When I looked at my article a few days after it was posted, it had 69 shares on Facebook (and don’ t forget that 1 Google+ share!). I knew some people had responded positively to what I wrote, and others negatively. But I didn’ t think 70 people would share the thing!
Considering the way the article was received, I decided to further define, defend, and work through my stance on the need for church unity. This is not mention to be completely exhaustive, but just a further explanation. I did also respond to all the comments on the article, so check those to see if they answer any more questions.
Ecumenicalism in Church History
Perhaps the first thing that comes to my mind when I hear ecumenical and church history is the seven ecumenical councils. These councils, like Nicaea and Constantinople, ironed out hard doctrines like the Trinity and the Incarnation, and condemned many heresies. If it was not for those men, who came together to work through disagreements in order to reach a hard conclusion, many of us could have been Arians today! In fact, these creeds are still the standard today for orthodox Trinitarian Theology.
The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed
The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed from 381 AD reads:
“We believe in one God the Father All-Sovereign, maker of heaven and earth, and of all the things visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the son of God, the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from the heavens, and was made flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the scriptures, and ascended into the heavens, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father, and cometh again with glory to judge the living and the dead, of whose kingdom there will be no end:
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Life-giving, that proceedeth from the Father, who with Father and Son is worshiped together and glorified together, who spake through the prophets:
In one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church:
We acknowledge one baptism unto the remissions of sins. We look for a resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come.” (1)
The need for ecumenicalism
In many churches today, the formal principle of the Reformation is still alive and well, and that is sola scriptura, Scripture Alone. While we may disagree on a wide variety of issues, we can all agree that our doctrine is to be found in and tested against Scripture.
On one of the most important doctrinal issues, biblical authority, we already agree. For all of us, our final appeal is to Scripture as we discuss and work though differences.
Iron sharpens iron
I mentioned in my previous article, by coming together we can sharpen and strengthen our doctrine. As we all study and examine the Bible, the truth in the Bible will become more clear. And as we cross denominational lines, we see if our interpretations of the Bible hold up, or if they need to be revised or even abandoned, as we continue to examine the Bible together.
Iron sharpens iron as the Proverb goes, so as we interpret, study, and discuss together not only will our fellowship become stronger, but also our doctrine. Will there be disagreement and hard arguments along the away? Of course. But that should not stop us from pursuing church unity.
Study the studiers
Not only can we study the Bible together, but also study Christians from history that studied before us. No theologian or church tradition can claim equal authority to the Scriptures, but we would be fools to ignore the 2,000 years of Christian writings from the Apostolic Fathers, Origen, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Hodge, Barth, and so forth.
Together, we can “draw on the whole tradition of biblical commentary, and theology, all the tradition’s wealth of pastoral wisdom and liturgical beauty, as they go about their work.” (2)
Speaking with one voice
With so many denominational lines, it is hard, if not near impossible for the church to speak with one voice. As a church, we cannot all speak together. For every Christian you find that takes one stance on an issue, you can find a Christian that takes the opposite stance on the same issue. Just fill in the blank.
How can the world know what the church believes? Remember that in John 17 the point of unity was so the world would believe and know God sent Jesus. Without unity, the world doesn’t know what we believe. How can the church combat false teaching and modern day heresy, if it cannot speak with one voice?
If someone is forced to leave a church over an issue, all that person has to do is just go down the street to another church and no one asks questions. Imagine if there was a group of local elders and pastors that meet. Part of their meeting could be to inform if there are any people that have false doctrine or cause problems. That would help stop the problem of people just moving down the street.
Future outside opposition
I often hear today that the world is only going to treat the church more harshly in America and that religious freedoms may be taken away. If this is true, what better way to face coming opposition than to have churches of all denominations to come together to support each other? Jesus said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:25; Luke 11:17). How can we withstand opposition if we do not stand together?
To be continued…
1 (1 Henry Bettenson, and Chris Maunder, Documents of the Christian Church, [New York NY: Oxford, 2011], 27-28.)
2 (Clearing Things Up 2 Peter Leithart, The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church, [Grand Rapids MI; Brazos, 2016], 27.)