Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Cultivation of God-centred worship enhances horizontal unity

A.W. Tozer memorably stated how a deliberate focus away from self and onto Christ is fuel for Christian unity:

Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.
[The Pursuit of God, page 97]

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Stott: disunity often caused by proud prejudices

As we've seen already, a crucial part of maintaining Christian unity is doggedly holding to the key parts of the gospel. However, as this quote from John Stott shows, Biblical unity also requires a humility and realisation of ones own presuppositions and prejudices when it comes to 'secondary' doctrines:

We must come to the biblical text with a recognition of our cultural prejudices and with a willingness to have them challenged and changed. If we come to Scripture with the proud presupposition that all our inherited beliefs and practices are correct, then of course we shall find in the Bible only what we want to find, namely the comfortable confirmation of the status quo. As a result, we shall also find ourselves in sharp disagreement with people who come to Scripture from different backgrounds and with different convictions, and find these confirmed. There is probably no commoner source of discord than this. It is only when we are brave and humble enough to allow the Spirit of God through the Word of God radically to call in question our most cherished opinions, that we are likely to find fresh unity through fresh understanding.
[You Can Trust the Bible, page 50].
I experienced a case in point of this a number of years ago when I was a Relay Worker. I was meeting to study the Bible with another Christian from a very different background to my own. For nearly six months, this felt like a chore as both of us wanted to impose 'our' Christianity upon the other. Then I believe the Lord showed both of us - suddenly, and at the same time - the futility of what we were doing. This made us both much better listeners, and we actually found out that we both had a whole lot more in common with each other than both of us had previously thought. We still don't see eye to eye over every issue. But I would count him one of my good friends and a tenacious partner in the gospel.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Two models of CU unity

I'll carry on drawing together some thoughts from others on unity in future posts, but here's something that's been buzzing around my head for a wee while on unity. What does it look like in practice to maintain unity in an interdenominational setting like a CU?

It occurs to me that there are two models.

The first model is a kind of 'lowest common denominator' approach. Speakers in this model are instructed to only present Biblical teaching that all members present can agree with (i.e. from within the Doctrinal Basis). If a speaker presents an issue outside of this band of core teaching (and if particularly they teach on a 'secondary' issue that falls outside of the Doctrinal Basis) they might be reprimanded or encouraged next time to focus on core issues (depending on the amount of graciousness shown by CU members). In the model, 'tolerance' is defined by limiting what might cause offence or discomfort. In practice I think this model often leads to the domination of whatever the most popular church background in the CU is.

It seems to me that a better approach would be a second model. In this model, speakers are encouraged to pitch their material bearing in mind that the CU is a short-term interdenominational mission team. However, when they believe that the passage or issue that they have been asked to speak upon requires teaching on a 'secondary issue', they feel free to teach it (albeit humbly bearing in mind that other evangelicals can also have Scripturally-driven positions that are different to their own). CU members bear in mind that within the CU setting, they agree to agree upon the core doctrines of the gospel (as summarised in the Doctrinal Basis) but agree to disagree upon secondary issues. Therefore, so long as the speaker is led by Scripture in their teaching of a secondary issue, they are willing to receive such teaching (even if it is very different from the position they themselves hold). In this model, 'tolerance' is defined by loving somebody as a brother or sister for whom Christ died, even when they hold a position of theology that is very different from your own. It is looking somebody in the eye and saying that you are glad they are part of a gospel-focused mission team with you (and saying this even if you might never join their church).

It seems to me that the second model is stronger than the first model, and closer to the Biblical model of unity than the first. It is harder to achieve, because it is requires a strong understanding of what CUs are about, and a thorough focus upon grace. But I think it is worth striving for.

I once remember a colleague speaking of how, ideally, each CU member should come away from a CU central gathering feeling slightly frustrated, because not everything was done in a way that matched their own preferences and positions of secondary doctrine. However, he said, in this sense of general dissatisfaction, there is great satisfaction - modelling together great unity in the gospel, and being more effective on campus as a group than a whole host of smaller groups ever could be by themselves.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Lloyd-Jones: what is schism?

Martin Lloyd-Jones answers the question: what is a schism?

The best definition you will ever find of schism is in Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, especially in chapter 12 perhaps but it is also there in other places. Schism as it is defined by the great apostle is this: it is men and women who are agreed about the centralities of the faith disagreeing about things which are not essential; it is a tearing of the body. The only man who can be guilty of schism, therefore, is a man who believes the truth, the essential truth, but denies other things that are not essential.
[What is an Evangelical?]
The observation that came to me here is that Biblical unity does not just consist of attending a meeting together. Presumably the church in Corinth was still meeting together, and yet it is the only church which is explicitly criticised for being schismatic.