Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Basis of Unity

What can be done about the scandal of the present divided state of the Christian church. It reminds me of the situation Paul deplored at the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:11, 12). Is there any road toward that unity which the Bible commands (1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 2:2; John 17:21). One of the first temptations is to say, "Let's throw out theology. After we do that, surely we can all come together." But if we throw out theology, what do we have to unite around. If we try to unite everyone who calls themselves a Christian, we find they have almost nothing in common.

If we try to unite based on a subjective experience, we end basing our faith on something questionable and unstable. In the realm of the purely subjective, how do I know if I am encountering God, Zeus, Satan, my own psychological quirk, or the pepperoni pizza I ate for supper. We can also try to base our unity on human authority. But we soon find there are a number of competing human authorities all with conflicting and dubious claims.

This brings me back to theology. If Christianity is anything at all, it is a belief system. If such a system has no objective basis of belief, what meaning does it have at all. It is only based on such objective boundaries that any meaningful unity is possible. The problem is how to draw those boundaries, not to include everyone (this is not possible), but so as not to be totally fragmented like we are. The basis of the Christian belief is the Bible. This is especially if one affirms, as I would, the accuracy of what the Bible claims for itself--that it is the word of God (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) and true in whatever it asserts (John 17:17).

But how do we approach Scripture so as to decide what the important issues are and to avoid dividing over every difference in interpretation. (Or worse, picking out the things that appeal to us and dumping the rest.) I would like to make a couple of simple suggestions for doing this. I am convinced that not just the content but the emphasis of Scripture is inspired. That the important things (for example the nature of God, the nature of Christ, the sinfulness of men and the way of salvation) are repeated over and over again in Scripture. God knew we need to be continually reminded of these things, but a teaching based on little or no Scripture needs to be seen as incidental.

Also, I am convinced that Scripture makes direct statements affirming the importance of key teachings such as the nature of God (Deuteronomy 13:1-3), the nature of Christ (1 John 2:22; 4:2), the sinfulness of men (1 John 1:8-10) and the way of salvation (Galatians 1:8,9). This is not intended to be a complete list, but examples of the places where we need to draw the line. Unfortunately, we all too frequently tend to draw the line in places that have no such emphasis in Scripture. I do not claim that there will be no disagreement about the applying of these principles or that they will end all contention, but I believe that this is the direction we need to go if we are to move toward any kind of broader unity in the body of Christ.

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