Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Thoughts on Christian Unity in the Theological Realm

"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." - 1 Corinthians 1:10

There are few statement I like less than "agree to disagree". It is a declaration of one's value of truth. I am not saying that we should not agree that we disagree, but what is really being said by such a statement is: "Since we disagree, let's not discuss the matter any further. I am not willing to continue exploring whether my belief or yours should be believed. We disagree, and the work required to overcome this obstacle will demand too much from both of us. The truth isn't really worth the discomfort of continuing this discussion. Wouldn't it be better just to drop the matter and go get some ice-cream?"

Unfortunately, it seems that Christians have all too often opted for this kind of superficial unity. When was the last time you saw disagreeing believers, let alone pastors, really connect with one another in meaningful discussion and arrive at a mutual understanding and agreement on some matter of faith? Is it possible for such a thing to happen? By the grace of God, of course it is! The main problem is not that such a thing is impossible, but that the problem lies in our pride and our egos: we do not believe that such a discussion can happen without someone getting angry or offended. Who wants to admit they are wrong? I am convinced that this is the main reason why people choose to "agree to disagree" rather than seek the God-intended blessing of Christian like-mindedness. Therefore, instead of seeking to terminate our pride, we seek to terminate the conversation. What a failure for humility and truth! Should not pride be eradicated? And is not truth too valuable to be so quickly sacrificed at the altars of our personal egos? Most certainly, this is not what Christianity is all about.

Ironically, it is at this very point - when we as Christians, with our semblance of unity, choose not to move into discussion with those we disagree with - that unity is undermined. We think by 'agreeing to disagree' we are preserving unity, but we are actually killing it. The moment the Church seeks unity apart from truth on account of fear we have become fractured, our fellowship becomes superficial, and what inevitably results is that we all end up going to our own little corners and huddles, never truly experiencing the sweetness of the true brotherly unity that Christ intends for us. "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" (Psalm 133:1) How rarely is such a statement heard today. We must understand that for such fellowship to be attained, brothers must dwell together in unity. Dwelling together means encountering one another, not hiding from one another. It means coming into contact with all of our brethren's uncomfortable idiosyncrasies and differing viewpoints. I think that most of us are afraid to dwell together. When we do come together we zip our lips and smile. Instead of connecting, we avoid, and before long we grow tired of saying nothing and so revert back to our corners where we feel free to discuss the things we long to discuss among those who are like-minded. Of course, we say we are all Christians and are unified, but is this the experience of true Christian unity? Is unity in the body of Christ only supposed to be between arm and arm, or foot and foot, and not between every member of the body?

Since I am speaking about unity in the realm of theology and doctrine, it may be objected that there is more to Christian unity than just doctrine. Yes, Christianity is most certainly more than doctrine... but here's the thing: it is never less than doctrine. Every true Christian experience we may have, whether with God or with one other, is based upon truth and never stands alone as an experience by itself. Therefore what, may I ask, is more needful? Without truth we are left with nothing but illusion. It is truth that creates and orchestrates love (Galatians 5:6; Philippians 1:9). What is it that objectively unites us as believers but our "like precious faith" in the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ? That is doctrine. And what has subjectively separated us as believers but our doctrinal disagreements which we refuse to come to terms with as a body? If our unity as believers lies in anything other than that which is the truth of God then we destroy whatever is meant by "Christian unity", and we may have "unity" with any non-believer just the same. One may say, "I still think that other things, like pride and lack of love, are what separates us as believers." This is most certainly true, and I am not suggesting otherwise, but that our failure in the area of doctrine is nothing less than a failure in love and humility. It is not really because we disagree doctrinally that we separate, but because we will not face our disagreements on account fear, carelessness and pride. The issue of doctrine is simply revealing our true problem of pride, and therefore to run from the doctrinal issue is to run from our true problem. Yet should we not also greatly long to be joined together in one mind with our fellow believers? Should we not want our fellowship to include every member of the body of Christ? If we do not, what does that reveal? Should we not also value truth and our fellow brothers so much so that we care when we see a fellow Christian not understanding the Word of God correctly? If we honestly believe a brother to be in error, should we not move toward him and not away? Would we not want someone to do that for us? Thus our casual attitude toward doctrine reveals also our casual attitude toward our brother.

Such a desire for like-mindedness in the Church is perhaps the single greatest contribution to real unity. Just as doctrine really does divide (Matt. 10:35), so doctrine really does unite. It is not that we must all believe the same things before we can be united, but when every member has a desire for like-mindedness - when instead of "agreeing to disagree" we begin to connect with one another in love and humility, seeking to bless and edify and attain to a mutual understanding in those matters in which we disagree - unity actually starts taking place. Real unity is experienced in our moving toward the goal of like-mindedness together, not merely in arriving at the goal itself (that's just the icing on the cake). This is because the act of simply moving toward each other, rather than away, necessitates humility of heart, love for the brethren, and the embracing of a greater vision of the body of Christ.

"Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:13) The average, contemporary understanding of unity is deficient and has brought us into a state that is far below the glorious ideal of Christian unity in the New Testament. Let us not settle for anything less than God's best for His Church: perfection of unity in truth and of love. May we be so dissatisfied with "agreeing to disagree", and may we see our fellow brethren and the truth as so valuable, and our pride as so ugly, that we could not but move toward one another for the sake of that true fellowship we are called to in Christ.


Joy Ringnald said...

Brother Eli, thank you for this blog post. It was a rebuke for me that I needed to hear. And I thank the Lord for leading you to write this article. God be with you, brother.

The Big Bad Banker said...

Hmmm... I'm not so sure I understand what you are getting at here Eli? Maybe it's just me??? but I feel like the hammer is not quitting hitting the nail square on the head???

KHill said...

There are some things that humans, because of our imperfect understanding and interpretation of the Scripture and Jesus' intent for our lives, will never agree on. It is not about pride, nor should it be about convincing one another that our interpretation is the only true way.

Sometimes it is believing that we don't have all of the answers. Believing that although we don't know, we can still live in Peace and come together in the ONE true belief of the salvation of Christ for all of us sinners. Perhaps I am naive, but I think that admitting one doesn't have all of the answers is demonstrative of the kind of humility which Christ encouraged.

I think that Agree to Disagree has some distinct advantages, such as holding together a church or a group of believers who fundamentally agree on a majority of issues. ... See More

But, when a majority of people start to push their personal interpretations with lack of regard for the interpretations of others, it leaves little room for the love and grace that we all hope to experience in a community of Believers.

Micah and Katie said...

I agree, we settle for "agree to disagree" way too much (in Canada at least ; ). I'm usually willing to duke it out (in love), but it's hard to find people to do it with, they just go running... *sigh*

Anonymous said...

Eli, this is a familiar topic!! ;)

Unknown said...

I don't know why that said I am anonymous. This is Tim.