13 Sept 2020
We are familiar with the prayer of the Lord Jesus in John 17.
“And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one ” (vs11).
There is no doubt that one of the main concerns of the Lord Jesus for His disciples, church and people is unity, a unity that is reflective of that within the trinitarian God. But we are aware that there are deep cleavages in Christendom today – some of which should not be, but some are because of doctrinal differences.
Christians bodies of all sorts are urged to sink their differences and to present a united front. The ecumenical movement arose from this; the working principle employed by this movement is that all doctrinal views by various groups within Christendom are facets and fragments of God’s truth, and should therefore be regarded as, in some way, complementary to each other. The call by this movement is therefore to fuse all these different insights. This conception should be regarded as a half-truth and we know that a half-truth treated as a whole truth becomes a complete untruth. There is agreement that all groups have much to learn from one another and there is a tendency to misunderstand the views of others unfavourably. However, it is very important that one’s view and the views of others are to be brought to the touchstone of Scripture, to be evaluated and scrutinised in the light of what has been revealed in the BIble. We are to test all the words of men by the authoritative Word of God, to accept only what Scripture endorses, and to reject all that is contrary to it.
Often we wrongly conclude that the differences in question are small and minor – somewhat like little cracks on the surface of an otherwise solid wall. Oftentimes, this assumption is wrong. Some of the cracks are actually signs of structural disintegration. The wall is cracked because it is not built on the same sound foundation. Do not expect that the remedy is to cement up the cracks. Sham unity is not worth preserving; the real unity Christ prayed for in John 17 will only come about when the sections of the wall which rest on unsound foundations are dismantled and rebuilt.
We need to distinguish the non-essentials from the essentials. We need a greater measure of discernment to distinguish essentials which cannot be compromised and those matters of secondary importance.
The primary Christian truths should be kept intact: those which relate to the person and work of Christ, as defined in the Apostles’ Creed and the NIcene Creed, together with the great Reformation emphases on the supreme authority of Scripture, the atoning death of Christ, the justification of sinners by grace alone through faith alone, and the indispensable ministry of the Holy Spirit: on these we must insist. To deny the divine-human person of Jesus Christ is anti-Christ (1 John 2:18;4:1) and to deny the gospel of free grace is to deserve the judgement of God (Gal.1:6). We need also to discern that some practices and teachings are indirectly undermining the above primary Christian truths eg. the teaching that the authority of Scripture should be supplemented by traditions and fresh ?revelations from the Holy Spirit given to contemporary ?prophets, implying that the Scripture is not fully and supremely authoritative.
The combination of unity in the primary truths and freedom in the secondary (non-essentials like the forms of baptism; a place for liturgy, formal and informal worship; understanding of eschatology regarding tribulation,millennium and the like), while preserving love in all situations, is often summarised as “In truth unity, in doubtful matters liberty, in all things charity (love)”. Perhaps we can add “in half-truths, no compromise”, for we are not unaware that many heresies begin with half-truths or distortions of the primary truths. Let us not forget that the enemy can quote Scripture and his speciality is to distort Scripture and to deceive even the elect.