Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Unity is not a feather duvet

Together for the Gospel have an anticipatory video in prep for the next conference - and as with the previous one, it's rather instructive to video those 4 men (Lig Duncan, CJ Mahaney, Al Mohler & Mark Dever) in discussion! In the last 4-5 minutes of the recording the conversation turns to divisive issues:
CJ Mahaney [joking] - I'm amazed we've gotten through this whole time without you [Al] making some remark to Lig about his position on baptism. [Cue laughter & joking.]

Al Mohler - In all seriousness, one of the criticisms that I have received about Together for the Gospel is that we talked about all these things, but didn't talk about baptism. And I want to come back and say, look at the title of the conference. Together for the Gospel. We're the people who believe that baptism is of urgent importance. Because we believe so much in ecclesiology. And so, with all the humour and love between us, the fact that we disagree on this is no small matter. And when I have preached from Lig's pulpit I have said we may be the last people on the planet who can have an honest disagreement because we honestly believe in Biblical authority, confessional accountability and the importance of baptism as an act of obedience to Christ. But we're together for the gospel. So we're not going to just sublimate these things and act like they don't exist - and I love the fact we can tease each other about it - and we can talk responsably, because there are few persons of the theological stature of a Lig Duncan that I can even talk to about this as a baptist to a Presbyterian. So where there's friendship and history and tradition and creed and confession and exegesis and all that behind us, we're the people who are going to say there are a lot of things that are extremely important beyond what we talk about at this conference. But we're focussing right now on the gospel.

Lig Duncan - This issue (Al, you're exactly right), illustrates one of the ways in which we are trying to be different from other alliances and coalitions that have been formed in times past in evangelicalism and that is, that has often been: "The gospel's important; none of these other things matter." That's NOT what we're saying. We're saying
the gospel is very important, we are together on it, these other things DO matter. And they matter enough that we will talk seriously with one another, we'll tease one another about them, and we'll teach our congregations what we believe the Bible says. And I think that helps evangelicalism, when there are men like Mark Dever, and Al Mohler, and CJ Mahaney, teaching faithfully that these things matter in their pulpits. I don't think that hurts presbyterians, or baptists: I think it hurts when people tell people that those things don't matter.
I agree with these men. Unity is not a fluffy thing to cuddle up in. Fellowship is not something you have when you display only those things you both like. Togetherness is not found in holding to those things you agree on but ignoring their consequences. Unity is in truth. Truth as revealed, truth loved and truth applied and ministered.

Yet some important truths are
more important than others. So we can express unity in them while disagreeing strongly on those other things. But if you tell people that those other things don't matter, you're not helping them in unity; you're harming them. Because truth matters. That we live the lives God has given us thinking, acting and feeling according to the truth he has seen fit to reveal by his Spirit, matters.


Caleb W said...

It's great to see robust Christian fellowship being modelled and taught by those guys.

Yes, real unity, real community and fellowship is a tough business (as I've had a taste of by visiting a couple of Christian intentional communities recently). As I was saying on my blog recently on the issue of dealing with disagreements, real unity is not trying to pretend you agree on everything and get on fine. It's knowing where each other stands, recognising your disagreement, and trying to work through and resolve it as an ongoing project.

I think you need to be careful in saying that "unity is in truth". Yes, it is and we should never lose sight of that, but our unity isn't in truth only in the sense of factual statements, but in the person of the one who is the truth, Jesus Christ. In fact, the God of truth is himself a community, a tri-unity, and so we mustn't lose sight of the relational, community aspect of truth.

étrangère said...

Amen. Don't want to lose sight of either - Jesus is the truth, and in 1 John knowing the truth is pretty much equated with knowing God, fellowshipping with him is having the truth dwell in you, having the truth abide in you is abiding in the Father and the Son... etc.

Interesting thought in picking up on the trinitarian aspect of it - the Father is the author and determinator of truth (Gen 3), Jesus self-identifies with the Truth, and the Spirit is called the Spirit of truth...

Too often though a false dichotomy is made between truth-fact and truth-Jesus. Who is this Jesus? Relational truth requires doctrinal truth. Doctrinal truth is relational...

Truth matters because Jesus matters. How do we know that Jesus matters? Why do we know him to be precious? Because the author of truth has sent forth into our hearts the Spirit of truth to bear witness to the Truth incarnate and exalted, through his breathed-out recorded word, which is truth.

Our unity is in the Truth... our unity is in one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. Can't really be separated from truth!

Ben Stevenson said...

I watched the Together for the Gospel video. The meeting was held in Albert Mohler's study. CJ picked up a book at random to test Al's knowledge of his books (about 3 minutes into the video).
The book was The Presbyterian Controversy by Bradley J. Longfield.
Mohler's summary was that the "Fundamentalists" lost the battle to the "modernizers" for the presbyterian church in the USA because the "moderates" ended up siding with the "modernizers".

I wonder how relevant this might be to current debates - with people who seemingly agree with orthodox Christianity nevertheless being prepared to be united with the unorthodox.

Ben Stevenson said...

Truth and unity are frequently linked in Scripture. I don't think you will find anywhere in the Bible that talks about Christian unity where there is not also common agreement on the truths of Christianity.

"Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth... I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one..." -- John 17:17,20-21

(Both truth and love are important things Jesus prayed for.)

"Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth." -- 1 Corinthians 13:6

(We cannot love people, but then not care if they believe the truth or not.)

"And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation...." -- Ephesians 1:13

(People are included in Christ by hearing the word of truth. We are united with other Christians because we are united with Christ.)

"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." -- Ephesians 4:15-16

(Our Christian unity and love for each other is linked to our growing into Christ, by speaking the truth in love.)

"My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins." -- James 5:19-20