Unity Is Fundamental

One of the quickest ways to morph into a “fire-breathing, hard-nosed, black-and-white, reactionary Christian fundamentalist” is to listen to any diatribe that downplays Christian unity. Why? I believe that when one downplays unity, in essence, he diminishes the full orb of the Gospel and attacks the very character of God.Faith in the Gospel becomes the very hinge to a door that allows one to escape the outside, hateful, cold, contentious, racist, dark world and to step into a brand-new environment of musical harmony where love for God and one another envelops us like the summer sun.

Carefully note this. It is not we who have the strength or skill to create unity. The simple word one is repeated seven times and sourced among the three Persons of the Trinity in Ephesians 4:4-6. To imagine that the phrases in these three verses reflect the work of man is nothing short of complete delusion. Unity among men is exclusively the Spirit’s genius.

But we must fiercely protect that which the Holy Spirit produces. We should preserve the unity; and pastors are among the gifts from the “One Lord,” the great Giver (Ps. 68) to the “one body” to be instruments in the “perfecting of the saints… . till we all come in the unity of the faith” (Eph. 4:12-13a).

We must sing like David to the brothers and sisters, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity [yachad]!” (Ps. 133:1). Why not name your sons “Jahath” (“unity,” 1 Chron. 4:2, 6:20, 23:10; and 2 Chron. 34:12) or “Jahdo” (“his unity,” 1 Chron. 5:14). Or better yet, put on a billboard in large print the names of “Jehdeiah” (“unity of Jah,” 1 Chron. 24:20, 27:30) or “Jahdiel” (“unity of El,” 1 Chron. 5:24), the “mighty man of valour.” Preach hotly the unity of God and fire up the hearts of the brethren to glorify Adonai Jehovah by moving in holy oneness as the majestic cherubim of Ezekiel 1.

But for the sake of discussion, in light of all the marvelous things I have read about on the T4G (Together for the Gospel) conference, what does the “one faith” allude to in Ephesians 4:5? It is on this phrase that I respectfully differ in interpretation with a great fundamentalist of the past century, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He writes, “It seems clear, therefore, that we cannot take the expression ‘one faith’ to mean agreement in detail about everything, agreement about a complete compendium of theology or of doctrine … I suggest that while it is not a complete system of theology, it is something that is dealt with very frequently in the New Testament, something about which we can be quite clear. I argue that it refers to the very essence of the Gospel, that which the Apostles were specifically called to preach in their work of evangelism.”

Oh, if Lloyd-Jones were yet alive, I would ask him, “Is the ‘one faith’ the ‘doctrines of grace’?” Can one believe the “one faith” yet not believe in “unconditional election” or “perseverance of the saints” (both doctrines that I fully cherish, mind you) or even the big “L” delineation – “limited atonement” (a specific point I cannot yet fully embrace, or for that matter, double predestination)? It is remarkable the intramural, perpetual sharpening today among conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists over the exact nuances of the Gospel. Even if Lloyd-Jones tries to limit the “one faith” to exclusively the Gospel rather than “a compendium of faith, or a detailed list of points,” there is still not the escaping of “divisions” among conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists.

Are these public disunions over the Gospel right in every sense? Am I commanded to separate fully from another believer associated with the creeping disease of semi-Pelagianism, though in actuality he is just a sincere, orthodox Arminian? Even closer to home, why can’t a devoted Calvinist in his soteriology enjoy sweet unity with an inconsistent Calvinist like me? Of course, I am sure a pious OP minister could provide reams of paper on the topic. I am just admitting that with the brethren, I must be constantly on guard that I don’t naturally sink into sinful altercation that stinks solely of the flesh, the old Todd Wood, who is dead, long-time buried because of the miraculous Gospel.

On the other end of the spectrum, I visibly grimaced over one of the latest “Leadership Conference” brochures I received in the mail. With the theme of “grace” for this July 2006 conference in Chicago, Dr. James Scudder spouts, “The grace of God is the greatest treasure in the universe. The importance of proclaiming this message has never been greater. Especially in this day, when attacks on the Gospel, such as Lordship Salvation, are all too prevalent. Grace Conference 2006 is all about this life-giving and sustaining grace.” I have been notified there will be two dozen workshop leaders, including prominent conservative evangelicals like Dr. Charles Ryrie, Dr. Robert Lightner, Dr. Joe Jordan (Word of Life Fellowship), and Dr. Larry Moyer.

Again. What is fundamental to the Gospel itself? What must a man believe to be a genuine Christian? First, depravity of man. Right? Would not both Scudder and Lordship Salvation contenders like me find unity for insisting on this? And what about forensic justification – “The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17b)? Amen. Amen. And what about the penal, substitutionary atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, so ably defended by Mark Dever in Christianity Today (May 2006)? Certainly, Scudder and I would find unanimity there as well as in the literal, bodily resurrection of our Savior (which seems to be a fundamental doctrine that N.T. Wright finds unnecessary for his friend, Marcus Borg, to believe in order to be a Christian).

