Unity Is Fundamental

Of all the issues I have come across, possibly the most difficult in which to determine my position is the belief in personal and ecclesiastical separation. Having spent more than a full year on SharperIron, I have concluded that I am not the only one with questions in these areas. But I think perhaps my confusion stems from a misunderstanding of the doctrine of unity. Many of us are familiar with passages like Ephesians 4:1-6 and 1 Corinthians 12, but have we thoroughly considered them in regard to unity? It seems that when the fundamentals of biblical Christianity are discussed, one very prominent idea is left out. It is this principle of unity in the body of Christ.

Let’s take a brief look at two passages (I am quoting from the English Standard Version throughout):

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph. 4:1-6).

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many…But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it (1 Cor. 12:1-27).

I am concerned about the lack of unity in the state of Fundamentalism today. Perhaps I am being too harsh, but when I look at Fundamentalism through the lens of SharperIron, I sometimes see dozens of little different factions, all fighting against each other. This person holds to one particular version of the Bible. Another sees his brother’s music preference as ungodly, while another believes that his understanding of Christian liberty means that his standard of dress is acceptable to God. Therefore, his fellow Christians are just wrong. What happened to brothers dwelling in unity? Is this not the mindset that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27? Is not unity among believers “pleasant” (Ps. 133:1-2) and something we are supposed to seek after? Is not unity a form of the fruit of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, according to Galatians 5:22-23? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Where are our patience, kindness, and gentleness, especially with those within Fundamentalism whose views differ from our own?

Here is another passage to consider:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit … and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills (1 Cor. 12:1, 4-11).

Some Christians have a better understanding of some parts of the Scriptures than others. We know that some people are naturally very good with numbers, like accountants, and others are very good with word, like writers. Perhaps those who would hold to the five points of Calvin have a better understanding of God’s sovereignty, while I and my more Arminian brethren better grasp the subject of a free, determining will. That is not to say that either extreme is right or that both are completely accurate but that both serve a purpose, that both voices need to be heard at the appropriate times, just as a violinist needs to come in at his part when he plays with the orchestra. We could make the same point about several other apparently contradictory perspectives. Debate on theological issues is good, and we ought to have it, especially in areas where the exact methods God uses are not explicitly spelled out. I fear, however, that the manner of disagreement can become somewhat vitriolic and actually pose a grave threat to the body as a whole. Certainly when exploring the murky waters of theology, we can afford to disagree politely and hold honest debate on important issues. Paul tells us that we are all working within the body of Christ–building up each other and glorifying His name. We ought not to be contentious and abrasive with each other, although I will admit to having done that myself. If love is supposed to characterize the believers (John 13:34; Rom. 12:10; 1 Pet. 4:8, 1 John 3:11), then let us display our love for one another and God–even as we explore those murky waters together.

The history of the Fundamentalist movement proves that this can be accomplished. The Fundamentalist movement, contrary to popular opinion, was actually an ecumenical movement first that later became more sectarian. It was a loosely knit grouping of many different theologians, pastors, and authors from various denominations, including Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and my fellow Baptists. A quick perusal through the four volume set of The Fundamentals reveals many different segments of the Christian faith, but one common theme–the defense of the faith that we had received against the rapidly encroaching higher critical method and a blatant rejection of the supernatural elements of the Gospel. It was not until much, much later that Fundamentalism became characterized by premillennial and dispensational–or Baptist-only–schools of thought. [1]

Can we not agree that some of the issues plaguing our movement are incidental–like the various expressions of Christian liberty? I think that fallen angels rejoice when they see the amount of time, energy, and resources we expend trying to convince each other of the rightness–or wrongness, as it may be–of our personal pet positions. One could even say that perhaps these debates occasionally cause more trouble than they are worth. Paul noted to Titus in his epistle that we should “avoid foolish controversies … dissensions … and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:9). Having read plenty of threads on some issues, like which text type is the best, or why [fill in the blank] system of doctrine is superior to the other position, I can very well see his point.

Lest someone accuse me of such, let me clarify here that I am not advocating a mushy-headed, everyone-should-all-love-each-other kind of Gospel. I am not. What I am saying is that Baptist fundamentalists typically do separation too well–they separate over things that are not really fundamental. We ought to be on guard against that kind of separation. Sometimes I fear that in our zeal to sharpen each other’s iron, we end up burning each other with the sparks of contention.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another (Gal. 5:13-15).

The Internet is not always a medium that lends itself to lengthy, thoughtful discussions on the importance of evaluating philosophies or doctrines. Furthermore, messages posted can usually be interpreted in at least one or two different ways. In a free-wheeling area like this, special safeguards must be taken in order to maintain a friendly camaraderie among ourselves since anyone who has Internet access can read what is written. We must keep in mind that God knows not only what we write but also our attitudes as we post. The safest and best way to do that is to realize that not all crusades are worth fighting.

It is for these reasons that I have therefore come to the conclusion that unity is worth fighting for, even though that may seem contradictory. I think that perhaps Lincoln summed it up best, although he was directly addressing another matter, when he said the following:

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in … [2]

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1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Fundamentalism
2 Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, available at http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext90/linc211.txt
Jay Camp ———–
Jay Camp earned a bachelor’s degree in Pastoral Studies at Northland Baptist Bible College (Dunbar, WI) and a master’s degree in Pastoral Studies at Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC). He is happily married to his wife, Julie. He enjoys following professional football and hockey, reading, and SharperIron, of course. He also shamelessly promotes his own blog, The Preacher’s Thoughts. He ministers at Grace Baptist Church (Highland Falls, NY) and serves as a trustee on the church board.

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