I hated denominations. In fact, I hated anything that appeared to be divisive within the church. Denominations, theological debate, and especially the lack of ethnic diversity I saw in the church—I hated it all.
I was a new believer and the questions that racked my mind more than any others were, “If the church is supposed to be one, why is it so divided?” and “How can the people of God get caught up in such aggressive debates on secondary issues when there are so many people without the gospel?”
At the time, my way of thinking sounded spiritual to me. My criticisms, in my eyes, appeared noble and righteous. However, my views started to change as I studied more church history and theology. Some of my criticisms, especially regarding the lack of ethnic diversity were well-founded. Other criticisms I had regarding the nature of denominations and the goal and purpose of debate were misguided. And through everything I learned, I discovered a simple, but hard truth: Unity does not mean uniformity.
Together But Not The Same
First, I need to clarify what I mean. By “unity” I am referring to the united fellowship of Christ’s people. They are multi-ethnic, culturally diverse, and they have all repented of their sins and have placed their faith in the gospel. The united church also recognizes Christ as its head and as his body is diverse in gifts, opinions, preferences, and personalities.
By uniformity, I am referring to the idea that all Christians must share the same opinion, preferences, or perspectives regarding the Christian life and theology. All Christians by virtue of Christ and his Spirit are united in love. However, God has sought to be glorified by having a united people that are diverse in many ways. Uniformity is what is seen in Islamic nations as people are forced to either conform or die. It was also seen during the era of the Reformation as the Catholic Church burned faithful saints alive simply because they disagreed with the Pope’s interpretation of the Bible.
As a young Christian, I assumed that being “united” had to also include uniformity. When I saw a lack of uniformity, I questioned the clarity of the Bible and the people who read it. Over time, I came to realize that I was wrong. The bond of the Christian church is so strong that it is able to remain united, even amongst the strongest of disagreements. In fact, unity without uniformity actually testifies to the power of Jesus’s prayer for the church to love one another. Consider Jesus’s words in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Bungee jumping is a dangerous activity. Jumping from a lofty platform with only a rope keeping you from falling to your death requires a lot of trust in that rope. Prior to latching the rope onto an individual, I guarantee you it has been tested. It has already been pulled and weighed down. The rope has been tested using various means of tension to make sure it will hold the weight of the jumper. If the rope was not tested under the most strenuous of circumstances, it may prove to be superficial or weak and someone may die. Love is the same way. Love is seen as most pure not when it avoids conflict but when it is tested and tried by conflict and remains intact. Unity preserved in the midst of sharp disagreement demonstrates to the world that the love of God’s people is deeper than opinions and preferences. This flies in the face of worldly love which is completely grounded on these things.
There are two realities that need to be understood when it comes to Christian disagreement.
Christians place such a high value on truth that they are willing to die for it.
Christians recognize that their Lord is the one called the way, the truth, and the life. Since Christ is the embodiment of truth, Christians tend to value truth more than any other religion. But Christians also recognize that truth is found in the scriptures. Christians stake their lives on the Bible. Countless Christians have died due to their standing for God’s word. And because of these things, Christians are known to guard truth passionately.
Christians place such a high value on truth that they are willing to live for it.
Denominations exist because there are people who value certain biblical truth distinctives so much that they feel they need to live by them in community. Christians value truth so much that they feel it is necessary to not only proclaim what they believe to be true, but to also convince other Christians of what is true so that they may also walk more faithfully. And in all this, the Spirit of God that resides in believers will always compel them to love other Christians. Therefore, theological debates can sometimes make Christians feel uncomfortable. It should at times even sadden them. Only the immature believer would delight in debating his spiritual siblings who are in error on matters of eternity. Yet, through saddened hearts and a humble countenance, the Christian who is walking in love must place the love for truth over the bitterness of debate. The Christian does this knowing that the debate should lead to greater unity and love despite the tension.
In the next few posts, I would like to talk with you all about how we, as Christians, can continue to abound in love towards one another even when we have profound disagreements. It is my desire to serve you all by helping you think through how to best disagree with others who are in Christ and with those who are not.
The next piece will come out the following Monday.
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