I’d like to quote from an excellent blog post from John Pavlovitz’ blog, “Stuff that needs to be said.”
I hope you subscribe to his blog. I love his approach.
The lack of unity in Christian circles is legendary. Most attempts at forging unity focus on either doctrinal agreement (and define unity as agreement with specific points) or on organization cooperation (agreement to submit to one ecclesiastial authority). By the way, I think these two kinds of bogus unity are what the false church grapple with in the Revelation prophecy about forcing their adherents to have the mark of the beast “in the forehead” (doctrinal agreement) or “in their hand” — cooperation or organizational agreement.
I think the Biblical position is that God created the unity when he chose those who are in reality the body of Christ, and we are asked to diligently preserve that unity. We can’t make it, and in the final analysis we can’t break it either. God is building his temple and each stone in it will fit together and be assembled on the other side of the veil without the sound of a hammer. All the shaping is done in the quarry, a la Solomon’s temple. In the meantime, the Lord knows those that are his.
How can we find, share, learn from, love and serve our brothers in Christ then? I really like this explanation, written by a missionary some years back and edited and compiled by Keith A. Price, and reproduced on Ken Allen’s eclectic website:
These principles are based on many years of inter-denominational fellowship and are conclusions I have reached after making many mistakes and after having had considerable discussion with scores of Christian leaders. I am particularly indebted to the correspondence of Anthony Norris Groves – a dentist-missionary to Baghdad in the 1830s – who practised many of these principles. Although they have never before appeared in the form I now give, I have retained a number of the excellent expressions he used in his correspondence.
The basis of our fellowship is life in the Christ of the Scriptures rather than Light on the teaching of the Scriptures. Those who have part with Christ have part with us. Because our communion is one of life and love more than one of doctrine and opinion, we seek to show that the oneness in the life of God through Jesus Christ is a stronger bond than that of being one of us – whether organizationally or denominationally.
Because our fellowship is based on our common life in Christ, we do not reject anyone because of the organization or denomination with which he may be affiliated; nor would we hold him responsible for the conduct within that system, any more than we would a child for the conduct in the home of which he is merely a part.
We do not feel it desirable to withdraw from fellowship with any Christians except at the point where they may require us to do what our consciences will not permit, or restrain us from doing what our consciences require. Even then, we maintain our fellowship with them in any matter where we are not called upon to so compromise. This ensures that (inasfar as we understand the Scripture) we do not separate ourselves from them any further than they separate themselves from Christ.
We do not consider an act of fellowship to be indicative of total agreement; indeed, we sometimes find it a needed expression of love to submit to others in matters where we do not fully agree, rather than to prevent some greater good from being brought about. Our choice would be to bear with their wrong rather than separate ourselves from their good.
We believe it more scriptural to reflect a heart of love ready to find a covering for faults, than to constantly look for that with which we may disagree. We will then be known more by what we witness for than by what we witness against.
We feel it biblical never to pressure people to act in uniformity further than they feel in uniformity; we use our fellowship in the Spirit as an opportunity to discuss our differences and find this to be the most effective way of leading others – or being led by them – into the light of the Word.
While enjoying such a wide range of Christian fellowship, we would not force this liberty upon those who would feel otherwise minded. In such circumstances, we enjoy fellowship as far as they will permit, then pray that the Lord would lead them further into this true liberty of the common life in Christ.
No doubt any Christians who read my yesterday post would wonder how I could seem to face the loss of morality in our culture with equanimity. I do not. I share George Washington’s view, that religion and morality are the foundation of political prosperity:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?
Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.
My point is that the time of political prosperity is over; the time of social peace is past. It is now God’s time to clear the land for a new government, established in righteousness.
The United States, with its public education, its early infusion of enlightened, relatively tolerant Christian and Jewish minds, and its early spirit of freedom, was a great gift to human history. But the wineskins established by Washington are now old and worn, our current population is much more diverse culturally and spiritually, and freedom or license has multiplied in ways that would be shocking to George Washington.
What I was trying to say yesterday, is that true Christianity should not, (and, I believe, does not) identify with this or any other government, because the practice of true religion is an individual matter of conscience. Nowhere in the Bible do I see the imprimatur of governance handed to Christians. That is held in abeyance, until our personal obedience is complete. I think it is fact of history that morality cannot be legislated by human governments, and in a fallen world those who govern cannot always act squarely on the side of true religion and true morality — partly because of the limitations of human judgment and discernment; and partly because a government that is egalitarian and free must allow freedom of expression to those whose religion is different and whose morality is different. The first amendment is a good thing in a government in which immature and evil people are permitted to dwell with mature and good folks… even though the first amendment often creates conditions which are violations of the 9th commandment.
For example, it is the law of the land in the United States that a fetus does not have rights; that the mother can end its life if she chooses. A president swears to uphold the law of the land. Therefore a president must place his hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the right of a mother to kill the unborn child within her. From the first moment of a president’s tour of duty, he is thus a sworn opponent of what the Bible says in Exodus 21:22. (And no credible leader today would think to enforce Exodus 22:20).
Christians are taught to allow their experiences in life to humble them, to bear up under injustice, to submit to authority, for the purpose of learning lessons that will equip them to be merciful and humane “priests” and “kings” in a future age. Christians can live effectively as aliens and strangers, as guests in the countries where they reside, taxpayers and encouragers of what is good and noble and pure… but to grab the wheels of power and attempt to bring about the kingdom of God on earth has been proven to be a mistake in fact, as it is warned against in the Bible. Christ’s kingdom is not “of this world”.
So as society crumbles, and the elemental, foundational principles of social order (such as marriage, respect of parents by children, love of children by their parents, respect for law and order, etc.) melt away as Peter predicted they would, Christians have lots of work to do. Not by campaigning for power and attempting to turn back the clock on the United States — but by telling people not to worry, that the future will be tough but God is working to teach the world the lessons they need to learn — bitter at first, but sweet later.