The New Trinity
by Jack Wald | February 20th, 2011

Romans 16

How do you keep in touch with your friends? Phone? Email? Facebook? Twitter? People used to write letters. How many people here have written a letter or a postcard and mailed it in the last year? [25% raised their hands] In the days before keyboards, people wrote long letters and penmanship used to be important so that what was written was legible – and you used to have to know how to spell in the days without spellchecker. Even grammar used to be important.

When my grandmother died in 1960, I went through her closet which was full of stacks of letters she had received from people. This is where I found the diary of my great-grandfather who had fought in the US Civil War in the 1860s. And along with the diary my great-grandfather had written long letters home to his parents in Minnesota which offer wonderful insights to life in those pioneer days. Elizabeth I of England wrote 3,000 letters. Queen Victoria wrote 3,700 letters just to her daughter. Jane Austen, Napoleon, John Adams and Ronald Reagan are famous letter writers.

But then came the telephone and less letters were written because rather than write a letter, people picked up the phone and talked to a distant friend or relative. The decline in writing letters has been disappointing to historians. In an article I read I found this comment: “The decline in letter writing constitutes a cultural shift so vast that in the future, historians may divide time not between B.C. and A.D. but between the eras when people wrote letters and when they did not.”

Letter writing disappeared and historians were left with a vacuum as people communicated by phone, but then email restored some measure of written communication – although it is unclear if this will be helpful to historians since so much of it gets deleted and few people write emails as well as people wrote letters. And now, in the rapid acceleration of technology, emails are fading away and being replaced by communication, if you can call it that, on Twitter and Facebook.

Paul was a great letter writer. Because of problems with his eyes or maybe his penmanship was terrible, he dictated his letters to a scribe who wrote with a reed pen on parchment. After the letter was written someone had to carry it to its destination. One person might carry the letter or it would be given to someone who would take it part of the way and then would be given to someone else and eventually, hopefully, the letter would arrive.

Over the next 1,800 years reed pens were replaced with quills and paper was made from cotton or vegetables, but there was not a significant advance in letter writing until the 1800s when steel pens were made to replace the quills. (Turkeys everywhere rejoiced that they no longer had to endure having their feathers pulled out.) And then at the end of the 1800s paper began to be made of wood which made paper inexpensive and letter writing became available to the common man. With the advent of the automobile, train and especially the airplane, letters could now be delivered long distances in a short amount of time.

And now we communicate across the globe instantaneously. I can write a letter, scan it and email it anywhere in the world and they receive it within seconds. Can you imagine how much Paul would have enjoyed the technology available to us today? Would Paul webcam? Constantly!

When Paul wrote his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome, he needed a trustworthy way of delivering the letter. Imagine what would have happened if the letter had gotten lost in transit? So he gave the letter to Phoebe, a wealthy woman who used her wealth to support the church. She made a special trip to Rome, carrying the letter with her.

At the end of this letter greetings were sent to those living in Rome and from those living in Corinth.  We will take a look at these and take a couple lessons home from them.

There are 26 greetings to those living in Rome and one of the things that is interesting about this list is the diversity of these men and women. At least five were Jewish followers of Jesus.
Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. 5 Greet also the church in their house.

Prisca or Priscilla, as she is elsewhere named, and Aquila are mentioned four times in Acts, I Timothy and Romans. They accompanied Paul to Ephesus. Interestingly, in all four cases she is listed first, before her husband, indicating that she had a leadership role in the church.

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.

Andronicus and Junia were also Jewish followers of Jesus and became followers of Jesus before Paul. They were probably a married couple. In the NIV the translation says they were “outstanding among the apostles”. This is the better translation and indicates that they were considered as apostles in the church and were probably a missionary couple.

Greet my kinsman Herodion.

Herodion was another Jewish follower of Jesus.

In addition to being Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus, they came from different classes. Some were wealthy, others were slaves or freedmen, some were from aristocratic households, one was a Christian celebrity.

Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia.

