“But as for you, speak the things that are consistent with sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1 BSB)
“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:22 NLT)
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Please join us for Prayer and Questions at the end of the devotion.
ARE CHRISTIANS TODAY TO CHOOSE between sound doctrine or a unified church?
Is that a real question or is it a false choice? Can we have both? Have we ever had either?
Where do you stand?
Recently, some 50 evangelical leaders gathered at Wheaton College in Illinois to discuss the fate of the evangelical religious movement.
The impetus for the meeting, according to organizers quoted in various media accounts, was to assess the spiritual health of the evangelical community after the 2016 election of Donald Trump as president, especially in light of polling that shows 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for him.
(The definition of “evangelical” was not mentioned in most media accounts, but generally it encompasses four basic beliefs: inerrancy of the Holy Bible, Jesus’ redeeming work on the Cross, salvation through a personal relationship with Jesus, and a call to evangelize.
(Also, there is an apparent discrepancy in the poll survey in which news organizations that commissioned the poll were more interested in the subset of “white evangelical” than in “non-white evangelical.” Finally, the term “evangelical” was not defined in the survey.)
Therefore, 20 percent of white evangelicals did not vote for Trump. Of that number, some voted for one of his opponents, while others declined to vote at all.
Conference organizers — let’s call them “the 20 percenters” — expressed dismay and frustration with the vast majority of their fellow believers — let’s call them “the 80 percenters” — who voted for Trump.
They drew the conclusion that the 80 percenters were destroying the brand, that evangelicalism had reached a “crisis,” and that something must be done to restore its tarnished image.
ATTENDANCE WAS INVITATION-ONLY. So if your name wasn’t on the invite list, the organizers did not want to hear from you.
Prominent names that were not invited included Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress, both supporters of the Trump presidency, although not necessarily of the man. Their writings and public utterances have been supportive of Trump’s policies when they line up with traditional evangelical values.
Prominent names that were invited included New York City megachurch pastors Tim Keller and A.R. Bernard. At one point in the proceedings, Keller characterized the divide among evangelicals this way: “We are being driven apart because there’s now a Red and a Blue evangelicalism,” thus imitating the political divide within the secular world.
What, then, about the 20 percenters? What values does their testimony support, especially since the winning candidate not only selected an evangelical running mate but not one other presidential candidate even sought the evangelical vote or promised to meet the voting bloc’s social policy goals.
Evangelicals have been strong supporters of religious liberty, marriage between one man and one woman for life, sanctity of life from pre-born through physical death, and support for Israel’s right to exist, among other concerns, but how do the 20 percenters defend their vote for another candidate either lukewarm toward those values or outright opposed to them?
It didn’t come up.
WHAT IS THE STATE TODAY of the body of Christ? As of now, more than one month since the two-day conference ended, no “statement” has emerged summarizing its findings, leaving the public without a sense of how conference organizers would respond.
Members of the president’s faith advisory council noted that the conferees held more “progressive” views on social issues than does the president and his evangelical supporters.
Some evangelical organizations, such as Focus on the Family, are dialing back their political involvement, believing it can interfere with the Gospel message they want to promote, while other groups are ramping up their efforts to preach the Bible to a world in darkness.
But those nagging questions just won’t go away: Should Christians — in particular, evangelicals — promote the values they believe God has laid out in the Holy Bible regardless of secular world pushback … and now pushback from within the body of Christ?
How does the secular world, eager to discredit God’s Word, view the apparent split within the evangelical community?
You know those complaints:
- You claim to love the sinner but not the sin, but do you really love the sinner?
- Can words written 2,000 to 3,000 years ago really be valid universally for all time?
- How can you claim to know the ultimate truth? Who made you the arbiter of what’s right and wrong?
Should the evangelical movement split into rival factions, each representing its version of truth, or should the various factions find a unifying message to heal those divisions?
Belief over unity? Unity over doctrine? Engage in the world; retreat from it?
Are evangelicals becoming the religious-based arm of the secular fight between “conservatives” and “progressives,” between Republicans and Democrats?
For those of us who believe the Holy Word of God is the Almighty’s love letter to us, that He is perfect and unchanging, our conviction rests in His eternal truths. We believe that He has told us clearly what He expects of us, and the expected criticisms from non-believers lack impact.
Fair enough, but now it’s reached a new level: much of the invective comes from within the body of Christ.
Witness the meeting at Wheaton College.
