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The Problem of Christian Unity

Puzzle-Unity

So much of the time we lack perspective in our inquiry. Our minds have the privilege of being pessimistic and skeptical about so many things. We demonstrate the tendency to focus exclusively on what is wrong, while we are seemingly oblivious to the those things which are right. All one has to do is reference their own marriage to see the truth of this!

When it comes to objections to Christianity, there are striking similarities. We stress the problem of evil (if God exists, how do we explain all the evil?), yet fail to realize the “problem” of good (if God doesn’t exist, how do we explain all the good?). Atheists say theists must give an answer to the creation by God, while at the same time dismissing their own obligation to explain the existence of everything else! Skeptics talk endlessly about the discrepancies in the Gospel stories, but are silent about the myriads of agreements which far outweigh what appear to be disagreements, both in number and significance. The unfortunate consequence is that many people (including Christians) become discouraged and full of doubt due to the many disagreements that Christians experience among themselves. Catholic vs. Protestant. Baptist vs. Presbyterian. Calvinist vs. Arminian. Premillennialists vs. Amillennialists. Young Earth vs. Old Earth. The truth of the matter is that for centuries Christians have disagreed among themselves concerning many issues from the interpretation of certain Scriptures to the role of tradition as an authoritative norm in our faith. However, I would encourage people to gain some perspective here. It is time to call on Christians, as well as non-Christians to focus not only on our respective disagreements, but also observe and gain strength from the many areas in which we agree.

In the Credo House, we have placed on one of our walls St. Vincent of Lerins’ dictum (in Latin): “What has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.” This early creed about Christian orthodoxy emphasizes the idea that the most important doctrines of the Christian faith have broad and nearly universal consensus. While there is disunity in the Christian church, essential orthodoxy is defined by those things which have been believed by the entirety of the Christian church. Please remember that minor exceptions do not make the rule here. I am talking about those individuals and groups who legitimately find their roots in any of the three great Christian traditions: Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodoxy.

This is to say that while there may be problems as a result of disagreements among Christians, these difficulties are miniscule when compared to the problems caused by agreements just for the sake of appearing to be in consensus among Christians.

Here is a sampling of the primary tenants where we find consensus:

All Christians, always and everywhere, have believed . . .

  • that there is a God
  • that God created all there is
  • that God created all there is out of nothing
  • that God is sovereign
  • that God is powerful beyond imagination
  • that God loves people
  • that God is righteous
  • that God is gracious
  • that God is trinity
  • that there is equality in the Godhead
  • that God created man in his image
  • that man sinned and fell from grace
  • that man is sinful by nature
  • that man, without God’s grace, is without hope
  • that Christ is God’s son
  • that Christ became man
  • that Christ lived a sinless life
  • that Christ was put to death on a cross
  • that the cross has atoning value for sin
  • that Christ rose bodily from the grave
  • that man must trust in Christ to be saved
  • that Christ is coming again for judgement
  • that believers will spend eternity with God in glory
  • that unbelievers will spend eternity without God in shame

While this list covers much and is incredibly significant, I could have gone on for a thousand pages. You try. Sit down and begin to write down all the things about which you know Christians agree. From verse to verse throughout the Scriptures, one can demonstrate how Christians are united in their understanding and interpretation of the tenets of our faith. For example, there is a well-know disagreement between some Calvinists and all Arminians about the definition of the word “world” in John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that who ever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”

Some Calvinists will say that the word “world” does not mean every person without exception, but every type of person without distinction (I, as a Calvinist, do not agree). Arminians, on the other hand, believe that it refers to every person without exception. This example illustrates a fine and interesting disagreement, but not one that should overshadow the far surpassing amount of agreement that all Christians have about this verse. All Christians believe that . . .

  • it was Yahweh who is in view here (i.e. not another God)
  • God’s love was the motivating factor
  • God’s only has one unique Son
  • belief is necessary to gain the reward
  • belief is necessary to avoid the penalty
  • there are many people loved by God
  • God “gave” his Son in the sense that he sacrificed him
  • everlasting life is life with God

Once again, I could go on and on about the consensus that Christians have concerning this one verse. Because of the clarity of the Christian message (what Protestants have called perspicuity), these agreements are far-reaching, significant, and foundational for the Christian faith. It is not unlike having a puzzle with millions of pieces. Once the puzzle is done, a thousand pieces are found to be missing or without placement. The missing pieces in no way hinder one from seeing and understanding the picture itself.

