Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Draw a Circle and Call It Unity

God commands unity in His church (Philippians 2:1-2), and it is hard to fit this in with its current divided state (1 Corinthians 1:11,12). How are we to approach this problem?

One common way is to draw a circle and call it unity.  You take your group and say, We are unified because we are all in this group and we exclude those who are outside it.  Also, people can try to claim unity by holding to some individual or group as the authority to which everyone must adhere. But this is merely again defining those who adhere to your authority as the real church, excluding everyone else, and calling it unity.  Also, these groups are frequently not unified; they have many break-offs and broad disagreements within their ranks.

The other extreme is to try to gather everybody who is called "Christian" into one large church.  But these end up having almost nothing in common.  When you water down Christianity this far it becomes meaningless, and there is nothing to unify around.  If Christianity does not have something unique and important to say, why bother with it?

What, then, is the message of historic Christianity?  I would contend it is the message of grace.  The fact that God, in spite of our sinfulness (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9), invaded human history (John 1:1-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 2:8-15) to be the sacrifice for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:1-11; 1 Peter 2:24,25; Romans 5:6-8).  Also, while it is disputed, I would affirm that we are saved by faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 3:28; Acts 16:31), apart from anything we can do to earn it (Romans 3:20,21; Galatians 2:21; Titus 3:5,6); and good works are done in response to what God has already done for us (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Luke 7:36-50). But if this is so, it has to put in perspective many of the other things we fight over.  For if we are sinners who have been saved by grace, perhaps we do not have all the answers on some of the incidental issues (1 Corinthians 3:18; 8:2; Romans 8:33,34).  What, then, should we take a stand on? I would assert we should take a firm stand on the things Scripture takes a firm stand on.  Things like the nature of God (Deuteronomy 13:1-5), the nature of Christ ( 2 Corinthians 11:2-4), the sinfulness of man (1 John 1:8-10), or the truth of the Gospel (Galatians 1:8,9). This is not a complete list, but as I look at Scripture I do not find this kind of solid basis for many of the things we contend over.  If we want to move toward unity we need to get a clearer idea of what we should be united about.  Also, we should remember that, in Scripture, unity is a commandment, not an accomplished fact.  It is a goal we work toward, not something we already possess.

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