the Episcopal church.
|Dr. Ed Stanley will preach here as an ordained minister
|of the Lutheran church.
|Roland H. Banks will preach here as an ordained minister
|of the Congregational church.
|George Buttrick from the Presbyterian and so on.
|We insist upon the integrity of the denominations,
|but to recognize the integrity of one or two
|is to see the necessity of recognizing the integrity of all
|and the essential oneness of all.
|This brings us to see how it really insignificant
|are the barriers that divide us
|and how we shouldn't dry up the seas that's separate us,
|so that we can feel with John.
|I saw a new heaven and a new earth.
|When the first heaven and the first earth were passed away
|and there was no more sea.
|Accept heavenly father, the offer of our hearts,
|in love to thee
|but equally in love of our fellow Christians.
|Now may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
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