That said, it is not my goal to undermine the importance of working through disagreements. Nor am I contending that all Christians should lay down arms and cease to sharpen each other through their differences. Conversely, what I am saying is very evangelistic and apologetic in nature. If there is a problem for Christians with regard to Christian disunity, far greater problems exist for non-Christians as a direct consequence and the compelling evidence of Christian unity.

6 Responses to “The Problem of Christian Unity”

  1. The portrait at the top would be more accurate if there were, say, twenty pieces missing randomly scattered around the puzzle, and different teams trying to fit various pieces, possibly of the puzzle or possibly from somewhere else, into the scattered holes. There would be some agreements between the teams about which pieces actually go where and in what orientation, but generally the disagreements would be about whether the pieces belong with the puzzle and how they ought to be rotated. There might be groups also arguing over whether a composite detail would fit better over here or over there.

    Even if they had significant disagreements about whether this or that should go in a hole, and how, and how important the difference would make, the picture that they’re arguing about would still be certainly one thing and not another. Nor is it only a projection of each of their imaginations: there is an objective truth of the whole of the picture which, ideally, they are trying to meet. (Although if any aren’t doing that, but trying to paint their own picture, that would obviously add to the problem!)

  2. Brother Stumblefoot March 14, 2014 at 9:01 am

    At the moment I will pass on the theology of the blog, and just comment that I am pleased to be able to pick up the complete post on my pc. For about a month, when I click on “Read more of this post,” I have been getting “Page not found.” I’m sure you are aware of the problem, and I assume the hackers have been trying to “hack” you down.
    Glad to see things are functional again.

  3. “far greater problems exist for non-Christians as a direct consequence and the compelling evidence of Christian unity”.

    just read this today’s post too, so thanks also again.

    John 14: 27 Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.

    John 17: 22 The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.

  4. Unity…yes!

    But never at the expense of the pure gospel.

    We can and do have the right to criticize other Christian traditions when they speak of the Christian faith as a cooperative venture…but we do not have the right to judge.

    Christ does have His Church and He knows who’s in it.

  5. Personally, I like to think it is rather like someone got half a dozen similar-looking jigsaw puzzles and dumped them all on the floor, then thirty men sit around trying to combine them into one jigsaw.

  6. When a believer loves God with such a strong love as I sincerely do, it becomes deeply disturbing and hurting, to see how much division there really is amongst the Christians of today. By loving and serving God in Spirit, deed and in truth, then all Christians will come to the understanding, wisdom and knowledge, that we all sit at the same table of God as a family, eating of the same living Bread, and drinking of the same Living Water that flows from His Holy and Righteous Throne.
    Our fleshly focus on the man made brand names of Churches must not bury our Spiritual calling for unity from God through His beloved Son Jesus Christ, who is one in God and God in Him. And this is exactly what our Lord Jesus prayed for in John 17 v 20 to 22, and this is what perfect love is all about, knowing that God is the husbandman and Jesus Christ is the one and only true vine, whereof we are the branches that must bear good fruits at all times. (John 15 v 1 to 17, Ephesians 4 v 1 to 16, Colossians 3 v 1 to 17, etc.)
    Need I say more? As believers, as servants, as followers of Jesus Christ, who is the only truth, the only way and the only life, we must all accept, that as God is not a respecter of persons, we are all the same in His sight, nomatter who or what we may believe ourselves to be. It is not about us; it is all about God and His Living Eternal Word and Grace, which He has freely given unto all.
    Therefore, we are all the children of one God and Father by faith in Christ Jesus, where there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond or free, there is neither male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus as He is in the Father. ( Galatians 3 v 26 to 29, Ephesians 2 v 18 to 22 and 1 Corinthians 12, etc. ) With this, let us take serious warning as it stands written in Romans 16 v 17 to 18, James 3 v 13 to 18, and much, much more. May God Bless you all with His Will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.

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