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19 Feb '14

When theology divides rather than Christ uniting

Posted by T.J. Addington in division, grace, theology, unity
In His high priestly prayer of John 17, Jesus prayed for the same kind of unity between believers that He and the Father experienced. In fact he is very explicit: "I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one - I in them and you in me - so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them as you have loved me" (John 17:22-23).

In Ephesians 4:1-6, Paul makes the same plea: "As a prisoner for the Lord, then I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called: one Lord, one Faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all."

With this kind of priority on the unity of the body, why do we so often allow theology to divide us in the church? I am not talking about liberal vs. evangelical for there are hallmarks of orthodoxy that have been accepted since the early church. What I am talking about are both pastors and parishioners who finely parse doctrine, insist that their theological grid is the right one and in attitude, words and spirit marginalize those who don't agree with them. 

Do we not think Jesus knew that there would be differences among His people when He explicitly prayed that they would be one? Do we not betray His will and prayer when we in the words of Paul are not humble and gentle and patient and bear with our differences in love?

And among Christian leaders as well! How is John MacArthur living this desire by Jesus when he publicly declares war on all things he considers "charismatic?" By his broad definition he has declared war on me as well. Or those who have branded Rick Warren as a heretic. Can we not disagree with one another on theological issues within the broad tent of orthodoxy and still live with humble unity? When I see evangelicals doing battle with other evangelicals in a way that divides I conclude that their version of truth is more important to them than the wishes of Jesus! 

I have watched this play out in local congregations as well. The word and various interpretations become weapons wielded against one another, dividing rather than uniting. Often in working with troubled churches the correspondence between members or leaders is full of Scriptural references as if every point can be proven and position defended with a verse. These salvos that go back and forth are not really about the Bible but about pride and often a misuse of spiritual authority to keep someone in their place. And how do you respond when you are now arguing with God?

Within the broad evangelical tent we will have our theological differences and convictions. Within a local church we will as well. But when those differences become divisive we need to examine our hearts carefully for we have now stepped over a line from disagreement to disunity. Furthermore, Paul's admonition of humility is one we need to take seriously. How do I know that my theological position is absolutely right? Might my perspective be flawed as well? When dealing with the depths of God and the nuances of His character and plan for our world, no theological system can do Him justice. On some things we see through a glass darkly.

Jesus unites us in a common gospel which is good news for our world through a common Holy Spirit. Don't allow our theology to divide what God has united through His Spirit.