Published in Challenge Weekly 2011
The latest controversy over Destiny Church highlights one of the core tensions of Christian faith, truth 'versus' unity. The NT writings make it clear that unity is of critical importance with it being emphasised especially in Jesus' great prayer of John 17, and in many of its letters (e.g. 1 Corinthians; Philippians; Ephesians 4; Romans 14-15; Philemon). One of the gospels great truths is love, the power that holds us together and gives power to our witness (e.g. John 13:34-35). Truth is equally important in the NT with many warnings against false teaching and prophets (e.g. Acts 20; 2 Corinthians 10-12; Galatians; Colossians 2; 1 John; 2 Peter; Jude). Preserving the one gospel is critical to ensure the survival of the faith. The tension occurs when unity comes under threat because of clashes over truth. When this happens, this is the one of the most difficult challenges Christians can face.
Over the history of the church there have been a number of points at the church has split when it is felt that truth of the gospel is violated whether it be over the Spirit, works and faith, baptism, church government structures, resurrection, tradition, music styles, sexuality issues, and more. Such splits are always destructive, messy, and painful. At some points wars were fought over these divisions, with Christians fighting or some put to death for their apostasy. In many cases these Christians were simply standing for what they believed to be the truth. Now we live in a world with a fragmented Christian community which struggles to present a united witness to the world. While breaking up into many denominations, groups and independent churches may have enhanced mission in some cases, in the big picture of things it has done enormous damage to our witness with many people writing us off for our disunity.
With all this in mind, there are a number of things that are critical to us all. First, we need to know the gospel well. Most importantly we need to know the things that are central to the faith (e.g. bodily resurrection, the Trinity) and the things that are not (the way we baptize, music styles). While all things are important to some degree, we need to stop slitting up over things that are not essential to the core of the gospel. When we face a threat to unity we need to ask, is this worth us leaving or splitting over? Secondly, we need to seek to preserve the unity of the Spirit unless we are forced to divide over something really critical, like the bodily resurrection, and even then at last resort. Thirdly, when we see a new problem emerge we need to be careful not to jump to conclusions and divide ourselves yet further. We need to work with all our being, going the extra mile, in service and humility before dividing. Leaving should be a last resort for any Christian considering breaking up a church. Go deeper.