...are the ones that make the biggest difference

6.23.2004

Unity

Romans 15:5-6 "Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

I've been thinking a lot about unity lately, partially in the context of the clarity of scripture, but in a wider sense as well. While the link may not be immediately obvious, the question of the clarity of scripture and the unity of Protestant sects & denominations is very strong. The myriad of Protestant denoms, doctrines & sincerely held beliefs must lead us to questions we are unwilling or incapable of answering.

The first question is, of course, who is right? With each group being fully convinced in their own mind what the Bible teaches, answering this question is no mean feat, especially from within these various bodies. Each believes they have grasped the truth under the guidance of the Spirit, which is impossible to either prove or disprove. As long as each group has a hermeneutic that is logically consistent there is no way to prove that some particular group is incorrect. It thus becomes a stale-mate. I believe this, you believe that, he believes something else entirely; lets just retire to our separate corners and continue to mind our own business.

To someone willing to think critically, even when it comes to dearly loved doctrines, the next question immediately should be "is the Bible actually clear?" Questioning some of our sincerest assumptions is never easy, so many never ask this question for very pious reasons, but honesty demands we evaluate this. If the Bible is clear, how can so many groups believe different things? Some will argue that they are correct because only the saved can understand scripture under the guidance of the Spirit. The implication is clear; those who disagree are 1) not saved, 2) not lead by the Spirit and/or 3) are somehow deceived. But once again, we can't objectively prove any of these things and it is normally considered quite beyond the pale in Protestant circles to question someone else's salvation, at least to their face. However, if you and I watch a movie and come out with radically different ideas about the plot, characters, cinematography, etc, one might question whether or not we had seen the same movie. If we did see the same movie, there are only 2 other solutions; the movie is horribly unclear or we have our own preconceived ideas that are influencing our assessments. In the question of the clarity of scripture, I tend to think it is a mixture of these 2 issues. The Bible may not be as clear as most Protestants believe but our own ideas & biases tend to fudge our perception of what clarity there is, thus leading to very different interpretations.

So what does this have to do with unity? Everything! Jesus' prayer for unity in John, and the exhortations for unity we find elsewhere in the New Testament, really do not allow each of us to separate and mind our own business. We cannot have a merely intellectual assent that some other group is Christian and yet not be in true communion & fellowship with them. This is not unity, it is a farce. We are not allowed to separate ourselves to avoid difficult resolutions. True unity is not easy since it requires a great deal of death-to-self, and the subjugation of our desires to the greater good. Unity is not, of course, the sole aim of Jesus, but it is one of the main identifiers of His body, so the question really becomes; do our doctrines lead to unity? If they don't, it appears to me there must be something wrong with them.

1 comment:

alana said...

In the years after I graduated from Seminary, I was asking the same questions, Nathan. I'm adding your blog to my blogroll. My blog is at www.morningcoffee.blogspot.com