Wednesday, May 22, 2013

One "Truth" All Schismatics Seem To Agree On

In an email response to my article "Conflict is Inevitable, Divisions Are Optional" published in the June, 2013, issue of The Mennonite, a pastor friend of mine took exception to my position that church unity should take priority over even our understanding of theological truth--that in fact unity is itself a primary part of the "truth" we are to hold.  

My friend wrote, "(I)f unity is paramount to sound faith, there would be no Anabaptists. We would still be in the Catholic Church, simply agreeing to disagree in love... (F)aith is not a matter of opinion, but of truth. We hedge on this, and imply that truth itself is simply a matter of opinion. But such an 'opinion' is neither biblical nor Anabaptist!" 

I certainly respect where this person is coming from, but the fact is that in every church division I have ever known, this has been the one thing people on both sides have actually affirmed. Each side insists that the one and only reason for their split is because they want to be faithful to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Our problem is always in knowing for sure how that truth is to be defined and lived out.

For the first 1000 years of the history of the Christian movement, the church remained substantially united, in spite of the existence of subgroups within it that were considered heretical by many, and in some cases resulted in a disruption of fellowship. But it was not until the year 1054 that the church officially and permanently split into Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox branches. 

In this second half of the church's history, and especially since the Protestant Reformation of 1517, we have split and splintered into thousands of pieces. The so-called "bride of Christ" has become something akin to a harem, an offense against the one who prayed fervently that "they be one," that there be one loaf, one faith, one Lord, one baptism.

I see sixteenth century Anabaptists as attempting, imperfectly, to maintain that unity. Early leaders like Blaurock, Manz and Grebel continued to see themselves as members of the Reformed church as they and others repeatedly asked for public "disputations" on the issues they felt were important, like church membership being entirely voluntary, and that the church should be free of state control. But they were forcibly driven out, excommunicated and even killed by the thousands for preaching this message and practicing the kind of faithfulness to Jesus to which they believed they were called. 

But now, nearly five centuries later, when many Christians around us agree on most of those points, maybe we should be actively trying to mend fences and restore some scripture-based healing to the badly broken body of Christ.

When Jesus describes himself as "the way, the truth and the life," he is not referring to a set of propositions or a single statement of creed. Our Lord himself represents a life to be lived, a truth to be sought, a way to be followed--together.

Here's a link to some other posts on church unity.
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