More Than Ecumenical Mush - An Appeal to Unity

March 16, 2016
Adam Whitescarver

In a postmodern world like the one we have today, people get lost when the truth gets defined too narrowly.  Painful as this is for some denominations to hear, that’s what every denomination does to some degree or another.  Nowadays folks are able to, in a moment, look up a different opinion and decide for themselves whether or not what they are hearing from their pastor or church community is on point, or if that minister has the market cornered on how to work things out theologically on any given topic.  Using arguments from history, the Bible, Church Tradition, etc., people can find multiple legitimate, within-the-bounds-of-orthodoxy ways of interpreting Scripture and living out their faith, and they often do.

American Christianity is now a sea of different denominations and beliefs, and so are the people. Someone might start out a Methodist, then attend a Baptist church for awhile and then end up a Presbyterian. Or another might start a Catholic, become a Lutheran, then get involved at the local non-denominational church for a season of their lives only to find themselves converting to Orthodoxy in the end. These stories sounds exaggerated, and it may be a little, but it is not too far off base for many people.  It’s more the exception than the rule for people to remain with one group of believers their entire lives.

The Church Fathers had nearly the exact same problem. These guys had lots of disagreement on a variety of issues.  When you go to the periphery of their beliefs, you get some weird stuff, much of it very wrong, and this is regularly acknowledged by most everybody.  However, there was something of a plumb line for setting up the beliefs of the Church for centuries to come—a golden strand of the faith that weaved its way through brilliant minds working out what it meant to be a Christian.

Beyond these foundation builders of our faith, we can look to Christ.  Jesus came and lived in a time when there was no closed canon of Scripture, and there were distinct religious groups who all had different perceptions of how they believed God wanted them to live.  You had Essenes, Pharisees, Zealots, and Sadducees. Some of them started following Christ, all at the same time, without everything being worked out—and it worked because God was in their midst.  It worked in the corner of an enormous, powerful, polytheistic empire, and it worked so well that it turned that system on its head and became the largest faith in the world.

Is it possible for us to return to a faith that knows and values that we have one Church even as we disagree with each other on non-essentials?  Would it not be amazing if we were capable of truly working with each other on the essentials of the faith?  Could we return to valuing such a hugely important thing as the whole Body of Christ?

I ask for a couple of reasons.  In the postmodern world, it is now really easy for people to throw up their hands and say, “Christianity doesn’t have the answers” when it does.  But Methodism doesn’t.  Being a Baptist won’t cover it.  Neither will just Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Pentecostalism, Presbyterianism, Non-denominationalism, etc. These are meant to be One.  When they are one the world gets the answers it needs in order to know that Jesus was the one whom God has sent—this is the reason Jesus prayed for this exact thing.

In closing, this is not an argument for no more denominations, or for all denominations to become one big ecumenical amorphous sludge, or for one centralized totalitarian governmental model for the Church.  This is an argument for working together to serve others, and for patient inter-denominational dialogue about contested topics to be a skill we develop in the Church.  It’s about a change to our value system and trusting that this change will bear good fruit over time.  The change in our values is simply this: that we would love one another.  If we can do that, then people will realize we know God and that we’re listening to, and obeying, Him.  It is an enormously helpful evangelistic weapon to have a unified Church.  Truly together we stand, but divided we fall.