“Church unity” seems to be the topic of the day.
Dr. David Watson, Academic Dean, NT scholar, and all around nice guy, has written something almost prophetically, given the Connectional Table propaganda earlier this week. Drew has said something as well. Scott F. has a piece and so does Chris T. Chad Holtz has something as well. I have little doubt others will chime in. This will be my answer — one of several, perhaps.
Let me begin with a Tweet from the Connectional table:
CT Members beginning to reflect at tables on values of: centrality of mission, unity for sake of mission, our identity in God’s grace. #UMC
— Connectional Table (@CTUMC) May 18, 2015
In a sense, the Connectional Table is correct. We need to understand a few things before we can approach the nature of Church unity. What is the mission? What drives unity? What is our identity?
Let me first turn to Dr. Watson’s post.
Watson has noted the usual claim against Good News Magazine. Many claim they are schismatics. He disagrees with this assessment.
I disagree with him on this point, as I have said before.
So is Randy Mickler and other conservatives. On the other hand, the vileness from the extreme left is equally schismatic, but in a different — dare I say, more vile manner?
It makes little sense for the dominant position in the United Methodist Church to simply pull away because they keep winning votes. While I do not appreciate some of the tactics by the extreme right, I nevertheless believe that some form of schism may soon be necessary — and as odd as this sounds, may be necessary to preserve Church unity.
There is something else at play here and I believe the orthodox in the UMC have caught on before their PCUSA brethren did. I would rather fight for inclusion from within an orthodox denomination than for orthodoxy within a progressive denomination.
But, that is not the topic of this post. Rather, as with Watson, I want to address Church unity. Believe it or not, Church unity is not dependent upon the view of inclusion. I have addressed Church unity before, several times, but this time I want to address what Church unity is via our doctrinal standards.
I appeal to you, my friends, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: agree among yourselves, and avoid divisions; let there be complete unity of mind and thought. — 1 Co. 1.10
Children, this is the last hour! You were told that an antichrist was to come. Well, many antichrists have already appeared, proof to us that this is indeed the last hour. They left our ranks, but never really belonged to us; if they had, they would have stayed with us. They left so that it might be clear that none of them belong to us. — 2 John 2.18–19
As a note, “antichrist” is one who denies the Son has come in the flesh. In a larger sense, it is one who denies “faith once delivered.” It is not a singular person, but a thought system. Note as well, the system of unity mentioned in St. Paul’s letter includes a thought system as well.
Schism is not found in practice, but in thought. Unity begins and ends with the thought:
If then our common life in Christ yields anything to stir the heart, any consolation of love, any participation in the Spirit, any warmth of affection or compassion, fill up my cup of happiness by thinking and feeling alike, with the same love for one another and a common attitude of mind. – Philippians 2.1–2
Our common practice comes from our common thinking. This, by the way, is far from groupthink, but is found in our shared understanding of who Christ is.
Be humble always and gentle, and patient too, putting up with one another’s failings in the spirit of love. Spare no effort to make fast with bonds of peace the unity which the Spirit gives. There is one body and one Spirit, just as there is one hope held out in God’s call to you; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4.2–6
Further, as history as shown, it (and by now, I mean unity in orthodoxy) does not prevent questioning but rather encourages it so that we may grow together — growing from the same ground of the faith which is that Jesus Christ, the unique Son of God, has come, died, and was raised for our sins, as it were.
I would encourage you to read all of Ephesians 4 and understand there what the author means by Church (and, better, Christian) unity. What is mentioned in this chapter is an argument for the need of doctrinal unity (orthodoxy) and only then the daily life (praxy) of the Christian.
Is the United Methodist Church unified according to Scripture?
A particular Church may, therefore, consist of any number of members, whether two or three, or two or three millions. But still, whether they be larger or smaller, the same idea is to be preserved. They are one body, and have one Spirit, one Lord, one hope, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…
….But the definition of a Church, laid down in the Article, includes not only this, but much more, by that remarkable addition: “In which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly administered.” According to this definition, those congregations in which the pure Word of God (a strong expression) is not preached are no parts either of the Church of England, or the Church catholic; as neither are those in which the sacraments are not duly administered.— Sermon 74
In point 19 of Sermon 74, however, Wesley says he could bear most things, even receiving people from error-filled congregations into the Church of England. However, in his sermon On Schism, he says that he can bear most things, except if he was forced to do something against his conscience. And in another place, he speaks about avoiding thoughts and doctrines that strike at the root of Christianity. Finally, from the same sermon:
If the Church, as to the very essence of it, is a body of believers, no man that is not a Christian believer can be a member of it. If this whole body be animated by one spirit, and endued with one faith, and one hope of their calling; then he who has not that spirit, and faith, and hope, is no member of this body.
