Monday, December 03, 2007

The opportunities difference gives us

"I believe that it is a real possibility—even likely—that God does not want absolute doctrinal unity. In fact, practically speaking, I think it would do more harm than good. I believe that doctrinal disagreements are healthy for the church. When there is conflict between opposing options, the issue at hand is understood at a more profound level than is possible in the absence of the conflict. Conflict, in the end, can bring about a deeper conviction of the truth. When there is no conflict, there is no iron sharpening iron... " C Michael Paton, Doctrinal Disagreement to the Glory of God. Not to mention the opportunity for learning from one another, loving others that the presence of difference creates... Maybe that's a function of living in relationship with God the Trinity...

Working UCCF means living daily with difference among our staff & relay teams and within the Christian Unions. We have unity on matters in our doctrinal basis of fellowship. But beyond that are a vast array of areas about which Christians have convictions. Most of those so-called secondary issues are important matters of belief about God and his people. Their secondary status isn't to say they don't matter, it's to say that I can stand in wholehearted Christian fellowship with someone whom I differ with on those matters, without downplaying the issue. And that means living with diversity and difference. Maybe that's a function of living in relationship with God the Trinity...

I enjoy the differences because it keeps me examining my convictions, because it means I'm frequently shown that it's possible to, for example, not be a Calvinist and still be humble (!), or not be a Charismatic and still be hungering for God and wanting the church to be built up and strengthened. Loving those with whom I agree is fairly straightforward (ish) - loving those with whom I differ on many matters is a bigger challenge, a bigger opportunity to love the church. Not by using a sword to force unity, but gathering around the word to face what God says, and then learning to love even when the differences remain. Maybe that's a function of living in relationship with God the Trinity...

Further reading - Why have a Doctrinal Basis.... we ally ourselves with the gospel and there find unity;


  1. I disagree... but is that healthy?

    "...God does not want absolute doctrinal unity."

    Yet he wants us to worship Him in spirit and in truth. There are elements of disagreement in which it is surely healthy for the Church: difference of gifts and roles, cultural backgrounds and understandings, conscience, faith, etc. Lived out in grace and love, these demonstrate the gospel of God.

    But if God seeks those to worship him in truth, for who he truly is and what he's truly done, according to the revelation he has given us, then surely he wants his people to agree on these things in worship of him?

    Surely the better point to make is that we can disagree on doctrine in a manner which is for the upbuilding of the church, full of grace and truth, shows forth the gospel and thus glorifies God? Against postmodern sensibilities, disagreement is not necessarily and always evil, and unity is not necessarily and always glorifying to God. So our aim is not doctrinal unity at all cost, but to glorify God, in which we may disagree to his glory but still aim at unity in a gospel-shaped way, desiring that we glorify God still more together in his truth.


  2. PS I should've said, "I disagree in part." Not in whole, clearly.

  3. I guess I'm wondering if learning to live with difference and love one another might be preferable to the presence of divisions/denominations... but that's not fully thought through or remotely water tight as a view. And both are about how to live with life in this imperfect age where the church is populated by people like me whose minds aren't as renewed as they eventually will be.

  4. I also beg to (healthily) disagree (in part)!

    In the new life that Jesus has given us, we are to bear with one another, and if we have complaints, to forgive (Col 3:13). But this doesn't mean that it is God's will to sin against one another, to provide an opportunity for forgiveness. It seems a bit like the end justifying the means, or at least a confusion around the issue of God's sovereignty.

    Another question that springs to mind is about the existence of conflict within the Trinity? I haven't thought about it much, but I understand that the persons of the Trinity work together in unity, yet have the fullest love possible in that relationship.

    That said, disagreement on doctrinal issues provides a wonderful example for Christians to express love and patience, and "with one heart and mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ". It's an issue of sanctification, and therefore we long for our unity to be made perfect when Christ comes again.

  5. I'm not sure I want to agree completely with CMP's thought that God doesn't want unity, what I was intruiged by in the quote was how we can make the best of difference.