This is a nice mark of distinction: the first convert.

Ampliatus, Urbanus, Hermes and Julia were all common slave or freedmen names.

So a word about slaves in the New Testament. Slaves in the Roman Empire were mostly foreigners although parents could sell their children into slavery when they were desperate. The treatment of slaves was harsh and they were used for hard labor, but some were trained and became physicians and tutors. Slaves were able to buy their freedom or in some cases, their owners set them free. As freedmen they had all the rights of Roman citizens except that they were not allowed to hold office.

The rise of Christianity improved the treatment of slaves and increased the number of slaves set free. In the early church, as wealthy men and women became followers of Jesus, one consequence was that, in many cases, their slaves were set free.

So among those Paul greeted in Rome were four who were slaves or freedmen.

Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus.
Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus.

Aristobulus was probably the grandson of Herod the Great and friend of the Emperor Claudius. Narcissus was the well-known, rich and powerful freedman who exercised great influence on Claudius. Both of these men were probably dead at the time Paul wrote this letter but he is referring to the followers of Jesus who were part of their households.

So those in the household or family of Aristobulus and Narcissus were wealthy Roman citizens in positions of influence.

Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord;

Rufus may be the son of Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross for Jesus. Mark, who wrote his gospel in Rome (or to those in Rome), refers to Rufus as the son of Simon, as if he was known in Rome. So while Epaenetus had some distinction as the first convert in Asia, Rufus is the real Christian celebrity in the list of those Paul greeted, the son of the man who carried the cross of Jesus.

There are Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus, wealthy and aristocrats, slaves and freedmen and even celebrities in Paul’s list of those he greets. Notice also that in his list he greets 9 women.

Prisca who with her husband worked with Paul in Ephesus
Mary “who has worked hard for you”
Junia, probably an apostle, a missionary
Tryphaena and Tryphosa, probably twins and “workers in the Lord”
the beloved Persis, “who has worked hard in the Lord”
the mother of Rufus “who has been a mother to me as well”
Julia and the sister of Nereus

Four of these are described as hard workers for the Lord, Priscilla is described as a fellow-worker of Paul, Junia was a well-known missionary and Phoebe, who carried the letter to Rome may have been a deaconess.

The prominent role of women in these greetings indicates that Paul was not the male-chauvinist some make him out to be. These women were highly regarded by Paul and considered valuable in his ministry.

The makeup of these followers of Jesus in Rome would make many Western Christians envious. This is a wonderfully diverse list of people and the Western church loves diversity.

When I was looking at seminaries after university, I visited Princeton Seminary, a Presbyterian seminary, and the admissions officer gave his pitch about why I should apply. His primary incentive for me to come to Princeton Seminary was the diversity of the student body and faculty. They had more women, more African-Americans, more Asians, more of everything than other seminaries. I was a fairly new Christian and I was looking for solid Biblical teaching and professors, not diversity, and so I went elsewhere.

The West loves diversity. When my denomination, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), forms a committee, one of the most crucial criteria is that it be diverse. There must be women as well as men, rich and poor, all races must be present. If this happens, then it is a good committee.

I read an article about one PCUSA pastor who went to what he described as “a life-transforming diversity workshop”. Really? Diversity transformed his life? I thought it was Jesus who transformed our lives.

In my eleven years as pastor of RIC, I have been back in the US and attended just three of the monthly Presbytery meetings, meetings of the pastors of churches in the different regions of the US. One of the perks of serving as pastor of a church in Rabat is that I am not expected to be present at these meetings. As I have sat through these meetings, it has become painfully clear to me that the focus of the church is not on Jesus and the Kingdom of God, but on the organization of the church and efforts to make sure it is representative of the diversity in the community.

I love diversity. I love the diversity of our church. Before I came to RIC a survey was done and determined that on an average Sunday, we have 25 nationalities and over 40 denominations represented. I love looking out from the front and seeing what I consider to be a slice of heaven.

So my problem with the West and my denomination is not that diversity is valued.