THERE ARE TWO SIDES to this story, as there are to so many stories.
Those who organized the conference downplayed any anti-Trump messaging, emphasizing the discussions, the prayers, and the “painful conversations” that took place, according to one religion writer for a secular newspaper.
Yet those “painful conversations” were how the evangelical movement could continue
unstained when 80 percent of their fellow believers voted for a candidate they all conceded was flawed morally, but who was the only candidate who pledged to honor biblical values in his policies.
On the other hand, news reports showed that several attendees left the conference when it became clear to them the proceeding was not just to express dismay with the election results but, more alarmingly, a roasting of the 80 percenters who voted for him.
Those defectors said the conference by its very nature was political and was not an attempt to unify the faithful.
AS THE SUMMIT ENDED, one of its the organizers reportedly said that in future meetings, evangelical leaders will “fan out in all kinds of directions,” as Christians recognize diversity within their movement.
However, the non-invited Franklin Graham said on FaceBook that he is “not interested in fanning out in all kinds of directions” but wants to focus on one direction only: “reaching lost souls” and “calling people to cross the line from death to life, in Him [Jesus Christ].”
He further said the word “evangelical” should not be used in a secular political context but only in promoting the gospel of Jesus Christ.
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
Apparently, there is a deep split within the evangelical body of Christ, just as there are fissures growing within Christendom’s denominations. Each faction claims to be following Jesus Christ while questioning the faith commitment of the other side.
The Bible tells us what to expect in the future … and it isn’t pretty.
Listen to the apostle Paul counsel his young friend, Timothy:
You may as well know this too, Timothy, that in the last days it is going to be very difficult to be a Christian. (2 Timothy 3:1 TLB)
Yes, and those who decide to please Christ Jesus by living godly lives will suffer at the hands of those who hate him. In fact, evil men and false teachers will become worse and worse, deceiving many, they themselves having been deceived by Satan. (2 Timothy 3:12-13 TLB)
Is everyone in the evangelical community looking to the Bible for guidance … is only one side … if so, which one?
For there is going to come a time when people won’t listen to the truth but will go around looking for teachers who will tell them just what they want to hear. They won’t listen to what the Bible says but will blithely follow their own misguided ideas. (2 Timothy 4:3-4 TLB)
Are those 20 percenters — the ones who supported a candidate opposed to biblical values, as well as those who declined to vote — are they substituting their own values for the ones laid down in Scripture?
The prophet Isaiah:
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20 NASB)
God warned us through Paul what He will do if we disobey Him:
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28 ESV)
Whether the evangelical movement is irrevocably split or can reconcile in Christian unity may be less important than where we are in our individual walks with Christ.
In the end, He will call us to account for our words and deeds, not hold us responsible for the larger church movement.
PRAYER: O merciful and mighty Father God, our hearts break for the failure of our witness. You called us to be light to a fallen world so that men and women would see our good works and give You the glory, but we’re stumbling about in the dark ourselves. Lord, speak into our hearts with Your words of wisdom. Forgive us our pride and self-importance and recast our gaze to the road You light for us, to that straightened path You’’ll make for us, through the narrow gate You told us to find. Lord, you’ve given us a choice: help us choose life. In Jesus name. Amen
- Do you see doctrinal splits within the various Christian denominations (Catholic and Protestant) and even within the ranks of evangelicalism? Do they matter to you? Does this matter to you, or do you toss it off as “inside baseball,” just the stuff for the full-time paid Christians? Has this event stayed under your radar?
- What effect do you think conferences and forums, such as the one held at Wheaton College, have on the body of Christ and its internal connections? What effect do you think they have on the external world when their deliberations are covered extensively by secular media?
- Do you think discussions about the divisions within Christendom (whether among evangelicals or within denominations) weakens our fellowship? Do you believe the body of Christ should refrain from such discussions and focus solely on the spiritual matters that bring us together?
- Jesus Christ prayed for unity in His church. He also said His mission was to proclaim the Truth. Has His church remained unified, and does it proclaim the Truth? If you could pick one quality or the other — “unity” or “truth” — which would you value more? Why? Can you understand why your neighbor might disagree with you?
4 thoughts on “Doctrine Vs. Unity: A False Choice?”
Exactly. That is why I am confused as to your approach to what I believe is/was the main point of your article (ie, the quoted text above).
