Unity seems like a good idea, right? Most people I’ve talked to, including some who do not regularly attend church, think the idea of churches working together to share God’ love to those who need it is a good thing. For most it is, as my mother would say, a “No Duh!” kind of thing.
Not so for everyone. The following excerpt was published in the Fairmont Sentinel on Oct 24th in response to our push for greater unity in the Christian community and our Unity Station outreach at the county fair;
Laudable intention. Wrong approach. An outward display of unity is pointless, even harmful, if there isn’t true unity based upon the Word of God. Christians end up settling for a “least common denominator” faith: We all believe that the Bible is true and Jesus has provided a way for us to be forgiven. Every other doctrine in Scripture is discarded as “secondary.”
…We’re more willing to settle for a façade of unity than to actually confront and correct false teaching on the basis of Scripture alone.
-Peter Hagen, “Can we achieve unity in the Christian church?” Fairmont Sentinel, Friday, Oct 24, 2014, pg 6
I don’t disagree with the concept of unity being based on the Word of God. In fact, as we have communicated our vision for unity it has been based on the truth of Scripture and the need for saving faith. We have in no way “discarded” other theological beliefs, but we have stated that those beliefs are secondary because without saving faith in Jesus Christ as Lord they are irrelevant; you can be the strongest believer the episcopal form of church government or consubstantiation in the world, but if you do not believe you are a sinner whose only hope for salvation lies in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, then those beliefs are about as useful as a cardboard box in a hurricane. I believe that all followers of Christ should have some theological viewpoints on these and a multitude of other positions, but as I wrote previously, these things are not “essentials.”
Somehow, when I read the words this pastor wrote in October and received several phone calls from concerned friends and ministry partners, I didn’t think this pastor and I were on the same page. A month later in a follow-up article, the pastor continued his thoughts;
I contend that Scripture is clear. God’s Word means what it says and says what it means…
The problem is with unbelief, which sets God’s Word aside in favor of some other authority.
This problem is compounded by arrogance and condescension, masquerading as pity upon the poor soul who would dare assert that God’s Word is clear (and that, on the basis of that Word, a doctrine could be declared to be “false”).
-Peter Hagen, “Christian unity is good, but how do we attain it?” Fairmont Sentinel, Friday, Nov 14, 2014, pg 6
Again, on the surface I agree with much of this statement, but the pastor’s statement that humility regarding our ability to fully comprehend God and His truth is actually “arrogance and condescension” is, to me, massively narrow-minded. The example this pastor uses regarding how “God’s Word is clear” is the creation account in Genesis 1. He encourages readers to survey local churches and ask, “Does your church teach a literal creation – seven regular days of 24 hours each?” Any other belief, in this pastor’s opinion, is nothing less than a rejection of God’s Word for the acceptance of man’s misguided wisdom.
This point struck home for me. On the specific issue of creation I have in the past shared his viewpoint. I remember a conversation I once had with one of my students, a highly intelligent and well-studied high school girl, over creation. She and her family would be described as “old-earth creationists,” clearly believing that God created everything, but that it was not necessarily in a 168-hour window of time around 7,000 years ago. The statement I made to this student at that time was this; “I’m not sure someone who doesn’t believe in a young-earth creation view really believes the Bible is true.”
I now look back at that conversation with regret (and I later apologized to that family), because I now believe that viewpoint was misguided and arrogant.
For what it’s worth, I am still a young-earth creationist – I do believe that the world was created in a 168-hour window of time around 7,000-10,000 years ago. The thing is, I don’t really care all that much if someone agrees with me on those specific points. My reasons for saying this are the following:
- I believe that all truth is God’s truth-not just Scripture, but truth found in nature and the world around us. Everything that is true, good and right is intentionally put in place by the Creator. Anything that is evil is a corruption of God’s good, true creation.
- Our understanding of truth is open to some interpretation. I have extensively studied evolutionary theory for years, and I do not believe it is scientifically irresponsible to hold a young-earth creation view. I can read the Bible and come up with the belief that professing believers should be baptized, others can read the same words and believe that children should be baptized. This isn’t one side or the other refusing to submit to the truth of scripture, it is simply a difference in reading and understanding truth that God is communicating. God is bigger than us, and He is a bit smarter than us. His truth as communicated to us stretches us because it’s more than we can deal with on our own. As Augustine said,
If you understand it, it isn’t God.
- We must approach the search for truth and understanding with humility, acknowledging that some of God’s truth is beyond our ability to comprehend and must be opened to us through the work of the Holy Spirit. We must “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12, ESV). God has begun a good work in us, and we are called to spend our lives humbly pursuing His truth wherever and however He reveals it.
- On the issue of creation, I believe that there is sufficient evidence to acknowledge that it is very possible that there are other models of creation that are not only possible from a scientific perspective but also from a biblical viewpoint. For example, each day in Genesis 1 is not transitioned with “the next day,” leaving open the possibility of time gaps between days. It says “there was evening and morning,” but the sun and moon were not created until the fourth day, so what requires that the first 3 days be viewed as 24 hour periods of time, a standard humanity has built from the movements of the sun and the moon? The list of examples could continue, but my point is this: even if I believe in a young-earth view, I can humbly acknowledge that I may be wrong and, more importantly, I can acknowledge that this belief does not directly impact the truth of the Bible as a whole or the gospel specifically.
As God has grown me and taught me more about His truth, He has been required to repeatedly pound into my skull my need to acknowledge that I don’t know everything and I will never know everything. I look back at where God has brought me, from a narrow-minded perspective on the Bible that looked at any and every disagreement as a hill to die on, to a place where I am willing to humbly continue to pursue and defend truth while acknowledging that not every difference is worth arguing over, and I am thankful for the lessons God has taught me. 10 years ago I was one of the last people in the world that anyone would expect to be pushing for unity and solidarity across personal and denominational lines, but I can rejoice that God has and continues to refine me and use me. As Paul wrote,
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.