Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Centrifugal Force

The Christian church started with a strong sense of unity. There were divisions right from the beginning, but there was a clear idea that this was wrong. This idea has a definite basis in Scripture (Ephesians 4:3-6; Philippians 2:1,2; 1 Corinthians 1:10-17). But in reaction against divisions, there grew up the concept that to divide over anything was wrong. This was originated in an attempt to protect the ordinary members of the congregation from false teaching. But the ultimate result was an authoritarian church organization, where no one was allowed to question those in charge. While this church eventually ended up splitting into two, both parts held firmly to the principle that the church must be unified, and they enforced that idea. And this principle made it difficult to change anything significant in the Christian church, so any errors made over time became permanent. Then came the Protestant Reformation This was necessary as an antidote to the authoritarian church organization of the time, which had made its decrees and traditions the standard of authority rather than Scripture.

But it did not stop there. The leaders of the Protestant Reformation met at Marburg - Hesse to see if they could come together to become one church organization. They failed. The matter in dispute was whether Christ was physically present in the Lord's Supper. (I personally am of the opinion that Scripture does not say, but that is beside the point.) But on a more basic level there developed the idea that minor disagreements on doctrine were reasons for division. The idea of unity was superseded by the idea of purity of teaching. Again, there is a Biblical basis for this ( Galatians 1:8,9; Jude 3; Acts 17:11). But again, this idea was pushed to an extreme. And it became a centrifugal force tearing the visible church into smaller and smaller pieces. And any idea of unity, even as an ideal, was lost.

What then can we do about it? It seems a monumental mess that does not admit to an easy solution, but I would like to make some suggestions. We need to revive the idea of unity, not just as a nice suggestion, but as the command of God (1 John 4:20,21; John 17:20,21; 1 Corinthians 3:1-3). Now there are beliefs we should not unite with, and we need to carefully consider what those are (2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Romans 16:17,18; 1 John 4:1-3). But we must beware of pushing it to the extreme that we deny any requirement of unity. And we need to cultivate humility, recognizing we do not have all the answers (Philippians 2:3-11; 1 Corinthians 3:18; 8:1-3). Now this does not mean to declare total ignorance about God (Jeremiah 9:23,24; 2 Timothy 1:12; 1 John 5:13). But we must be realize our knowledge is limited. We may not be able to unite the multitude of different denominations together into one organization .But we can at least cultivate a spirit of unity that transcends the walls that divide us.    

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