Not too many years ago I asked a man I worked with about whether or not he went to church. With an illustrious tone, he gave me an emphatic “no!” (And a look like: “Are you crazy?”). He told me that his experience with church was mainly political. Apparently the church he had been a part of fought over a great many things from doctrine to where the seniors were going to go on their yearly retreat. He plainly said: “I’d rather go to the lake than sit in there with all of that political nonsense!” I told him that not all churches behaved like that, but he told me that it wasn’t worth the trouble. He then proceeded to tell me that church mainly was for women and children, which at the time I had never thought about, but research has shown that he had a point (Podcast #253: Why Men Hate Going to Church). I was raised Lutheran in the LCMS and I can’t say that I remember anything like my co worker’s experience. However, I was part of a church plant in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, and at that time the church was thriving, growing, and building its membership and foundation. My Mom and Dad still go to that church today, and seem to be doing well. When I was in my 20’s I moved to Arkansas to go to College, and during that time I was truly moved to pursue my faith in Christ. Previously I had left the faith and identified as an agnostic since I had many questions that hadn’t been answered by any minister or religious zealot on hand. Nevertheless, my studies and reading led me back to Christ. While I was attending school at SAU, I received a “Believers Baptism,” but the first Baptist Church that I joined was in turmoil. I joined mainly because the director of the College Ministry that I had been going to at the time was the interim pastor there. When the church chose a full-time pastor, everything began to change. The guy was a good teaching pastor. Fresh out of Seminary with a large family, he didn’t last 8 months. I don’t remember why the church voted him to leave, but I do remember that it wasn’t Biblical (Something about his personality and his style of preaching I believe.). Since then I have been involved in one other church split and it was an ugly one at that. Well, I wasn’t really involved, but a spectator at least. I was working out of town a lot when all of the division had started there (Gone for 5 months). For now I have found a church that values unity and peace and doesn’t insist on its own way (1 Corinthians 13), and I am glad for it. They are tolerant of a lot of things within the bounds of Biblical Christian doctrine. When I think of Wyatt Baptist Church, I think of a mission driven body that reflects the words of the Moravian Church when they said: “In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas” or in English: “unity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things.” That is our mantle, and I am glad for it. I suppose it is the only Baptist Church in the area that will put up with me and my views, and for that I am very thankful
Unity doesn’t mean Uniformity
Unity – The state of being one; oneness. unity may consist of a simple substance or existing being, as the soul; but usually it consists in a close junction of particles or parts, constituting a body detached from other bodies. unity is a thing undivided itself, but separate from ever other thing.
Uniformity – Continued or unvaried sameness or likeness.
You can see that they are similar, but not the same. Unity can have varying parts within its fellowship. Such as differences on mysterious doctrines, race, culture, musical preferences, etc…. When Patrick was used by God to disciple and minister to the Celtic peoples of Ireland, they didn’t totally throw away their culture, they just changed the object of their worship. It has happened the same way in most African cultures that have received the Gospel as well. In the early church, it is evident that the Jewish Christians worshiped a little different than the Greek Christians. But, in spite of that, they were and are brethren. Even though there may be some visible differences, we are all unified under Christ, and we love each other. I can say that I have been greatly blessed by the influences of Celtic Christianity and the Christianity of my African brethren. I also think we are better for it. Uniformity is different though, uniformity is a continued and “unvaried” sameness that doesn’t give much room at all for disagreement. What most people want when they say they are for Unity is actually Uniformity. It is actually healthy to have differences in some things when it comes to the fellowship of the Church. We must agree on the core doctrines of the faith, but be willing to bend some on the uncertain ones (Such as eschatology, or the inner workings of God’s Hand in Salvation). Now I know that someone would jump in at this point and say that I am opening up the door for immoral behavior. No, I am not. What are the core doctrines of the faith? Well, I recommend first reading the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and then look at Galatians 5, which talks about what the fruits of the Spirit are all about and the rotten fruit of the flesh. These things are “very” clear and there should be no wavering or question as to their meaning. So don’t think for one minute that I am promoting Christian Liberalism.
