Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Brothers, How Should We Convince the World that We're Truly One in Christ Despite Our Differences?

In my desire to formalize an evangelical organization to empower evangelism in our campus, I anticipated that there is a need to educate the members how to explain the evangelical faith to the world.

To define what evangelicalism is or where evangelicals unite, I think, is relatively easier:
the scriptural gospel! (for further explanation: click here and here). To explain our differences is harder (think of all the denominations
plus unions and splits!). But to justify our differences is the hardest! How can we, Evangelicals, claim to be 'united' and still disagree on many things? And how shall we convince the world that we're truly Christians despite our differences and disagreements?

The following (largely based on John Piper's book: 'Contending For Our All') is my attempt to do so:

I. Verbal Explanation

1. Why We Are United
True Christian unity is not primarily doctrinal but spiritual. It is not chiefly because of the true gospel but because of the Person (Christ) of the true gospel that made them "one in Spirit". (Eph.4:3) Evangelical unity is grounded upon the belief that all evangelicals embrace this true gospel which sufficiently reveals Christ unto salvation. Evangelicals unite in what's essential for someone to be a Christian. (here's a good example) Brothers, though having differences, are still brothers and belong to one family.

2. Why We Are Divided (Yet Still United!)
But why should Christians who are one in Spirit still have different beliefs? And why can't everybody just cease from disagreeing and vote for one teaching for the sake of full unity?

My answer to the first question is this: though the church is being guided by the Spirit in "all truth" vital for our salvation (Jn. 16:13) [there's our unity], the universal church is not an infallible, all-knowing institution; therefore, visible churches have differences and disagreements [there's our disunity].

For the second question, Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984), founder of L'Abri Fellowship, explained it this way:
"The Christian really has a double task. He has to practice both God's holiness and God's love. The Christian is to exhibit that God exists as the infinite-personal God; and then he is to exhibit simultaneously God's character of holiness and love. Not His holiness without his love: this is only harshness. Not His love without His holiness: that is only compromise. Anything that an individual Christian or Christian group does that fail to show the simultaneous balance of the holiness of God an the love of God presents to a watching world not a demonstration of the God who exists but a caricature of the God who exists."

This teaches us that: 
(a) Evangelicals are divided because Christians are finite men who strive to know an infinite and holy God. We have such a holy God so we disagree when we think his holiness is at stake. We dare not try electing Popes of Protestantism because we believe that will diminish the glory of our holy God, who alone is infallible. We dare not disregard doctrines because we believe that doctrine is essential for holy living (2 Tim.3:16) and that a true Christian will "watch [his] life and doctrine closely". (1 Tim. 4:16)
(b) Evangelicals are still united because Christians are redeemed men who express unifying love for the redeemed community, the universal church. We have such a loving God so we still embrace each other. We dare not say, "You will go to hell" to those who disagree with us but still embrace the gospel because we do not think that is sufficient ground to make someone "accursed". (Gal. 1:8,9; 1 Cor. 16:22)
(c) This balance of purity and love is necessary in order to truly demonstrate "to a watching world" the biblical God in such an imperfect yet understandable way.

3. What We Really Want
Evangelicals often say that, in matters not essential for salvation, we agree to disagree. We, however, should clarify that we do want unity (Psa. 133:1) and peace (1 Pet. 3:11; Rom. 14:19) in all things, and be "of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind". (Phil. 2:2). But we believe that unity is achieved only through the truth (Jn. 17:17; cf. 2 Pet. 1:3,5,12). And peace is a by-product of commitment to what's true and right (Heb. 12:11; 2 Tim. 2:22). Hence, we publicly express our beliefs (in books, sermons, debates, etc.), trying to convince each other so that, by God's grace, we may all be fully one in truth.

As John Piper explained:
"Faithful Christians do not love controversy; they love peace. They love their brothers and sisters who disagree with them. They long for a common mind for the cause of Christ. But they are bound by their conscience and by the Word of God, for this very reason, [they] try to persuade the church concerning the fullness of the truth and beauty of God's word."

That is how I would explain verbally why we have doctrinal differences. (Here's also another one

II. Non-verbal Explanation

However, it should be acknowledged that:
"You cannot expect the world to understand doctrinal differences, especially in our day when the existence of truth and absolutes are considered unthinkable even as concepts.
We cannot expect the world to understand that on the basis of the holiness of God we are having a different kind of difference, because we are dealing with God's absolutes."
"Before a watching world, an observable love in the midst of difference will show a difference between Christians' differences and other people's differences. The world may not understand what the Christians are disagreeing about, but they will very quickly understand the difference of our differences from the world's differences if they see us having our differences in an open and observable love on a practical level." (Schaeffer, emphasis mine)

It echoes back what Jesus said to his disciples: 
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35, NIV)

Though the doctrine of the church (ecclesiology) is important for us to make known to others that we're Christians, Love that is rooted in the gospel is still the greatest mark of a Christian and of a true church. May Evangelicals, in their disputes and disagreement (in pursuit of unity in the truth) in front of "a watching world", still never forget to demonstrate Christian, catholic love. Let us show the world that our differences are different from them through brotherly love! O may God forgive us for always failing to do so.

Let us never forget this old saying: