Peter & Kelly

on The Way

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Peter & Kelly + Lukas + Emmet + Danai

Going to Heaven: The concept of heaven in the Bible and Christian teaching
Research Paper (All Nations Christian College) 2 June 2004 — Peter Passchier

Is participation in Freemasonry wholesome for disciples of Jesus?
Advanced Religions Paper (All Nations Christian College) 7 May 2004 — Peter Passchier

Passages from Colossians and Hebrews compared
Assignment Christology (All Nations Christian College) 5 December 2003 — Peter Passchier

Is Israel's election related to any inherent qualities?
Assignment Old Testament Theology (All Nations Christian College) 28 November 2003 — Peter Passchier

The Gospel and the Religions
Reading Report Theology of Mission (All Nations Christian College) 11 November 2003 — Peter Passchier

Efforts towards unity within the church
Assignment Churchplanting (All Nations Christian College) 27 June 2003 — Peter Passchier

Jesus: transactional or transformational?
Assignment Leadership (All Nations Christian College) 20 June 2003 — Peter Passchier

Isaiah in crises
Assignment History and Literature of the Hebrew Bible (All Nations Christian College) 17 March 2003 — Peter Passchier

Do missionaries destroy cultures?
Assignment Social Anthropology (All Nations Christan College) 6 December 2002 — Peter Passchier

Temple Tumult
Assignment New Testament: Gospels and Acts (All Nations Christian College) 29 November 2002 — Peter Passchier

Acts
Initial Assignment (All Nations Christian College) 1 October 2002 — Peter Passchier

A Narrow Escape
A Narrow Escape (Creative writing) 13 September 2015 — Kelly Passchier



Assignment Churchplanting (All Nations Christian College) 27 June 2003 — Peter Passchier

Efforts towards unity within the church

Introduction

The great number of denominations within the Christian world attests to the huge variety of church organizations, but at the same time it is a testimony of manifold disunity. What exactly is unity? Is it something to strive for? What efforts have been made towards unity? What are the reasons for the current disunity? These questions will be addressed in preparation to respond to the question: what efforts towards unity are fruitful?

Unity

When talking about unity within the Christian community at large, it is easy to just pay lip service to statements in the bible about unity and leave it at that (Brinkman, 1995:137-139). Being "eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3) will then be a lofty aim bordering hypocrisy when the current state of affairs is not being accounted for. Unity —from the Latin unitas— is yachad in Hebrew, from the root echad —one— as in "the Lord is One" (Deuteronomy 6:4). So oneness. with a sense of uniqueness — separate from other things, undivided in itself (Webster, 1828 — in Meyers, 2003); this is paralleled in the Greek henotes, from hen — one. Unity can be contrasted with uniformity —outward alikeness— which does not seem to be easily attainable, nor desirable. Edwards (1999) makes the point that Jesus opened up Jewish exclusivism to include all nations with their vastly different cultures, without delineating cultural requirements — how could all of those ever be uniform? On the other hand, unity can be contrasted with union —brought together under a common heading— (Ferguson, 1996:407) which Jesus' followers already are in a spiritual sense. In an organizational sense, it might not mean much more than a loose federation, and it then comes close to just paying lip service. There are other biblical concepts pertaining to unity, like being of one mind — in several broadly equivalent Greek forms. These point out the significance of the mind and usually admonish followers of Jesus to be of one mind — implying that efforts in this area are thought to be both possible and fruitful.

Denominations

Unity can be a purely mathematical concept when it is not applied to something, in this case to the church. The concept of denominations is difficult to delineate, as they vary greatly in degree of organization and how they define themselves. Stating that the word denomination does not refer to Christian organizations or agencies who do not claim to be a denomination results in an unhelpful circular definition; and how about so called nondenominational churches? A denomination might be defined as an organizational unity comprising of churches who share a common constitution. But in a discussion of unity it does not make sense to exclude nondenominational churches and groups, although they may be harder to relate to an pin down on an organizational level — they probably prefer things that way. Discussing visible or formal organizational unity presupposes a willingness to be organized at all; unity can be made visible without formal organization (Meyer, 1999:10-15). People working for or within explicitly Christian organizations and agencies will generally be part of a local body of believers —a church— although differing understanding of these concepts and their interrelatedness is possible — the bible does not define these in any conclusive way at all. The biblical words usually translated as church are qahal —Hebrew— and ekklesia —Greek— referring to an assembly — a group of people gathered together. This can be locally, in a place —even nowadays a virtual place on the Internet!— or in a general sense — those gathered together as a harvest for the Kingdom. Any group of people gathered together in Jesus' name can be called a church in the biblical sense, and there are also plenty of examples in the New Testament to use the word church in a general sense, for the church at large. The word church derives from the Greek kuriakos literally meaning 'of the Lord' but through usage by the Goths came to refer to a place of worship (Ferguson, 1996:129-30); this usage takes precedence when the spiritual dimension is disregarded.

