Friday, May 12, 2006

UNITY IN DIVISION??

UNIVERSAL AND LOCAL, posted on April 29, resulted in a conversation with Mark H and Carl that raised some very important points about unity and division. Two of those points are referenced below.

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But I find it at least a little interesting that this display of true theology happened while a group of Christians were gathering to declare that they could not resolve their differences with another group of Christians. link to Carl's comment

I have found it necessary to ask how it is that unity can happen in the midst of division. To that end, I am doing a study of Ephesians 4:1-6 (made very slow by end of term school requirements), in which Paul discusses the doctrinal truths (vv. 4-6) and practical behaviors (vv. 1-3) associated with a worthy walk. Unity is one of these practical behaviors.

My initial thoughts, though, start from the end of the portion: the doctrinal truths. A worthy walk, of which unity is the primary practice, is the outworking of the truth of our (‘us’ being those who trust Christ and follow him) various “onenesses.”
One body
One Spirit
One hope
One Lord
One faith
One baptism
One God and Father (of all, through all, in all)

My initial thoughts have revolved around the notion of the one faith. Faith, to be Christian, requires three ‘components’: appropriate content, appropriate practice, and an appropriate object. If one of these is missing or terminally damaged, then that faith is not Christian. It may still be faith, but it is not Christian faith. Historically, the majority of Christians have held the Bible as the ‘norming norm’ of belief and practice. Thus, the Bible determines the appropriateness of the content and practice of faith. Yes, tradition and culture inform our faith, but the Bible is the determining reference. The appropriate object of faith, though, is most certainly not the Bible. Neither is it tradition or culture. The appropriate object of our faith is the Triune God. If it is anything else—even the Word of God—it is idolatry.

True Christian unity occurs among those whose faith has appropriate content, practice, and object. Therefore, the question to consider is whether unity had already been damaged and by what criteria this should be determined.

In the midst of this division, there is hope, and that hope if found in God's gracious presence. Mark said it well:
I am, however, encouraged that when people are voting over "irreconcilable" theological differences of opinion, i.e. human thinking, that God is still permitted to come in and show that there remains the only true basis for unity, i.e. His outrageously gracious presence. link to Mark's comment
As always, continue to pray for this and other similar situations. Division in the church is never a good thing, though sometimes it is a necessary thing. I continue my study of unity in Ephesians 4:1-6, and will post more as time allows.

As always, discussion is the point, so comment away.

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On May 11, 2006, the Board of Directors of the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest voted to withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships of the American Baptist Churches USA effective November 1, 2006. The Board's vote was unanimous. (See the early press release)
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NOTE: This is a rumination ("1. The act of pondering; meditation. 2. The act or process of chewing cud." American Heritage Dictionary) in search of synergy ("1. The interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.")

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“Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.” http://www.esv.org/

7 comments:

  1. I would caution against using the logic that "we are biblical and they are not" in defining a disagreement with other believers. There are many other church groups who would use the same language regarding both splinter groups with equally convincing biblical arguments.

    Surely unity was broken years before the vote. I wonder if unity is the basis for our fellowship or can we gather as those with "like precious faith?"

    We are to have unity in Christ. This is the warning Jesus gave before the Last Supper regarding those who partake of communion but do not rightly discern the Lord's Body.

    I think the division is more aptly framed by Amos, "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" Part of the group was going in a different direction than the other and they decided to take separate paths.

    I know of many godly denominations that I would not join and many men of God whose ministry I would not sit under. We are not in complete doctrinal unity but we are called to be united in Christ.

    However, how we do that with those who spread a "doctrine of demons" I have not altogether figured out. I have flamed my share of blog posts regarding divergent theologies.

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  2. Carl, I agree with you concerning not using "we are biblical and they are not" logic, and I apologize if I communicated that. Given that, I am will continue to agree with ABCPSW leaders and pastors the dividing issue is the priority given to the authority of Scripture. Of course, after that comes the sticky issue of determining non-negotiables from negotiables. Where can we flex and where dare we not? On this there is much discussion, and even the ancient creeds--as helpful as they are--do not supply a clear answer (I, for one, do not believe that "descended into hell" is a proper interpretation). It is my sincere hope that both ABCPSW and ABCUSA will continue to work together in areas where we do agree. I think we can, but it will be hard.

