Friday, April 30, 2010
The Basic Problem of Truth and Unity
It seems like you can't have both. You can have truth and unity on paper. You define what are the bare minimum things people need to believe in order to be faithful members of the community of faith and then on paper, just assume that only those people will commune. But it doesn't always work out that neatly in a practical sense.
It's certainly popular currently to strive for unity among a broad range of disagreement about matters of truth. But i don't believe it's possible to escape the fact that spiritual unity and community and fellowship requires some minimum level of agreement in order to exist in any meaningful way. i don't follow Christ alongside atheists or Hindus. i don't "go to church" with people who don't even believe Jesus of Nazareth was God-incarnate, at least not in the same sense that i "go to church" with people who believe He was.
But take something that most garden variety modern Christians would consider a "no-brainer"--like this issue of Christology. Imagine the various rogue Christologies that have existed throughout church history. There are docetics, arians, gnostics, and even more. These are all people who consider themselves Christians but who do not share the same understandings of the terms “Jesus,” “Messiah,” and “Lord” as the majority of others in the world who consider themselves Christians.
Most Christians believe there is fact of the matter about those terms and their meanings. Not only this, but most Christians have treated those doctrines as non-negotiable--a person must believe particular things about the nature of Christ in order to be considered "one of us." So the other groups of people who are committed to different meanings of those terms–do you simply deny they are Christians as they claim to be? Many people would say, that's right, they’re not Christians. Well, okay. That’s fine. i think John seems to be on board with that assessment when it came to the Gnostics according to 1John.
The trouble is, some of those people may very well be sitting in the pew next to you. While there are religious groups who have officially defined themselves by these certain differing views, there are also individuals peppered through multiple “orthodox” groups who don’t personally hold the “orthodox” view of terms like “Jesus,” “Messiah,” or “Lord.” (There are people, though sparce, with rogue Christologies even in the CoC.) So do you treat those people as brethren because they’re in the same building as you? If so, then why not those people with similar views who are not in the same building? And if you do treat the guy in the pew next to you as a brother despite his mistaken view about the nature of Christ, then it’s no longer the case that the “truth” defines who’s “unified” in a practical sense.
But suppose you think, no, that guy isn’t your brother because he doesn’t believe the truth. Then what’s he doing next to you? What’s he doing taking communion with you? What are you doing passing him the tray? What’s he doing leading prayers or songs or scripture readings or teaching classes? If he’s not your brother since he’s not among the “unified-defined-by-the-truth,” then why is he enjoying so much practical unity? If he’s not a brother and he’s allowed to lead the closing prayer, then why don’t we let any unbeliever at all do the same?
How do you make "unity-defined-by-the-truth" a practical reality?