Reasons for Unity

Ethics is the field of study that is trying to provide guiding principles based on the discernment of right and wrong; disunity is not commonly argued for, but unity is an elusive concept. For any kind of people to believe in Jesus, they have to value the bible as a broadly corroborated source. The prayer of Jesus for His disciples as recorded in John 17 expresses Jesus' desire for unity among his followers as He and the Father are one, and as a testimony of God's love in sending Jesus (John 17:20-23). Paul exhorts in many places to be united. In 1 Corinthians 1:10 believers are told to all say the same thing, not be divided, and be united both in subjective and objective viewpoints (Vincent's Word Studies, in Meyers, 2003). It might be questioned whether the advice of Paul to a particular church community is meant to be wider applicable; the language of Paul's letter to the Ephesians very strongly suggests a more universal intent, and it might have been used as a circular letter to several churches. In Ephesians 4:1-16 is speaking strongly about unity, and not just for the local congregation, in verse 13 Paul includes himself when he says: may we all come to the unity of the faith. Verse 2 commends attitudes like humility, meekness, long-suffering and bearing with one another in love, and verse 3 continues in the same breath to exhort to be eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Verses 4 to 6 contain the famous 7 ones: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God & Father of all — both an implicit and explicit plea for unity! Metaphors used to describe the church point to its oneness, like the body — we the many are one body in Christ (Romans 12:5). Looking at Israel in the Old Testament, there is diversity —twelve tribes— but God ordained unity in religious matters: one tabernacle and temple, and one way of worshiping. From all of this, it seems evident that unity in a general sense is something worth striving for.

History of unity

The early church

When reading the first chapters of Acts, church life seems idyllic: "And continuing steadfastly with one mind day by day in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they shared food in gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people." (Acts 2:46-47a). The letters in the New Testament —probably written down before Acts— show that there was a measure of contact between churches in different cities, and there is evidence of apostolic letters being more widely read (eg., Colossians 4:16), but there was also divisiveness within local congregations (1 Corinthians 3:3), and there were people preaching a message conflicting with the gospel, like gnosticism (1 Timothy 6:20-21) or legalism (Galatians 2:4-5). The earliest post apostolic writers were mostly concerned with the purity of doctrine, until finally the Arian controversy —catalyzed by Constantine— sparked off the Nicene creed, which was followed by a string of councils with canons and creeds. Each council intended to provide clarity and unity within the church, but effectively introduced more division within the church at large. The councils were on the surface level doctrinal, but often had political interests interwoven (Ellingsen, 1999:89).

State churches

While the church was getting institutionalized by creeds, politics within the church and the establishment of the Roman state church, it was also getting split by doctrinal struggles and the disintegration of the Roman empire. There was never an institutionalized catholic —generally united— church; while the structures were being formalized, dissenting factions grew stronger. The Roman Catholic church could never internally be free from differing doctrinal viewpoints, and surely was not regarded as having authority by those it had anathemized. While various major and minor reigns were totally affiliated with Roman Catholicism, the reformation gave rise to a new sense of ownership of the church by non-clerical believers. In many North-Western European countries this gave rise to the institution of state churches, resulting in greater —but not absolute— national unity.

Ecumenical movements

The twentieth century can be called the century of globalization — many world-events took place then. The World Council of Churches (WCC) was established after the Second World War, but already in 1910 at the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh the foundation was lain for the ecumenical movement (Brinkman, 1995:7) and it was the start of missions ecumenism as well as the start of the emancipation of the non-Western church (Bauerochse, 2001). Initially, the focus of the WCC was on resolving doctrinal issues and implementing a political-organizational program, but towards the end of the twentieth century the efforts became more conceptual and inviting for evangelical participants. There has also been a —less ambitious— move towards Evangelical Alliances functioning on a more pragmatic level. In the current postmodern climate, there is more room for partnerships, but the organizational dimension is stressed less.