    I join you in struggling with the how to have 'unity' with those who spread "doctrine of demons."

    I hope always to shed more light than heat. I thank you for keeping me honest.

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  3. Hi guys,

    Something intrigues me and I wonder if either of you, or anybody else, can shed some insight and light on the matter?

    We are united in Christ, we are one in Him. Our starting point for unity is to believe we are in unity by faith. Our picture of unity is Christ's body (which I trust we agree is far more than a metaphor, i.e. having spiritual reality).

    But when it comes to maintaining unity, we are commanded to keep the unity of the Spirit (as well as unity in Jesus according to Carl's reference to the last supper).

    I'm not sure that I can intelligently phrase a question, but on the one hand we have unity in *Jesus* by faith, and on the other we are to keep the unity of the *Spirit*. Why the distinction? I suspect I don't yet understand unity in the Spirit as well as I understand unity in Christ. There's probably also some contextual differences that have slipped under my radar.

    If I'm making sense, then I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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  4. For me, this is a topic that needs to be tread upon very lightly. We are told in Proverbs to not move the ancient landmarks. If one were to do this (doctrinaly speaking) are they outside the faith? Is it possible to have unity with them? At what point does keeping unity end and come out from among them begin?

    I do not know that there are steadfast answers or even clear biblical principles to guide here. You must be lead by the Spirit and this may be what Laura was referring to in her original post about true doctrine being confirmed by the presence.

    I do know that love covers a multitude of sin.

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  5. Funny how much one studies and does not notice stuff. I'll need to ponder the united in Christ and keeping the unity of the Spirit. I'll poke around in my stuff on Ephesians and see if I can dig up some 'thoughts of wise others'.

    Unity may be one of the most misunderstood things in our culture, and much of the discussion on the topic is rather like two ships passing in the night. The definitions and understandings vary so much, it's tough to get a handle on it. I think we need to start with a bunch of questions and lots of listening.

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  6. I'll throw in some thoughts (not conclusions) for now:

    In relatively recent years I've come to understand that there is a great diversity in the Body Of Christ which is the way God intended it to be. Carl has touched on this when he mentions those who have Godly ministry but which he doesn't personally relate to. Laura has mentioned it also when she says that unity is often misunderstood against our culture, rather than the Truth. Culture may say that unity is about "sameness" to the point of lack of individuality and diverse expression. I don't believe that's God's heart at all.

    Ephesians 4:4 says there is one Body (unity in Jesus) and one Spirit (unity in the Spirit). But verse 7 says there is diversity in how this operates according to Jesus' will, not our own, i.e. He gives different measures according to grace. And verse 12 says that the purpose of this diversity is to edify the entire Body Of Christ, until the day when there is a completed manifestation of unity (verse 13).

    So it seems to me, at this point, and admittedly having not fully thought everything through yet, that keeping the unity of the Spirit refers, at least in part, to recognising and honouring God's intentional diversity of work within the Body which will one day bring about a complete manifestation of that which we already receive in faith - unity in Jesus. We must cherish and love the diversity in the Body if we are to avoid offending Holy Spirit, and hence we help to maintain the unity of the Spirit - and His purpose: to complete the manifestation of our unity in Jesus.

    Of course, I could be way off, and I am quite tired right now. These are thoughts in progress, not conclusions. And this is a conversation, not a paper ;-)

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  7. "And this is a conversation, not a paper ;-)"

    Indeed... even for me: the thoughts will one day gather and form a Th.M. thesis, but right now, it's conversation (Thus my tagline: "This is a rumination in search of synergy.") I'm hoping that the mosaic (or kaleidoscope if you prefer) will be something beautiful, challenging, and helpful when it's all done (and as it proceeds).

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