Unity


plant dandelion 4

Most of us, at one time or another, tire of where we are and yearn for somewhere easier, more productive, or more pleasant.  There is nothing unusual in this.  When faced with such a yearning, some buckle down or shake it off and remain where they are.  Others move on to what they suppose are greener pastures.  Whether the greener pasture is a job, city, relationship, or church, the desire for something better and the need to make a decision remain.

What do we mean by “greener pastures” and what, if any, are our responsibilities in connection with them?

When faced with a yearning for greener pastures, the temptation is to follow our emotions.  Desire for adequate resources, adequate social space, the encouraging and equipping our call, good fit with our worldview, and an accurate assessment of our personal worth should not be ignored or suppressed.

The emotions associated with these desires are an important signal that something in life needs tending, but the emotions themselves are inadequate for deciding how to respond.  When we move on to greener pastures, we leave behind relationships and responsibilities.  Therefore, we must give thoughtful consideration before leaving for greener pastures.

When the greener pasture is a church

Like other communities build on committed relationships, church can and should be a difficult place to leave.  We must go beyond emotions and consider why we desire to leave, what we are leaving, and where we are going.

Without thoughtful consideration, we may leave this church and go to that church, only to discover that church does not meet our needs either.  Worse, that church may meet our felt needs, but not our deep needs–and we may not realize it.

Before we go hunting greener pastures, let us think through what we ought to mean by that.

Adequate Resources

  • Greener pastures provide resources, corresponding to and expressive of biblical content that flows from the faith community rather than from a select group.  These resources serve God’s ultimate purposes.
  • Persons in greener pastures share location-specific resources that honor, but are not bound to, community legacy; improvement is welcome and expected.
  • Persons in greener pastures develop the skills and knowledge to form biblically and culturally appropriate resources, built on proper theology, focused on relationship with Christ, and naturally sourced in the community.

Adequate Social Space

  • Greener pastures are a social space in which participants have explicit connection to Christ and work together to become conformed to his image as persons and as community.
  • Persons in greener pastures relate in a variety of ways, from intimate through public, freely associating according to but not bound by affinity and appropriately submitting to one another’s care.
  • Persons in greener pastures develop the skills and knowledge to form an ecclesial space in which individual and corporate identity in Christ is understood, Spirit-empowered behaviors are practiced, and a natural web of relationships develops.

Encourage and Equip My Calling

  • Greener pastures encourage and equip individual and communal calls that recognize Christ as source and end, and are lived out on a Kingdom trajectory for the sake of the Body.
  • Persons in greener pastures live out their personal calls in community, synergistically creating new expressions of vocation by drawing on historical norms, current culture, and community feedback.
  • Persons in greener pastures develop the skills and knowledge needed to form a sense of individual and corporate calling by learning to identify and develop God-given abilities that are centered in Christ, bounded by his character, and nurtured by feedback and knowledge from the community.

Fit My Worldview

  • Greener pastures foster personal worldviews, evaluated by a biblical rubric through mutual correction toward God’s ultimate purpose.
  • Persons in greener pastures intentionalize their own worldviews, becoming others-oriented, presenting their filters and givens and submitting them to correction.
  • Persons in greener pastures develop the skills and knowledge to form personal worldviews increasingly conformed to biblical norms through transformed hearts and communal care.

Accurate Assessment of My Worth

  • Greener pastures redefine worth according to identity in Christ within the faith community, and according to Kingdom criteria.
  • Persons in greener pastures view others beyond first impressions, presenting their own prejudices and expectations for community correction.
  • Persons in greener pastures develop the skills and knowledge to form biblical ways of understanding others and communal transformational practices that provide an increasing amount of character evidence.

Conclusion

No particular church on earth will meet all these criteria perfectly, for on earth we are a mixed bag–both as persons and as community.  We meet these criteria more or less.  Each must decide how much less it can be before moving on to greener pastures.

But there is another question.

We must also ask, “Will I work with other believers to plant greener pastures?”  If the answer to that question is, “No,” you need to evaluate whether or not you are the real problem.  If you are the problem, you will take you with you and the same issues will arise.

Before moving on to greener pastures, consider:

  1. What do I mean by greener pastures?
  2. Is my current church planting greener pastures?
  3. Am I, as far as I am able, working to plant greener pastures?
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Thoughts on:
WHAT THE CHURCH IS ALL ABOUT:
A biblical and historical study
by Earl D. Radmacher
Chicago: Moody Press, 1972, 1978
441 pages

Previous installments:
The Pendulum Swings
Is it all in a word?
Universal and Local

First, my summary of Radmacher’s final chapters became long and unwieldy. The benefit of posting such a thing became overwhelmed by the imposition of tedium. So, it is not posted. Rather, here is an all-too-short bullet point list:

  • The church began at Pentecost. At that moment in time, the entire church was simultaneously universal and local. (ch5)
  • The biblical images of body, bride, building, priesthood, flock, and branches give the clearest picture of the nature of the church. (ch6)
  • Because of it necessary correspondence to the universal church, and its all-too-common permeation with unbelief, the local church demands a regenerate, autonomous, ordered, purposeful, united, and growing membership. (ch7)

So, can Radmacher help us define unity and set criteria for division? I believe so.

  • By his understanding, the church is united and thus must be united.
  • Imbalance damages unity. If either universal or local existence or eternal or temporal authority is overemphasized, then unity and “church-ness” are damaged.
  • The church (and therefore unity) is both a spiritual and a physical gathering. If either is emphasized to the exclusion of the other, then unity and “church-ness” are damaged.
  • An informed, unrepentant persistence in any imbalance creates a division that must be redeemed and repented of or must be recognized and acted upon.