Problems with unity

In Paul's letter to the Ephesians (6:12), he stresses that "the battle is not against flesh & blood, but against spiritual evil"; other people —inside or outside of the church— are not the enemy, but the spiritual forces that oppose the will of God. Unity is obviously God's plan for the church, He even longs for all creation to be free from corruption (Romans 8:19-22). Enmity is a constant temptation, to be seen all through the bible, whatever the rationalization for it, intrinsically it is evil and unhelpful towards the purposes of God. The attitude to those outside the local church or denomination deserves special attention; human beings basically think in dichotomistic categories, like us and them, and all people in the them category are in some way lumped together. The difference in attitude towards the church and the secular world is a notable tension (Brinkman, 1995:140), that has also damaged evangelistic objectives. Jesus has gone all the way to identify Himself with all human beings —those in Adam-, but the church only focuses on the identification with Christ and not with Adam, although it is Christ's body on Earth and the church is called to be a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) in order to proclaim Him: this is the horizontal-vertical tension. The associated attitude problems are summed up by Baxter (in Coffey, 1986:25): there is no discernment exercised between things certain and uncertainties, between necessities and unnecessities, between common truth and private opinion. To compound the problem of disunity, there is a massive degree of institutionalization within the church, associated with differences in doctrine. Formal structures are not discarded or changed easily —the whole point of them— and cause the denominations to be perpetuated; the Roman Catholic church is the clearest example and forerunner. There has always been discord within the church, but it seems that the reformation instigated a spiritual heritage of dissension, and factions and denominations have multiplied since. The underlying attitude of judgment on perceived doctrinal purity is possibly the most destructive force within the church at large.

Striving for unity

The Commission on Faith and Order described three models for unity (Meyer, 1999:79-101):

Cooperative action: federations of churches engaging in common comprehensive action while retaining their formal and confessional indepency. This does not accomplish any ecclesiastical unity, but is task and ministry oriented. Because of its pragmatism and external orientation, it might be worth the effort and pave the way for more mutual appreciation within such federations. This model is quite common in the evangelical world.

Mutual recognition: intercommunion on a level where the Lord's Supper can be celebrated together, presupposing likeness in worship and doctrine, while retaining institutional indepency. This promotes syncretistic attitudes while not requiring the disintegration of existing organizations, and it is getting more common both on the level of individual church members and between particular denominations. Regarding the latter, there does not seem to be a definite synergetic advantage to these alliances, and membership often drops.

Organic union: the removal of all practical ecclesiastical barriers — not necessarily implying a rigid governmental unity, although some organizational unity is assumed. This model has initially in preference been advanced by the WCC but has deemphasized lately and has not been particularly successful. It requires great organizational, spiritual and emotional effort, and is not particularly fruitful because a level of institutionalization needs to be maintained within this paradigm.

All three models are very practical in focusing on the institutional level, thereby retaining the organizational paradigm as laid down by the early Roman Catholic church. Eventually the unity is meant to comprise all local churches everywhere (Meyer, 1999:22), bypassing any superstructures. With over half a century of experience in implementing various models, dissatisfaction has set in and progress seems to wane, although work is still being done and the theoretical foundations are increasingly firm.

Love

Another paradigm —quite removed from the organizational one— focuses on the psycho-spiritual dimension of love. The unity sought is not in the first place between churches, but essentially with the Head of the church — Christ Jesus. This is the conclusion also reached by Amess (1988), that churches should hold each other's distinctives in love. Practically, this comes closest to cooperative-federational model, without the focus on any work. Amess especially considers the 'cancer in Evangelicalism': party mentality and a love of controversy, and calls for repentance of bitterness and anger. The focus of the church at large and of the individual believer should be the restoration of relationships, firstly to the Creator, and coincidentally to other people. The gospel of Jesus Christ is essentially a message of reconciliation (Schmiechen, 1996); this has immediate consequences for unity within the church, and is worth for Jesus to have died for.

Conclusion

The history of the church is often described as the development of institutions, evidently in many senses a very painful story. From the start, a great price was paid to craft these institutions, with great —mainly internal— struggles, and striving for unity has been a main focus. To continue on this road seems doomed to fail, and a paradigm shift from a organizational perspective to a relational viewpoint looks promising, especially in a time where a postmodern world view is becoming predominant. This entails deemphasizing formal organizations and focusing on the acquisition of more Christlike attitudes —summarized by the word love— both to the church and to the world at large. Any efforts towards this end have eternal value for the followers of Jesus (1 Corinthians 13), while institutional efforts are bound to be dissolved when Jesus returns.

Bibliography

Amess (1988) One in the Truth? (Eastbourne: Kingsway), ch.10.

Bauerochse, L. (2001) Learning to Live Together (Geneva: WCC), ch.1.

Brinkman, M.E. (1995) Progress in Unity? Fifty years of Theology within the World Council of Churches: 1945-1995 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans).

Coffey, D. (1986) Build that Bridge (Eastbourne: Kingsway).

Edwards J. (1999) Lord, make us one — but not all the same! (London: Hodder & Stoughton), ch.9.

Ferguson, E. (1996) The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for today (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans).

Meyer, H. (1999) That All May Be One (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans).

Meyers, R. (2003) 'e-Sword 7.0.5 ' at <http://www.e-sword.net>, June 2003.

Smiechen, P. (1996) Christ the Reconciler (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans), ch.5.


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