This post could also be called “What happens when a reformed Baptist and a Pentecostal Anglican talk church unity.” Tim Sweetman and I have been on and around this topic for awhile, so it’s been a growing experience to be able to write this together and make some first steps (for us) on fleshing out what this one Body prayer that Jesus prays in John 17 can look like in real life.
So what’s one thing Michael Vick and some Christians have in common?
Hopefully, it isn’t illegal activities and abusive forms of entertainment. But in some ways, dogfighting is what many churches are training and egging their members into. Because as much as we all claim to believe in one united, invisible Church, we lay claim much more vigorously to the title “Holder of the Most Pure Truth™” for our own church tradition. We try to convert Wesleyans into Calvinists. We’ll fight to convince those who baptize infants into doing believers baptism exclusively. We never fight so hard, or get attacked so viciously, as when we Christians start talking about our distinctives in the Church. It’s our “small differences” that inspire the raging cage-matches between Christians all over the internet, around Christian colleges and seminaries, and within Christian families. And what we have learned is…we really shouldn’t have our dogs in these fights.
There’s a lot of burned of people out there. I (Tim) don’t mean they’re physically distorted. It’s their hearts. They’re bruised and ripped apart. I was graciously spared this burning, but recently I’ve stepped outside and have seen these people cowering in the dark corners, weeping as they attempt to nurse their wounds. There is not much to say to them as they glare with beady black eyes at my clean clothes and untouched heart. These are those who have been attacked by the dogs. Those who spit out the tainted and poisonous forms of Christianity rearing their ugly heads in our society. and sadly, some of our churches. You know the type: the vitriolic and angry. The hateful and hurtful. The ones who take the injured and instead of offering grace, condemn them to die.
Even so, we believe Christianity is entering an exciting time. A quick glance around us and we can find many major Christian denominations and organizations rallying around the central and ancient tenets of our faith. We can sit across the table from our Presbyterian brother and rejoice with him about the success of his ministry. We’re moving away from nastiness and arrogance that we’ve noticed.
It also means we hate a few things. We hate the narcissism of small differences. It is a bitter irony: those we are closest with we beat up the most. Brothers tend to battle most intensely (just ask our brothers). Thankfully, we continue to be friends. But those around us, if we had said some things we regretted in front of them, might miss that fact. It may be that we have had some dogfights when we just needed to have dinner.
Neither we nor our churches have a monopoly on biblical Truth. But fortunately for us, we have an amazing promise from Jesus. In one of his last words of encouragement at the Last Supper, Jesus says to the disciples (and to us): “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). That promise was made to Jesus’ people gathered together. It’s a grand promise. It means we can have a certainty that God reveals Truth to the whole Church. The Truth in its fullness isn’t simply a system of theology, but the Person of Jesus Christ (John 14:6). The fullness of Christ is revealed in the world in the totality of the Church in all places and at all times. By extension, the fullness of Christ can’t be contained in our Presbyterian, Baptist, Anglican, Pentecostal niches, among others. If we want the fullness of Christ, we need the whole Church.
So what do we do? Find a Least-Common-Denominator statement of faith? Have a Christianity that’s skin and bones, with no substance, because we’ve kept it to what we all agree on? By no means. There’s a reason the early Church passed on the creeds. Professing the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds is not about having a least-common-denominator Christianity. It’s “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” It’s the proclamation of the whole counsel of God in summary. When we profess the Creed together, we aren’t saying “Well, at least we agree on a few important things.” Instead, we show that we have a rule of faith by which we believe and stand and that rule of faith is built on the Scriptures and confirmed by the Spirit. What we affirm in the creed is the Faith. Everything else is our traditions’ interpretation of it. Our denominations together with all our differences keep us balanced and in check.
It means that we are ready to unite with my brothers and sisters in Christ because of the ancient gospel of Christ as we fight against moral relativism, idolatry, politicization of Christianity, and other attacks on the Church. More than ever, we need the Church to unite together to stand strong in an increasingly secularized culture that is pressuring us to cave to cultural norms.
Sisters, brothers, fathers, and mothers in the faith: we’re inseparable. All who have been confronted by the crucified and risen Lord Jesus,, repenting of their sins have been marked and sealed by the Holy Spirit. That Spirit gives us the common cry “Abba, Father!” We share in one baptism. We share in one faith, delivered to us by the Lord Jesus. We share in one communion feast, gratefully remembering and participating in the death of our Lord until He comes back. We lift up the Name of Jesus as one body for a broken world that desperately needs His visible presence. So, let’s put a leash on the dog and instead release the freedom revealed in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and return soon. It’s time for some dinner.
Dave Ketter and Tim Sweetman have been brothers-in-arms since their early teens, when they thought they could save the world by blogging. Thankfully, Jesus has been kind enough to teach them both that saving the world is His job. Tim is a reformed Southern Baptist working at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a graduate of the Boyce College at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (B.A. ’12) in Louisville, KY. Dave is a Pentecostal Anglican studying at Trinity School for Ministry. He is a graduate of Geneva College (B.A. ’10, M.A. ’13), near Pittsburgh, PA.
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