Thus, we must understand what Wesley means. He has no problem with the Catholic Church because they are still in a real sense Christian. But, as we know he does have problems with those who deny the grace of God (Calvinists) and the Trinity (Socinians).
I would grandly submit to you Sermon 75, On Schism. You can read it at that link. I will post several pointed quotes.
Well might our blessed Lord say, “Woe unto the world because of offenses:” Yet, “it must needs be, that offenses will come:” Yea, abundance of them will of necessity arise when a breach of this sort is made in any religious community; while they that leave it endeavour to justify themselves, by censuring those they separate from; and these on the other hand retort the charge, and strive to lay the blame on them….
In like manner, if I could not continue united to any smaller society, Church, or body of Christians, without committing sin, without lying and hypocrisy, without preaching to others doctrines which I did not myself believe, I should be under an absolute necessity of separating from that society….
Do not rashly tear asunder the sacred ties which unite you to any Christian society. This indeed is not of so much consequence to you who are only a nominal Christian. For you are not now vitally united to any of the members of Christ. Though you are called a Christian, you are not really a member of any Christian Church. But if you are a living member, if you live the life that is hid with Christ in God, then take care how you tend the body of Christ by separating from your brethren…
I will offer you my interpretation, to which you can disagree. Wesley avoids schism like the plague. If the church is remotely Christian, then stay and fight unless they force you to violate the Gospel (at which point, Wesley would say they aren’t Christian). Indeed, in another place he recommends Church of England Methodists to continue to obey the rules of the Church of England!
Like Wesley, I detest schism. I say this while sitting in a denomination that is separated from the Church of England which is separated from Rome. My personal goal is Church unity and more. While I think Good News and others may be on to something, the time is not now. As long as the Creeds remain, and they do, schism unnecessary.
Is the United Methodist Church unified according to Wesley’s Sermons?
New Testament Explanatory Notes
1. Co 1.13. Is Christ divided?—Are not all his members still under one head? Was not he alone crucified for you all? And were ye not all baptized in his name? The glory of Christ then is not to be divided between him and his servants: neither is the unity of the body to be torn asunder, seeing Christ is one still.
Phil. 2.2. Think the same thing—Seeing Christ is your common head: having the same love—To God, your common Father: being of one soul—Animated with the same affections and tempers, as ye have all drunk into one spirit; of one mind—Tenderly rejoicing and grieving together.
Is the United Methodist Church unified according to Wesley’s New Testament Notes?
Articles and Confessions
Article XIII — Of the Church
The visible church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments duly administered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.
Article V — The Church
We believe the Christian Church is the community of all true believers under the Lordship of Christ. We believe it is one, holy, apostolic and catholic. It is the redemptive fellowship in which the Word of God is preached by men divinely called, and the sacraments are duly administered according to Christ’s own appointment. Under the discipline of the Holy Spirit the Church exists for the maintenance of worship, the edification of believers and the redemption of the world.
Notice what the Article gives as descriptors: Faithful, duly, necessary. The Confession is better. “True believers” and quotes the Nicene Creed. Discipline. Worship. Edification. Redemption. Lordship of Christ. These are all descriptors of an orthodox view of Christ, the Church, and the mission of the Church.
Is the United Methodist Church unified according to the Articles of Religion and Confessions of Faith?
Christian unity can be formulated upon a few things, namely the Creeds. Church unity can be formulated upon a few more things, namely shared doctrine, shared mission, and shared identity.
When surveying the United Methodist Church, one can see that we do not have a shared doctrine. While many of us participate in local social justice (feeding the poor, etc…), we do not have the shared mission of preaching the Gospel for the redemption of the world (i.e., sin). And as far as shared identity? Some are orthodox. Many are heterodox. But there are plenty that are heretical.
Do we love the same? No.
Do we think the same? No.
If our mission is to make disciples but discipleship is viewed as political activistism by the left (and sometimes by the right) is that really the same as the view from orthodox and evangelicals? If our goal is redemption of the world, does this happen through political means or through preaching the Gospel by which we preach repentance from sin and the transformation of lives?
I am attempting to refrain from making glaring judgment calls, but I have to ask… In what way can we remain united if those of one opinion view those who do not share that opinion as enemies? In what way are we united if, indeed, we have two different Christs? If we have two different Christs, do we not then have two different heads and if two different heads then two different bodies? If two different bodies then we are divided.