Truth and Unity

I’m a little emotionally overwhelmed by my last posts — the one I just did and the one I’m working on — in the abortion series right now (not that you could tell from the text), so I’m going to take a break and hit a totally different distressing topic.

But less distressing. To my knowledge it hasn’t gotten anyone killed in over century.

My friend the Carpenter has been challenging me on the topic of church unity recently. A good topic on which to challenge me, for it is one of the tensions in need of resolution in my life.

By my lights, doctrine and truth do not receive enough respect these days. The chief mistake of our time is to be accommodating when we should stick to our guns.

Meanwhile, the Carpenter sees division as the characteristic problem. The Church should be the Church, not the Baptists and the Lutherans and the Catholics and the Methodists…

Both are truly problems. This I fully admit. The divisions in the church are a sin and our shame.

I will likely do a proper analysis of the issue in time. This article is mostly a collection of formerly scattered thoughts on the matter.

First, the tension here is one particularly significant to someone in my position. Theologically, I hew closest to conservative Lutherans. But conservative Lutherans seem the most eager to circle the wagons, slam the doors, and knock the dust off their sandals where other denominations are concerned.

On the one hand, I find this silly, even offensive. On the other, I can hardly blame them. They have the commands of Scripture to guard their doctrine closely. They have, in the ELCA (Evangelical Liberal Crusaders of America) a prime example of what happens if you don’t guard your doctrine — the conservative synods, WELS and LCMS, were once part of the ELCA after all.

They take so much pride in their identity as ‘Lutherans’. Luther himself is not amused. “Did Luther die for your sins?” he asks. “Were you baptized in the name of Luther?”

One LCMS pastor, the Coat Rack, has a different opinion. When the Exhile described himself as a ‘good Lutheran,’ the Coat Rack corrected him. “You are a Bible-believing Christian.”

Distinctions are important, and they need labels, so we know what we are talking about, right? “I follow Paul.” “Oh yeah? I follow Apollos.” (For those not in the know, this is a reference to Corinthians, where Paul is lambasting the Corinthians for, of all things, trying to form denominations. “Did Paul die for your sins? Were you baptized in the name of Apollos?”)

And yet, and yet… guard your doctrine closely. I can disagree with the social policies of the church I attend, but I can’t fault their theology.

Truth is hard to come by these days. Nobody wants to give offense. Nobody wants to stand up at an inconvenient time. Truth is divisive and offensive. Jesus divided even as he united — you don’t get crucified unless people rather strongly disagree with you!

There are the creeds. The creeds were created to draw the circle. “Inside this circle, there is room for debate. Outside this circle lies Heresy.” If we confess the creeds (and we do, every Sunday), are we not legitimizing as faithful all who hold to them? If so, why can we not stand beside them?


One thought on “Truth and Unity

  1. edhartshorn says:

    Part of the problem is those outside the circle pretending to be inside the circle. Are followers of Allah “Christians”? No, nor do they claim to be. Are followers of Moroni “Christians”? Most emphatically NOT, but they claim to be.

    Another part is differentiating those Christians who set different emphasis on different parts of theology. “Christians who believe in infant baptism”; “Christians who believe in total immersion”; “Christians who believe in ______”. Or, perhaps, “Christians who attend a church whose emphasis is on ________ as espoused by _______”.

    The real problem is not with people like you and I. We know what we believe, and why, and we can disagree in love. The problem is with those outside the circle of Christianity looking inward. They see fighting and division among those of us who should not be fighting, and they also see (but do not recognize) the pretenders.

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