It occurs to me that things don’t naturally integrate, they disintegrate. As surely as deterioration is the goal of physical matter, fracture and disunity is the inclination of human relationships (extending from our relationship with God to that with others and ultimately with ourselves). To borrow from Murphy, given the opportunity we’ll always fall apart, disintegrate. The theological explanation for all of this is the Fall (Genesis 3). The practical outworking of it (in human terms) is death, destruction, war, oppression, schism, abuse, divorce, judgment, and so on. For relationships to endure there must be sustained and purposeful commitment and energy on at least one person’s part (and at least passive participation by the other, but that leads us into an altogether different discussion).
I’ve been thinking about church relationships – those within the context of a local church (to which I’m particularly sensitive), those within denominations and associations, as well as those that cross denominational and theological boundaries. We are able to see without great effort that in all of these situations unity is much more difficult to achieve than disunity.
Because of our natural inclination to esteem ourselves more highly than we ought (I’m speaking confessionally), we desire to dominate each other, to have our views and opinions judged more right, to be better (if just by a little bit) than our brother. Interestingly, it often starts with us seeking our neighbor’s approval and respect. Once that respect is gained we loose what respect we had for them (the respect and esteem that caused us to seek their approbation to begin with) because if they look up to us they must be lower than us, therefore not worthy of our respect. (Philippians 2 shows Paul’s keen insight into this).
At any rate, I observe that it requires diligence and fortitude to avoid the natural toxins that destroy relationships. From Cain and Abel to ongoing church and denominational squabbles, our desire to be right and in control leads us to pick up rocks (if only in our hearts) and smash our brother’s head. And what’s more disturbing is that we often do it in the name of orthodoxy, contending for the faith, Jesus. (If ever there was a more puzzling thing, I don’t know what it is.)
We must push and challenge and wrestle because we are duty-bound to get at the truth. If we do this with integrity (in every sense of the word) and humility, we can truly strengthen each other and our relationships. A Lutheran and a Baptist and a Roman Catholic should be able to sit and talk about our common Christ as a point of unity. If we cannot do this, we hurtle toward fragmentation, disunity and chaos.
Consider the James Turner quote from the previous post:
The Reformation…brought to the fore doctrinal disputes, first with Rome, then among the Reformers themselves. By so doing it put greater stress on doctrine. The ensuing orgy of creed making probably owed something to the advent of printing, which provided an ideal growth medium for theological polemics. But it owed much more to the Protestant spokesmen and Catholic apologists who chose to use the press (and councils and synods) to draw lines of division along ever-finer points of creedal logic.
If we keep dividing because of “ever-finer points of creedal logic,” at some point in the future we’ll all be our own church. Reflecting on The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, this sounds a lot like his image of Hell.
God’s call of Israel to be a people was nothing short of calling them to be one people, a community – a true reflection of his being One God (in three Persons), a true Community. No less has he called the church to be a people, a community, one.
To be a community (literally, “with unity”) requires more than a desire to be with others. It requires a covenant, and covenant keeping. (To be sure, it requires the superintendence of One who knows what it is to be faithful within a covenant!) We see among men an inclination toward breech of community over matters of the covenant itself! Disunity follows attempts to define the terms of unity. I ask, Is this working toward “Thy kingdom come?” or inviting Hell (in Lewis’s terms) into our midst?
As we watch the Southern Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church in America, John Piper and N.T. Wright, and countless other people and entities engage in sometimes-less-than-civil debate, it is apparent that we have a long way to go.
If we are to become more integrated, more connected as one people of the One God, we must do better. By his grace, I think we can.