John 17 and Denominationalism (Part 2)

I have a pretty cool privilege to work on a diverse church staff. There’s nine of us and we all have various backgrounds and various theological emphases.  We have a former Methodist, Church of Christ, Baptist, Presbyterian, and even a former Oneness Pentecostal. We have Calvinists and Arminians. Charismatics and Cessationists. And this diversity in our staff reflects the diversity in our congregation. We have Dispensationalists and Covenantalists, theistic evolutionists and creationists. It’s a special privilege for me, and even while it has its challenges I believe that ultimately the staff I work on reflects well the desire of Jesus in John 17.

It’s not that the differences in theology are unimportant, nor do I want to suggest they never create conflicts. But our staff works through them. We sharpen each other, we push each other to the Scriptures. We have found that because of our love and our sharpening each other many of us have moved more towards each other in our views. Best of all we have demonstrated for our congregation how to disagree in love. You see while our differences and our theological convictions are important none of us views them as supreme causes for division.

Now division has, sadly happened. Some have left over issues they could not agree with. Others have, in the past before I came, been asked to leave because of major theological errors. But our staff is committed to unity and neither the doctrine of predestination nor preaching philosophy is going to divide us.

What I contend is that it is possible for members and staff in churches to have theological disagreement, even significant, and yet stay together in unity. It takes several things to do so, however:

1. A commitment to unity –> It must be more than a wishful dream if it is to happen. There must be a commitment and you must fight for it. You must determine that only serious error which damages the gospel is worthy of division, and you must clearly articulate what that gospel is regularly!

2. A commitment to Scripture –> really truthfully you can’t have (1) without (2), for it is only because Scripture places such an emphasis on unity (and such serious consequences on those who create division) that we strive for it. This means that as we challenge one another, express our theology, and promote doctrine in the church we have it deeply rooted in the Scriptures and not simply in our denominational heritage. Scripture determines all!

3. A willingness to be flexible –> If there is not an open discussion that is able to happen in your church where people can raise questions, doubts, and challenge others than unity will quickly become strained. There is no room for blind defensiveness in the church. If we are truly trying to be conformed to Scripture than we must be willing to let others check us with Scripture. We must also give up the right to have conformity in every secondary doctrine. If Dispensationalism is supreme on your list of essential doctrines you won’t make it in a church like this. If the gospel is supreme and Dispensationalism is on down the list you will.

4. A Commitment to Serve Others –> This is particularly important in the corporate worship service where our own wants and demands can often take us beyond the comforts and convictions of others. One person may want more traditional hymns than another, one may want speaking in tongues, another may like this preacher but not that one, etc. At the end of the day are you willing to forgo your wants and desires to see that others are able to worship God and be served? If everyone looks out for the interests of others and allows their wants and desires to be secondary then all will be served at some level.

Theological unity is probably not going to happen in this life, but unity can still happen in accordance with Jesus’ prayer in John 17. It just takes commitment and prayer.

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