Scudder should not be considered a proponent of Lordship Salvation or as “attacking” the Gospel. Though I believe the tightly woven flow of Romans unequivocally teaches that in salvation, a believer gains a Master, I would be one of the first toward like-mindedness with Lloyd-Jones who writes, “If we turn our repentance into a meritorious act we are denying the faith. What we are, or what we have done or not done, does not count; nothing in us counts; our righteousness is all in Christ, and by faith, by faith alone. The Apostle has already told us in chapter 2, verse 8, that salvation is not of ourselves: ‘By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.’ This righteousness of Christ is given to us, and becomes ours, through the instrumentality of faith which is also God’s gift.”

Yet Lloyd-Jones, as does H.C.G. Moule, Eadie, Boice, and Snodgrass, maintain that the “one faith” is simply the Gospel. They make a redoubtable case. But what do I do with this? Does it mean there should be active, fervent acknowledgment with the whole hodgepodge of evangelicals who claim salvation by grace alone through faith alone? I can acknowledge a minimal, powerful unity because of our professing, wonderful position in Christ; but I would have serious difficulty joining Bono in his breaking of bread with Bill Hybels, Philip Yancey, Michael W. Smith; or receiving a blessing from Billy Graham, just for the very reason of interminable obscurity in Gospel presentations and associations. So moving beyond Lloyd-Jones, I would suggest that the precious unity of the “one faith” in Ephesians 4 refers to the totality of fundamental Christian doctrine that streams outward into right practice. Immediately, Jude 3 comes to mind.

For the record, I have no kinship with the interfaith committees in my local area who lurk around the corner to dynamite and disintegrate the very Christian unity I hold dear. And I suppose there are basic threads of unity with the evangelical alliance of pastors in town; yet I don’t attend any meetings because I am not too excited about joining together in listening to the latest, hottest Christian bands or in modeling “purpose driven” principles or in being active in the latest fad of leading young people “through the labyrinth.” My 10-year old son summed it up well. “Dad, it seems like people, when they go to ‘church’ today, do it to hang out with friends and listen to rock music.” Perhaps this is an over generalization, but nonetheless I thanked him for the discerning observation as I sometimes scratch my head in befuddlement over the evangelical landscape in Idaho Falls. I hate being a recluse, but is this the unity we should fight to preserve with every fiber within us?

I hunger for the unity of N.T. doctrine so “that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14).

Passionate hunger for the unity of the “one faith” is a chief reason any brother or sister would separate himself in sorrow [1] from another who is sinfully hoisting on the “one body” whatever he thinks should be pursued. Separation is both a grievous and ultimately joyous action for one who is seriously and joyfully swept away by the mighty currents of biblical unity with the mind of God.

We ought to be moving earnestly together in a certain direction (Rom. 12:16; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 2:2, 4:2). Wholeheartedly separating ourselves from the pounding philosophy of the “one mind” in Revelation 17:13, and far from being perfunctory, we ought to pray for real revival where we all, conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists in America, solely through the Spirit’s enablement may move forward together, unanimous, of “one accord” (Acts 1:14; 2:1; 4:24; 5:12; 8:6; 15:25). Not knowing the context or the politics behind the recent Memphis Confession, I look at the words alone of one of the points, and find a prayer hungry for the application of Ephesians 4.

In Romans, a book of pure Gospel, where words flow like a cool, aggressive mountain stream, Paul concludes in Romans 15, even after the intense discussion of chapter 14, “Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 5-6).

Unity among the brethren is a choice treasure from the Spirit for us in a world of “one accord” gone mad. In the days ahead, please remind me as I remind you. May God help us, “endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once pleadingly amplified, “Above everything else, says the Apostle, as Christians in this calling to which you have been called, hasten to do this. Be diligent with respect to it, never forget it, let this be the chief thing in your life; above all else show great concern and solicitude with respect to this unity that exists among you… . If we believe in God, we must ever feel our first duty is to guard this unity, to preserve it at all costs, to strain every nerve and be diligent in endeavouring to keep it and manifest it.”

Thinking of heart issues.

[1] In the same issue of Christianity Today (May 2006), where I noticed Mark Dever’s excellent article on the atonement, I couldn’t help but notice Philip Yancey’s shots at Christian Fundamentalism with his interview of Vernon Grounds (90th birthday). Hey, I can laugh at myself with the following definition of Fundamentalism: “too much fun, too much damn, and not enough mental.” But earlier Yancey describes this of Vernon: “Along the way, he sustained fierce attacks from fundamentalist board members who scorned Billy Graham as a modernist and argued for strict separation.” I don’t doubt that fundamentalist board members can give sway to sinful aggression, but I wonder if Yancey in his evangelical sensitivity will ever pick up on the stories of those men who sincerely wept over the huge disruption on the American landscape concerning biblical unity over the “one faith.”

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