Saturday, July 15, 2006

UNITY AND DIVISION: Insight from Radmacher

Thoughts on:
A biblical and historical study
by Earl D. Radmacher
Chicago: Moody Press, 1972, 1978
441 pages

Previous installments:
The Pendulum Swings
Is it all in a word?
Universal and Local

First, my summary of Radmacher's final chapters became long and unwieldy. The benefit of posting such a thing became overwhelmed by the imposition of tedium. So, it is not posted. Rather, here is an all-too-short bullet point list:
  • The church began at Pentecost. At that moment in time, the entire church was simultaneously universal and local. (ch5)
  • The biblical images of body, bride, building, priesthood, flock, and branches give the clearest picture of the nature of the church. (ch6)
  • Because of it necessary correspondence to the universal church, and its all-too-common permeation with unbelief, the local church demands a regenerate, autonomous, ordered, purposeful, united, and growing membership. (ch7)

So, can Radmacher help us define unity and set criteria for division? I believe so.
  • By his understanding, the church is united and thus must be united.
  • Imbalance damages unity. If either universal or local existence or eternal or temporal authority is overemphasized, then unity and “church-ness” are damaged.
  • The church (and therefore unity) is both a spiritual and a physical gathering. If either is emphasized to the exclusion of the other, then unity and “church-ness” are damaged.
  • An informed, unrepentant persistence in any imbalance creates a division that must be redeemed and repented of or must be recognized and acted upon.

How might this apply to the recent American Baptist division? By compromising belief in biblical authority [1], the national body emphasized physical unity to the exclusion of spiritual unity. Further, by placing the priority on local church autonomy and soul competency, they emphasized temporal authority to the exclusion of eternal authority. Given that redemption and repentance were sought for over a decade, prudence demanded that the Pacific Southwest Region recognize the division that already existed and act upon it. ABCPSW, now Transformation Ministries, did this officially on May 11, 2006. This decision becomes effective on November 1, 2006.

What does this mean for the believers on both “sides”?
  • By virtue of our being saved by Jesus, we ARE members of the church—USA, PSW, Baptist, or anything else.
  • Believers on both sides should not—must not—seek each other’s harm in any way. When this happens it must be confronted quickly and in love.
  • There may be—and likely will be—larger church ministries where we can and will work together to expand God’s kingdom. This is good. This happens all the time.
  • While this is an important—even crucial—issue, we must eventually move on and focus on the reason for our existence on earth.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

I end with a prayer Andrew B left on a previous post (emphasis mine):

"Help us to see the church as you see it. The Baptist churches, the Anglican churches, the Pentecostal churches, the Reformed churches, the Catholic churches, the charismatic churches, the post-modern churches, the emerging churches, the youth churches; the churches meeting in buildings, those meeting in houses, those without a fixed place to meet, those who meet under a tree; the persecuted churches, the rich, the poor, the dying churches and the growing churches.

The whole church at once, all of it, every flavour, tradition, variety and style - they are all your people, everyone who names the name of the Lord and has been redeemed by the blood of his Son Jesus.

We are all your people, Lord God.

We pray for the unity of your people under the Lord Jesus and in the power of the Spirit."

Amen, and amen.

[1] As evidenced by the accepted placement of practicing homosexuals in positions of national leadership and ministry, despite a clear statement that this is incompatible with Christian practice (this was restated in 2005; see under "A Biblical People")

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.”

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