Last night, we went to a city-wide Shabbat gathering in Nashville. Much of the vision behind this initiative is Jesus’ prayer in John 17: his prayer for the oneness of all believers. As someone was praying, they proposed this question to the group:
"How much are you willing to pay for unity?"
The reality is: if we can only have “unity” with those who agree with our own ecclesiology and eschatology, our specific traditions around baptism, predestination, whether or not you can lose your salvation, and all our other pet doctrines, then we don’t actually have unity; we have unanimity. It’s easy to have “oneness” with those who agree with us on everything. In fact, that’s where denominations come from in the first place!
But that’s not the world-changing oneness the Bible talks about or the unity that Jesus prayed for. Over and over, the Bible talks about setting aside our differences, including our theological differences, in order to have unity with our brothers and sisters in the faith; instead, we take the cowardly and convenient way out and convince ourselves that if they disagree with us, they aren’t really our brothers and sisters and therefore we aren’t obligated to have unity with them because they’re outside the faith.
(Obviously, I’m not talking about those who don’t profess Jesus, those who truly are outside the faith; I’m only talking about those who profess Jesus but don’t meet all our other criteria, who don’t agree with all our own pet doctrines.)
If that’s where we draw our lines, then I submit we are no more different than any other denomination. If “unchurching” doesn’t allow us to cross denominational lines and embrace believers outside our specific tradition, even outside our own comfort zones then we haven’t unchurched at all. So, without digressing into a long discussion or heated debate about our specific traditions and pet doctrines, I invite you to join me in pondering the question we were asked last night:
"How much are you willing to pay for unity?"
I’m not saying I have to change my personal convictions about ecclesiology, eschatology, my specific traditions around baptism, predestination, whether or not you can lose your salvation, etc. I’m just asking: am I spiritually mature enough to say, “Well, we don’t agree on x-y-and-z but we agree on Jesus, so I embrace you as a brother or sister!”
Furthermore, whenever I do differ with another believer over doctrine, do I have the wisdom to bite my tongue and take it to the Lord in prayer before I launch into my well-practiced defense of your own tradition? Or do I just assume I’m right? I mean, do I even allow for the fact that the Lord may be trying to teach me something? Or if I encounter a doctrine that’s partially true, am I able to “take the meat and spit out the bones” instead of making it my mission to correct everyone, all the time?
Going even further, do I extend other believers the same grace I extend myself? After all, I know for a fact that I’m a “work-in-progress”; my future self is probably going to think very differently about many strongly-held ideas than my current self, just as my current self would disagree with my past self on a great many things. At least, I hope I can say this. Otherwise, my faith is not maturing!
So, if my brother or sister is truly in error about something, why do I not recognize them as a “work-in-progress” too? Why do they have to be complete already if I don’t? Why is it so imperative they arrive at the correct theological conclusion, today? Why is my timetable more important than God’s? If they are truly in error, doesn’t he see this far better than I? Doesn’t he care to correct it far more than I? Isn’t he better equipped to do so than I? Or do I not trust that he is doing just that?
Or, is my love just conditional? If I can only embrace a brother or sister once God has “fixed” them, how is this any different than the Pharisees? And how well would I have fared if more mature brothers and sisters had drawn the same lines with me? “Come back to us when you get this sorted out, Richard!” Would I have even remained in the faith? If my doctrine is truly better, then isn’t this more reason they need to be in fellowship with me, not less? Won’t they be able to see their own error once they examine my life and see how much more joy and freedom in Christ I have than they do?
Ohhh… But then again, maybe that’s the rub. Maybe I can’t actually covey my doctrine by the way I live. Maybe my faith is abstract, a world of interesting ideas that don’t live up to James’ challenge to “show my faith by what I do”. Yikes! Lord, I hope not.
By the way, please don’t read anything into this post; I’m not meaning this as a rant or rebuke or anything like that. Just processing and thinking our loud, and sharing my thoughts in case they are of any use to anyone else. But feel free to chime in if any of this resonates with any of you.