This is the third part of an essay I drafted a few years ago, intending to publish it in the now-defunct Reformed Presbyterian officers’ newsletter, Semper Reformanda.
I briefly want to think about some of the ways that a refusal to earnestly pursue denominational reunion hurts the ministry of the Gospel:
It tells lies about Jesus that contradict the ministry of reconciliation. Paul speaks of his ministry as one that brings people from every tribe and tongue and both genders together. He minimizes the importance of some theological debates and nuances and blasts those who spend time on others, all the while maintaining the centrality of the apostolic faith.
It presents the world with no credible alternative to its own voluntary organizations and friendships. If evangelicals spent less time sitting around wishing the world was paying attention and realized that the world is paying attention we would be much better off. The world is looking to the Church to show it what real human relationships are supposed to look like.
It belies the proclamation of free grace and forgiveness. We claim justification by faith alone, but we practice justification by theological perfection. This is perhaps the hardest of our reasons for disunity to fault, because the motivation seems so noble. But fault it we must. We like to be right, and we judge the rightness of others by our own opinions. When they are weighed and found wanting, we divide. There are other, patently stupid reasons for disunity: we dislike the “tone” or culture of another denomination; we have an ancient grievance for which we demand satisfaction; there is some particular action by a denominational court that we refuse to acknowledge. I can name denominations where each of these is a reason for separate existence. “Do you not know that we will judge angels?”
It presents a tremendous apologetic barrier. Disunity is at least a symptom of sin and arguably a sin itself. A Muslim high school student asked me, “If there’s only one truth, then why are there so many different kinds of churches?” I had no answer, beyond pointing out that there are great similarities of teaching and practice, some interdenominational fellowship, and that despite our sins God had not allowed the destruction of his Church. But there is no way around Jesus’ promise: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” If we don’t have practical love for one another, they have little reason to think that we follow Jesus. “Lord, Lord!”
The prophetic spleen is almost vented … hang in there, because I do hope to offer some constructive ideas!