After one of these meeting I had lunch with the Presbytery Exec and the Stated Clerk, the two leading officials of the Presbytery. I told them the church had replaced the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit with the new trinity of diversity, tolerance and inclusion. I told them we had spent the entire meeting the night before talking about things that were largely irrelevant to what Jesus was doing in the world to build his kingdom. As we talked about how to make the church more diverse, Jesus was reaching out and drawing people from every tribe and every tongue into his kingdom.

As I mentioned, I love the diversity of our church. It would be difficult for me to go back to the US and pastor or attend a homogenous church with the congregation all the same race and social class and denominational background. I love the inclusion of the church. Paul wrote about the believers in Corinth: (1 Corinthians 6:9–11)
Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Over the years at RIC I can say, such were some of us. All are welcome in our church. We have, at least on a relative scale, rich and poor in our church. We have people with university degrees and even PhDs as well as some who have not completed high school. We have members from many nations and all are welcome. All are drawn into our fellowship.

About tolerance I am not so sure. Tolerance is defined as: “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own”. When we read through the Bible, does it seem that God has “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own”?

It does not seem to me that God is terribly tolerant of false belief. God was not tolerant of the gold idol the Israelites fashioned when Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Law. Jesus was not tolerant of the religion of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

God is not tolerant of false belief but he is patient with us and works to draw us into a relationship with himself. He does not reject us because we follow a different faith, he works in the relationships and circumstances of our lives to bring us to the truth.

In the same way, while I do not agree with the choices others make, I respect the right of others to choose their own faith and I will defend their right to do so. But while I respect the right of others to worship how they choose, my tolerance does not include an understanding that they are equally right in worshiping as they choose.

The West puts Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity on an even playing field. All are valid, all are equally true. It is this aspect of tolerance that I disagree with.

Noreen Maxwell was a Scottish lady in the church when I first came to Rabat. After serving with British Intelligence during WWII, she was recruited to be among the first of those to work for the newly formed United Nations. She became the first female head of a UN delegation when she went to Peru. She ended her career with the UN here in Morocco and retired. At the age of 84 she came to faith in Jesus and two years later I arrived and began to meet with her each week. Because she could no longer read, I read to her and we had wonderful times together.

Noreen’s religious philosophy was throughly steeped in the values of the UN which were the new trinity of diversity, tolerance and inclusion. As we prayed together each week, she could not bring herself to pray for her Moroccan friends because they had just as much right to be Muslims as she did to be Christian. She had come from a Christian background and found Jesus and that was appropriate for her, but not for her Muslim friends.

Over the next six years she grew in her faith and began to see that when Jesus said, (John 14:6–7)
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
this meant that even her Moroccan friends needed to come to Jesus. She had to shift from the trinity of diversity, tolerance and inclusion to the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is not that I dislike or do not value diversity, tolerance (within a limited definition of tolerance) and inclusion. But here is where the problem lies. How do you become more diverse, more tolerant, more inclusive? The Western church tries to do this by focusing on diversity, tolerance and inclusion. The Western church institutes rules and regulations and programs to ensure that they are at all points diverse, tolerant and inclusive. Is that how the followers of Jesus in Rome became so diverse and inclusive? Did the followers of Jesus evaluate who was in their fellowship and then go out to recruit a more diverse body? No! The diversity of the church in Rome resulted from a focus on Jesus. And because Jesus wants the whole world to be saved, people from all nationalities and backgrounds come into his kingdom. Diversity results from the work of God to draw all men and women to himself.

It is much the same as the fruit of the Spirit. We do not become more patient or gentle or kind by setting ourselves daily self-improvement exercises to be more patient, gentle or kind. We develop the fruit of the Spirit by growing in our relationship with Jesus. The fruit are the result of our growth in Christ. They are not meant to be the focus of our growth.

