In this book I seek to make a compelling argument that Christian divisions are never desirable. I further argue that all Christians should work in every way they prayerfully can for relational unity with all other Christians. Isn’t this a preposterous dream? How can it possibly happen in our divided and polarized world?
This dream is only preposterous if you lack the faith to believe that Christ can so work in his people that his prayer in John 17 is answered in his way and time. Because I have always believed in reformation and revival, and because I believe that this prayer for unity is in accord with God’s revealed will, I have no doubt what God can do. I just do not know when or how he will do it.
I am sure, in terms of biblical eschatology, that all his people will be visibly one when he returns. In the precise moment that we see the glorified Jesus we will be one church visibly. But could it be that God intends to heal our divisions before Christ comes? Could it be that he will grant some marvelous new outpouring of his Spirit and this will bring about the missional-ecumenism that I present in my book?
But how can I reconcile my message of unity with the rich diversity of viewpoints that we see in the various expressions of the Christian faith throughout America and the whole world?
This is really not difficult to answer. I write about what I call “core orthodoxy” as being essential to vital, living Christian faith. One of the central truths that I see in core orthodoxy is unity. How we could miss this I do not understand but I always assigned the doctrine of unity to the bin of “non-essential” teaching for the first four decades of my life. But Scripture clearly makes our unity central to faith. The whole New Testament is about one Lord and one faith thus there can only be one church (cf. Ephesians 4).
I do not believe that diversity is our problem. Holding to different doctrinal perspectives, at least in most instances, is not really our major problem, though it presents some serious challenges. Our differences could become a fertile ground for growth and mission if we were willing to address them in the spirit of Christ’s love. We could begin to do this if we became open to one another and thus learned how to listen to one another. This will require that each of us gives up our prideful independence, which is the real problem that causes much of our disunity in the first place.
Over the last two decades various movements have arisen in the American church. Some of these are disturbing and troubling. Others are exciting and seem to be filled with great promise. In mission, for example, we are seeing a huge drop-off among those young adults between ages 18-35. In record numbers they are not going to church.
At the same time we are seeing young Christian leaders arise who understand this problem and who are courageously speaking to the need for a new mission paradigm for reaching the post-Christian generation. Again the fruit of this is, as it always will be, mixed.
As these young mission-oriented leaders seek to reach multitudes of un-churched adults they are discovering that the church can no longer afford the luxury of schism and in-fighting between Christians and churches. Simply put, these younger Christians are not deeply committed to denominationalism. The fact is this—denominations, as we know them, are not likely to survive. I think we will still have them long after I’m gone but they will surely look very different. I believe that they will need to be leaner and more focused on equipping the laity to do ministry. They will not run large central offices staffed by bureaucratic leadership. They will invest more money and training in new church planting or die.
Tomorrow: Part Four