How might this apply to the recent American Baptist division? By compromising belief in biblical authority [1], the national body emphasized physical unity to the exclusion of spiritual unity. Further, by placing the priority on local church autonomy and soul competency, they emphasized temporal authority to the exclusion of eternal authority. Given that redemption and repentance were sought for over a decade, prudence demanded that the Pacific Southwest Region recognize the division that already existed and act upon it. ABCPSW, now Transformation Ministries, did this officially on May 11, 2006. This decision becomes effective on November 1, 2006.

What does this mean for the believers on both “sides”?

  • By virtue of our being saved by Jesus, we ARE members of the church—USA, PSW, Baptist, or anything else.
  • Believers on both sides should not—must not—seek each other’s harm in any way. When this happens it must be confronted quickly and in love.
  • There may be—and likely will be—larger church ministries where we can and will work together to expand God’s kingdom. This is good. This happens all the time.
  • While this is an important—even crucial—issue, we must eventually move on and focus on the reason for our existence on earth.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I end with a prayer Andrew B left on a previous post (emphasis mine):

“Help us to see the church as you see it. The Baptist churches, the Anglican churches, the Pentecostal churches, the Reformed churches, the Catholic churches, the charismatic churches, the post-modern churches, the emerging churches, the youth churches; the churches meeting in buildings, those meeting in houses, those without a fixed place to meet, those who meet under a tree; the persecuted churches, the rich, the poor, the dying churches and the growing churches.

The whole church at once, all of it, every flavour, tradition, variety and style – they are all your people, everyone who names the name of the Lord and has been redeemed by the blood of his Son Jesus.

We are all your people, Lord God.

We pray for the unity of your people under the Lord Jesus and in the power of the Spirit.”

Amen, and amen.

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[1] As evidenced by the accepted placement of practicing homosexuals in positions of national leadership and ministry, despite a clear statement that this is incompatible with Christian practice (this was restated in 2005; see under “A Biblical People”)


Thoughts on:
WHAT THE CHURCH IS ALL ABOUT:
A biblical and historical study
by Earl D. Radmacher
Chicago: Moody Press, 1972, 1978
441 pages

Radmacher, chapter 4: ekklesia

ekklesia is the tem most often translated “church” in the New Testament

Radmacher gives three definitions:

  • non-technical: “an autonomous groups of people physically united” (p135)
  • technical: “a local assembly spiritually united in Christ with an autonomous nature” (p139)… emphasis is “active, organized agency of God’s kingdom” (p185)
  • metaphorical: a local assembly having spiritual unity, without any reference to physical unity (p164)… emphasis is spiritual relation to Christ (p185)

All discussions of church lie along this continuum. Sometimes a theological discussion only concerns the affairs of a group of Christians regularly gathering in a specific location. Other times the discussion also includes implications, etc. regarding the gathering’s connection with Christ and one another. Still other times the discussion only concerns the affairs of all local gatherings as regarding their connection with Christ. The usage in the NT tells us that we cannot restrict the notion of church to physical, physical and spiritual, or spiritual alone, for the church always exists within physical and spiritual unity. Therefore, our spiritual unity in Christ and our physical unity in space are always a part of our nature as church. Both types of unity must be considered and honored in any theology of church—whether mostly theoretical or mostly practical.


Radmacher 1-3: The Pendulum Swings

Universal and Local, posted on April 29, resulted in a conversation with Mark H and Carl that raised some very important points about unity and division. Two of those points are referenced below.

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But I find it at least a little interesting that this display of true theology happened while a group of Christians were gathering to declare that they could not resolve their differences with another group of Christians. link to Carl’s comment

I have found it necessary to ask how it is that unity can happen in the midst of division. To that end, I am doing a study of Ephesians 4:1-6 (made very slow by end of term school requirements), in which Paul discusses the doctrinal truths (vv. 4-6) and practical behaviors (vv. 1-3) associated with a worthy walk. Unity is one of these practical behaviors.

My initial thoughts, though, start from the end of the portion: the doctrinal truths. A worthy walk, of which unity is the primary practice, is the outworking of the truth of our (‘us’ being those who trust Christ and follow him) various “onenesses.”
One body
One Spirit
One hope
One Lord
One faith
One baptism
One God and Father (of all, through all, in all)

My initial thoughts have revolved around the notion of the one faith. Faith, to be Christian, requires three ‘components’: appropriate content, appropriate practice, and an appropriate object. If one of these is missing or terminally damaged, then that faith is not Christian. It may still be faith, but it is not Christian faith. Historically, the majority of Christians have held the Bible as the ‘norming norm’ of belief and practice. Thus, the Bible determines the appropriateness of the content and practice of faith. Yes, tradition and culture inform our faith, but the Bible is the determining reference. The appropriate object of faith, though, is most certainly not the Bible. Neither is it tradition or culture. The appropriate object of our faith is the Triune God. If it is anything else—even the Word of God—it is idolatry.

True Christian unity occurs among those whose faith has appropriate content, practice, and object. Therefore, the question to consider is whether unity had already been damaged and by what criteria this should be determined.

In the midst of this division, there is hope, and that hope if found in God’s gracious presence. Mark said it well:

I am, however, encouraged that when people are voting over “irreconcilable” theological differences of opinion, i.e. human thinking, that God is still permitted to come in and show that there remains the only true basis for unity, i.e. His outrageously gracious presence. link to Mark’s comment

As always, continue to pray for this and other similar situations. Division in the church is never a good thing, though sometimes it is a necessary thing. I continue my study of unity in Ephesians 4:1-6, and will post more as time allows.

As always, discussion is the point, so comment away.

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On May 11, 2006, the Board of Directors of the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest voted to withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships of the American Baptist Churches USA effective November 1, 2006. The Board’s vote was unanimous. (See the early press release)

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