While you opted for the contemporary ‘politics’ reference to demonstrate a division within the body of Christ (which truly does not exist — it is only the institution man has built regarding the Christ), we see in the Greek Text (ie, the New Testament), that similar divisions existed 2,000 years ago. We see this with the division between the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers. We see this also in Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth (chapter 11) as well as in his other epistles (Philippians, Galatians, Ephesians, et al).
Please forgive me if I missed the point of this article. But it really has me scratching my head. 🙂
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Karl — No need to apologize if we did not connect on this article! I appreciate your attentiveness in reading it and will defer to your scholarship on the points of church history that you noted. I used the term “body of Christ” to avoid a lengthy paragraph defining the word “church,” which is the institution man created, as you say, but it could range from a household worship service to the entire universal entity. Also, I wanted to avoid delving into who actually qualifies as a Christian or an evangelical or even as born-again, although all terms were used, often improperly and always imprecisely, in the media articles I saw. So, the “division” I referenced within the body of Christ is the institution. Yes, there have been divisions throughout church history (thus, my question: has there ever been unity?). So, assuming we recognize there have been many divisions, here is one more. One difference for me between this split and the previous ones is that this is the one I am living through and the one I am accountable for, not those that occurred previously. In the end, I am certain the Master will want to see my stewardship of His plan for my life, not whether I am on one side of a political debate or another. Another difference for me between this division and the previous ones we both acknowledge having occurred is that this one is being played out in public in real time and is being reported on (often) by hostile secular press. Finally, this division has not run its course. Your comments are always welcomed here. I appreciate your taking the time to respond.
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1. Do you see doctrinal splits within the various Christian denominations (Catholic and Protestant) and even within the ranks of evangelicalism? Do they matter to you? Does this matter to you, or do you toss it off as “inside baseball,” just the stuff for the full-time paid Christians? Has this event stayed under your radar?
– It is bothersome to the point that with the small boundaries there are several churches all with the same Bible, same God, but do nothing to try and unite – even once in a while. It reminds me of a bit of snobbishness I came across about what version of the Bible one uses. Seemed to me people judged others on that. However, I believe the Church will fail regardless because they have slowly succumbed to the wishes of the secular in order to get a larger congregation, more money. As long as money is a primary need of any church, then God does not have control of the Church, the world does.
2. What effect do you think conferences and forums, such as the one held at Wheaton College, have on the body of Christ and its internal connections? What effect do you think they have on the external world when their deliberations are covered extensively by secular media?
– No effect at all. Not unless the Church leaders can be honest and accept to diminish their Church for faith instead of larger congregation and more money.
3. Do you think discussions about the divisions within Christendom (whether among evangelicals or within denominations) weakens our fellowship? Do you believe the body of Christ should refrain from such discussions and focus solely on the spiritual matters that bring us together?
– I think it is relevant to have the discussion, I just don’t think anything can be done even if a solution or a core issue is agreed upon. For, if the Church defines itself more stringently, it’s good for the devout believers, but others will just to to a church what promises them good coffee, donuts and dinner.
4. Jesus Christ prayed for unity in His church. He also said His mission was to proclaim the Truth. Has His church remained unified, and does it proclaim the Truth? If you could pick one quality or the other — “unity” or “truth” — which would you value more? Why? Can you understand why your neighbor might disagree with you?
– I believe the Christian church does have unity, they seem to all use a similar Bible, preach the word of the Bible, God and Jesus Christ, however, truth could be evaluated, but just like we have so many denominations, are we sure we know what the truth is. The truth is for me, God Created the World, he sent is only son to suffer and take away our sins, he died, came back to life and will return for us ASAP. 🙂 When many Christians argue truth, it’s the details, not the story. The story has not changed. The denominations of Churches to me are mostly man-made, not a true division based on the Bible.
– Just to answer the question a second time; unity in belief yes, however not in congregation. Unity in truth, the Bible agrees, but just like we have so many Bible translations, even the “truth” can be argued. But as I mentioned, once we quit arguing about the side issues and focus on the story, does it matter when Jesus dies, how many people went to the tomb, how many people were at the tomb, it matters that we all agree Jesus was not there. God Bless
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Thank you for your thoughtful comments! I especially like your comment that the basic story remains the same among the denominations, even though the details become the stuff of disagreements. This was a difficult topic for me to handle, but I do believe there are denominations, and individual churches, that see fissures because believers see the Bible as authoritative, while others — who, as you point out, are there for the doughnuts — want to create their own theology. God bless you and your ministry!