In the same way, when we put our focus on Jesus and study his teachings and follow his example, we reach out to those in need. We share our faith with those we encounter. We do not create distance between ourselves and others who are not like us. It is in following Jesus that people unlike ourselves are brought into the kingdom of God and into our fellowship. It is in our focus on Jesus and the work he is doing that we are brought together with those wealthier than us and those poorer than us. When we work with Jesus we find commonality with those with more education than us and with those with less education than us. It is when we follow Jesus that we are led into friendships with men and women of other races.

When we focus on Jesus, we become more diverse, we become more understanding and patient with others, we become more inclusive.

If we put our focus on diversity, we will become superficial, related to each other by our differences and commitment to diversity rather than related to each other by our love for Jesus and his work in our lives.

If we put our focus on tolerance, we will lose hold of the truth of Jesus and become intolerant toward those who believe there is absolute truth.

If we put our focus on inclusion, we will water down Biblical truth so that no one is offended.

When we focus on Jesus and make it our ambition to serve him, working alongside him as he builds his kingdom, then we will move outside of our comfort zone and begin relating to people not like us. It is then that we will develop friendships that reach across socioeconomic and racial lines.

Churches in the US tend to be homogenous, with very little diversity in their congregations. This is true even when there are other racial and ethnic groups living in the community. Why is that? How does Jesus feel about those living in that community? Does Jesus want his church to reach out to all those who live in the community? Of course he does. But many churches are consumed by their own fellowship, paying their bills and are indifferent to the work of Jesus in their community and in the world.

It is when the church seeks after the heart of God that they will be led into ministry to the other racial and ethnic groups in thier community. When they open their hearts to the heart of God, programs will be developed to help those in need and this will be done because they are being led by the heart of God for the community, not because there is a focus on diversity, tolerance and inclusion.

Here at RIC we are fortunate because each of us lives outside our comfort zone. I have developed extraordinary friendships over the past eleven years with people from other countries and denominations. My life is far richer because of the diversity, respect and inclusion of our fellowship but this has resulted not because we sought it, but because we focused on loving Jesus and working for him. This is what led us together and gave us such strong relationships.

This has been a long discussion and there is time for just a small second point and it comes in the form of a question: If the pastor of your home church were to write me a letter, would he put you into the greeting at the end of the letter?

Look at the qualities of those Paul greeted. They were hard workers. The Greek word means strong exertion. These were people who worked hard for the growth of the kingdom of God. Would your home pastor describe you as a hard worker for the Lord?

Prisca and Aquila risked their lives for Paul. They were ready to make a great sacrifice to help Paul. Would your home pastor consider you someone willing to sacrifice for the benefit of the ministry of the church?

Paul mentions those who were beloved. Would your home pastor view you as someone who has great affection for the members of your home church? Are you one who demonstrated to your home pastor and others how much they were appreciated by you?

Paul mentions that the mother of Rufus was “like a mother to me”. How deep and how intimate were your relationships in your home church?

I said this last week, that we have not been called by God to sit in the grandstands and watch the game. We have been called by God to play in the game. Each one of us has an important role to play and when we all play our role, then we are a powerful church, moving forward as God intends us to do. This was important in your home church and it is important now that you are part of RIC.

Jesus did not suffer and die on the cross so we could live a comfortable life with a nice car and home and exciting vacations. Jesus suffered and died on the cross so we could live and come into his family and work with him in the family business, building up his kingdom. Jesus did not die to bring you into his kingdom so you could pursue your own agenda and build your own kingdom, he paid the price for your sin so you could come to him and work with him to build his kingdom.

In what way are you using your gifts for the kingdom of God? RIC is not the only place for you to use your gifts. You work for God in school, in the workplace, in the home, in the neighborhood. But wherever you are, God has called you to work with him. In what way are you working with God to help build his kingdom? Who is there in your life that God wants you to reach out to? Who is God asking you to care for?

It is affirming to be recognized by the pastor of your church. It is encouraging to have it said of you that you worked hard for the Lord or that you were beloved but there is a far greater encouragement to come. Work with Jesus and then receive the ultimate reward. At the end of your earthly life when you come before Jesus, hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.