Roundtable on Unity and Authority

OK folks, I have several different types of folk who post on this blog. We are [mostly] Christians who acknowledge the Lordship of the Risen Jesus Christ. I am an Evangelical-Charismatic-Anglican. I have a few sort of emergent Restoration Christians who post. Recently we have been joined in conversation with some fairly conservative Southern Baptists from Fide-O. There is at least one Pentecostal brother who joins in sometimes. And we get liberals, conservatives, evangelicals, catholics, protestants, and everyone in between.

There are five main methods of attaining Christian Unity I know of:

1. The method of shared action: Those who work together stay together
Recently, my buddy Brett wrote a comment that it is an "error" to seek unity on the basis of doctrine, but we should instead seek unity on the basis of ACTION, and specifically striving for the liberation of society in Christ's Name. He notes that historical attempts at unity based on doctrine have failed and resulted in bitter dogmatism and unconcern for the needy (whether the Campbell-Stone Restoration Movement of the 1800's or the World Council of Churches in the latter 20th century).

2. The method of shared doctrine: Those who agree with each other stay together
Others object (somewhat rightfully) that unity can only be sought on the basis of an agreed "Gospel". This is a unity based on shared or agreed DOCTRINE. They rightly note that when Christians try to be united merely as "do gooders" it quickly becomes a watered-down version of Christianity that no longer proclaims the Risen Christ. They note that unity without shared belief and shared vision becomes false tolerance. Just look at what happened to the Social Gospel movement of the early 1900's and the civil rights movement of the 1960's. Lots of Churches joined in both of those causes, but it did not result in long term unity, nor a common shared vision of Christ.

But, if we are talking about unity in the Gospel, who's Gospel are we talking about? Do you mean the Campus Crusade Gospel which gives us four spiritual laws? The New Testament Gospel which retells Christ's entire life? The Liberation Gospel of healing the sick and releasing the oppressed? Furthermore how much doctrinal agreement is necessary? For instance, all Christians agree that Christ's death atones for us. But do we have to also agree HOW He atones?

And one last comment: I do not think it is wise to make the statement that "Well, we just follow the Bible" or "No Creed but the Bible", because there are THOUSANDS of Churches and individual Christians who claim this, and yet STILL disagree over HOW to interpret the Bible. I think we can all agree (except perhaps Steve Rudd) that the Bible is FAR from self-interpreting, and that we interpret it in the context of our tradition. So, we must still determine what basic beliefs, derived from Scripture, are required for Church unity (if that project is even possible).

3. The method of shared worship: Those who pray to the same God stay together
Some say that those who worship in a shared way, especially by partaking communion with one another, make up true unity. If we can all just worship together, it does not matter how we believe, because we are all in the presence of the same God. Yet, if this is so uniting, why do we have such problems in the Episcopal Church right now?

4. The method of shared tradition: Those who come from the same source stay together
This is the basic theory for the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches (some Anglicans, like myself, put some stock in this as well). They can trace their Churches and their ordinations backward in time to the Apostles themselves through the process of "apostolic succession". Thus, they are the fullest expression of the Church because they are the only ones that go back "all the way" to the Bible. But, if this is the key to unity, what about the disunity between Catholics and Orthodox? What about the problems in the Anglican Church (which also has apostolic succession). And then there is the Protestant objection: Just because you go back "all the way" doesn't mean you have it right.

5. The method of shared experience: Those who feel the same Spirit stay together
This is the basic method of Charismatic unity. They have all experienced the Holy Spirit in powerful signs and wonders. Therefore they feel immense unity as Charismatics (and Pentecostals). Yet, if this is true, then why are Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians some of the most arguing, church-splitting folks, in all of western Christendom?

All of these methods for Church unity have strengths and they have weaknesses. I do not believe any of them (at least on their own) make up a proper basis for Church unity. But, we are looking at 20,000+ different sects of Christians that argue and hate one another, and an unbelieving world is looking on and saying "What the $&^%? These guys are supposed to be serving the Prince of Peace? Whatever."

So, here is the Zillion dollar question: On what basis can Christians unite? What does Christian unity look like? What should be our common source of authority for unity?

OK... Now debate (and folks- look at my post on blogging etiquette and lets blog in a way that glorifies Christ!)...
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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.