Saturday, September 29, 2007

Are We Too "Together for the Gospel"?

"Together for the Gospel" conference 2006: I missed it but was glad to be at Fred Zaspel's John Bunyan conference instead.

"Together for the Gospel" 2008: Lord willing, and with great anticipation, I'll be there.

I have to ask, however, "are there any ill-effects from such an attempt to display unity?" Strange question, maybe. Obvious answer, maybe. I know of many reasons that I love such an idea....

1) Brothers who are united around the clear gospel have joined hands.
2) Brothers who are united around the biblical / Reformed understanding of salvation have joined hands.
3) Brothers who are united around the clear gospel as it is given expression in Reformed thought have joined hands while lovingly and tenaciously clinging to truth as they perceive it in other, varying matters (In other words, C.J. Mahaney is still a Charismatic, Lig Duncan a paedobaptist, etc.).

But, can our efforts (well-intentioned and absolutely necessary) at unity, especially between (Reformed) Baptists and conservative Presbyterians, lead to a gradual erosion of those distinctives that each group holds dear? What I have in mind, specifically, are 'controversies' such as the current baptism/Lord's supper/membership debate where Baptists like John Piper desire to open their church membership to paedobaptists. Even the recent 'firestorm' over the admission of paedobaptists to the Lord's table in Baptist churches seems to be fueled at times by charicatures of traditional Baptists (read: close or closed communion Baptists) as needlessly restrictive.

Help! Please let me know your thoughts on the matter and where I can be sharpened in this question. Perhaps the very asking of the question indicates my apathetic nature towards unity. Give me your thoughts.

Links to the issues:


Anonymous said...

I assume this is the question that you wanted me to look at. It seems to me a yes/no type of question depending on who is asking it and on what occasion.

The question is inappropriate and absolutely no in a sense that "unity for the gospel" is a description of what it means to be a Christian. Just the very way Paul argues for unity, especially in 1 Corinthians and Philippians seems to demand that we should fight for a doctrine of unity with as much vigor and urgency as we do for Christ's person and other essential doctrines. Being unified is such a dominant theme in the New Testament that all doctrines we hold that separate us in different denominations should be examined and reexamined.

Your question can be very good in other senses. We do hold our distinctives to be important. Historically, Baptists have found that the Bible's teaching leads them into a different understanding of church membership, etc. That's good, they're trying to apply the Bible to life. I'll have to think more on this side to defend it more clearly. Do you have any examples from history where unity led to an erosion of particular doctrines?

I hope I'm clear. That's where I would want to start. There's more that could be said for both answers, but it gave you a nice starting place if you're actually going to investigate the question more.


Anonymous said...

If I may be permitted to shotgun some thoughts onto the blogosphere...

In my opinion, one of the fundamental problems among theologians of all stripes in the Christian faith is that we are all too arrogant and selfish. We are sinful creatures, and the reason we don't have more unity among the body of Christ is really because we all cherish our own beliefs so much. We have our own ideas of how Christians should behave and practice our religion, and we hate when others don't agree with us or do it our way. We pick fights with each other for these reasons and, because we are too smart to be obvious about it, we know how to church it up by declaring that we are contending for "the truth" and "sound doctrine". Obviously, I am oversimplifying it, and I'm not trying to say that the desire for sound doctrine is absent entirely. But I feel like I've been a fallen human being long enough to know that most of the time when there are strong disagreements, there's a large degree of selfishness and arrogance involved.

Here's my take on the issue of unity. Setting aside Roman Catholic theology and speaking in terms of Protestant and Reformed theology, issues like credo vs paedobaptism are NOT at the core of the gospel. Period. Therefore, anybody who attempts to minimize the reality that, objectively, somebody is right and somebody is wrong in the name of "unity" around the gospel is really just wasting everyone's time. The difference between credo and paedobaptism matters, if we believe in truth at all. This means that some churches will practice one and another church will practice another, and that's fine. If we want to be united around the gospel, it doesn't mean we try to make these differences disappear as though they don't exist or aren't important. But it does mean that, as Christians, our rally point is not our view of baptism, but it is Christ. We stop acting like our spiritual gift is the gift of setting everyone straight, and start being at peace with the idea that, although that person practices baptism in a way that conflicts with our respective practice, they are doing what they do because they believe it is what Christ has required.

"For unto this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the paedobaptist and the credobaptist." --Romans 14:9 (sort of)

JCRandolph said...

Thanks Matt and Anonymous for your thoughtful answers, seeking to honor Christ. I was helped greatly by your thoughts.

C said...

As my old professor Richard Pratt always told us, the deck of life is always shifting. Balance is nothing more than momentary syncronicity. In other words, because we are fallen creatures, we are always going to lean toward one extreme. So what we do depends in large part on what the situation is. If we live in an age where everybody believes all theological views carry basically the same merit and importance and that all we really need is love, love, love, then we need to go Martin Luther on everyone's arse and start nailing our 95 theses to the door of feel good Christianity. But if we live in an age where churches are splitting over the theological importance of the color of the new carpet in the fellowship hall, then we all need to stop, count to 10, and then have a nice, long, group hug in the name of Jesus.

In other words, we need to be able to gauge the spiritual climate in our churches, denominations, etc. When we start heading too far in one direction, we come back with a strong dose of the other, and this is how we stay balanced.