Diversity in Unity
I went to church with a man a few years ago that loves Southern Gospel Music. We are still good friends but I can say that I am not a Southern Gospel fan. I use to tease him about his preferred taste in music, and he teased me back. I don’t dislike the music as much as the culture of the Southern Gospel singers. He knew that even though I didn’t prefer Southern Gospel that I would sit down and endure a Southern Gospel concert for him because he is my brother in Christ. He was also willing to endure some of the things I liked because he cared for me. That is how it should be. Unity in diversity. Music style is more of a preference, and just because your friend likes Christian Hip-Hop and you don’t, respect him and invite him into your fold. He may have something great to offer you. Another realm is that of doctrines. Now I realize that I need to be careful here, but the doctrinal divide is much deeper than it was in the early Church. Soteriology is one realm that I can think of. O how many words and how much ink has been spilled between those who deride each other over this. I have friends that lean more towards an Arminian view of the atonement, and even though I am not in total agreement, I am okay with that (God is ultimate, and prefer to defer to Him over my own exertion. Besides, where is it that we all have received our ability to exert ourselves?). Sometimes when I read Scripture, I will sound like an Arminian and sometimes I sound like a Calvinist. When I am trying to explain human responsibility and exertion to my children, sometimes I sound like a Semi-Pelagian! When people discuss and debate the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism for example, they are really arguing over a realm that we don’t have any mastery over and that is the realm of the Sovereignty of God in Salvation. While we understand some things the Bible tells us to a point, there is a lot we don’t know. So if you differ on how God works in salvation, have that discussion and even do a friendly debate (if you are able), but then do not divide over these things. Another example is that of Eschatology. I prefer the Amillennial position concerning the end times. Today in the area that I live in, I am in the minority. Historically, I am in the majority. I have friends that are Dispensationalists, and we have discussions about these things. Sometimes you will even hear me criticize certain doctrines in that view such as the “two peoples of God” view when they divide Israel and the Church. All that being said, we can still worship together and have unity. We know that these things are difficult to understand. You will find that I prefer certain historic doctrines over others, but I realize that I may not be right about everything. My brothers and sisters in the church understand that also, that is why we can have unity even with our diversity of views. Another realm is that of race or even cultural background. I want to mention this because there are Christian leaders who are making this a problem whether they realize it or not. Christians of every “tribe tongue and nation” should be able to fellowship with each other, and in that fellowship celebrate and embrace the different expressions of worship and praise to our God. God after all isn’t a white American or a black American. Just like the music issue, I have ways that I prefer to worship over others, but I don’t want to form the church into my image, I want the church’s image to reflect its diverse fellowship. Just like the music issue, I want to be able to worship with my brethren from Uganda, or Nicaragua. I want to marvel over the awesome cultural differences and similarities, and see how “God loves variety.” Just look at God’s creation and you will see this teaching. Now I realize that there are some things that we need to divide over, but these things I mentioned aren’t any of them. Most of the division in our day are things that we shouldn’t separate over. The Gospel is about unity, diversity, reconciliation, patience, love, and understanding. So when you are contemplating splitting off and forming your own church, carefully consider it. There is an element of mystery to God and this world that we cannot fully explain or fathom. We should keep this in mind before dividing over anything. Remember what Irenaeus said:
“If, therefore, even with respect to creation, there are some things only God knows, while others come within the range of our knowledge, why should we complain if, in regard to those things which we investigate in the Scriptures (which are thoroughly spiritual), we are able by the grace of God to explain only some of them, while we must leave the rest in the hands of God— and that not only in the present world but also in that which is to come— so that God will forever teach and human beings will forever learn the things God teaches? . . . If, then, . . . we leave some questions in the hands of God, we will keep our faith from injury and will continue without danger. Moreover, we will find all Scripture, which has been given to us by God, to be entirely consistent. Then the parables will harmonize with the passages which are perfectly plain, and the statements which are clear in meaning will help explain the parables, and in all the various utterances of Scripture we will hear one harmonious melody, praising in hymns the God who created all things. So, for instance, if anyone asks, “What was God doing before He made the world?” we reply that the answer to such a question lies hidden with God Himself. (2: 28,3) If anyone asks, “How was the Son produced by the Father?” we reply that no one understands that production, or generation, or calling, or revelation, or whatever term may be used to describe His generation: it is utterly indescribable. (2: 28,6) We have learned from the Scriptures that God holds the supremacy over all things. But Scripture has not revealed to us the way He produced it. . . . In the same way, we must leave unanswered the question why, since all things were made by God, some of His creatures sinned and revolted from a state of submission to God. . . . Since we know only in part [1 Cor 13: 12], we must leave all sorts of questions in the hands of Him who gives us grace by measure. (2: 28,7) God alone, who is Lord of all, is without beginning and without end, being truly and forever the same, and always remaining the same unchangeable being. But all things that proceed from Him, everything that has been made and is made, has its own beginning. Consequently, they are inferior to Him who formed them, since they are not unbegotten. (2: 34,2) Life does not arise from us, or from our own nature; it is granted by the grace of God. Therefore the one who takes care of the life received and gives thanks to Him who imparted it will also receive everlasting life. But the one who rejects it and shows himself ungrateful toward his maker, since he has been created and has not recognized Him who bestowed life, deprives himself of ongoing existence. (2: 34,3)”
One thing that the Orthodox Church in the East does to promote their church is to point to all of the division of the Protestant and Baptist denominations. Now, that doesn’t prove that their church resembles fully the Apostolic doctrines, but it has convinced some. My cousin goes to a Non-denominational church in Denton. One reason that he went that way is because of the great disunity and disobedience to Christ in the Baptist and other denominations (John 17). Did you know that there are 87 different kinds of Baptists in North America? There are, and it is a problem. This division and disunity has driven many from the living water of Christ (John 4:14). Just like my coworker, they were deterred by the works of evil, and the church found no different than the world we live in. What is the solution? Well, I don’t know other than the fact that we don’t need more division. Division is a luxury of a free society, and while freedom is a great thing, what we do with it is something else. There is no doubt that the early Church had her disagreements, but they never divided over them. One reason is because they needed each other. They never knew when the Romans or some other group were going to beat down their door and arrest or even try to kill them. Christians needed each other. The truth is that we need each other now, it’s just not as evident to most in developed Western Countries. One of the temptations that plague Americans is that due to our wealth we are prone to forget God and the brethren. We also are prone to fight and divide over petty and even uninformed reasons. Let’s not be part of the problem and strive for diversity in unity.