The Blessings of Theological Unity
Last week, I authored a couple posts that drew a lot of reaction and comment. Readers of this blog know that I’m not often wading into theological controversies or choosing sides in the latest Evangelical fads. So, last week was a bit of an anomaly. But it also taught me a lot.
In all of the excellent conversation, the Lord pressed home for me precious theological unity is to the life of faith and partnership in the gospel. I concur with the psalmist who rejoiced, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity” (Ps. 133:1). And given that good and pleasant union I well understand the apostle’s exhortation, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
But genuine unity must be grounded in the truth. When our Master prayed for the unity of His disciples, He did so only after praying for their immersion into the truth. ”Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. … I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:17, 20-21). We must root the tree of unity in the soil of truth. Being sanctified by the truth of God’s word could not be more important than in matters of theology, in words about God, our only, loving, saving, coming, sovereign God. For the Father seeks those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). So we confess: “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place” (Ps. 51:6).
Unity is precious in proportion to the truth on which it’s based. Truth is precious even where there is no unity. Even when truth divides it remains precious. We habitually forget what divine favors flow from locking arms in the truth.
As I’ve reflected a little on the last week, I’ve cherished a few things that spring from theological unity in the truth:
Happiness. Theological unity leads to happiness. Think about it. The persons we’re most likely to rejoice with are the persons who love and understand God the way we do. Our joy is increased by our common embrace of the truth about God. The more important the truth, the more important the unity, and the more glorious the happiness of our fellowship.
Trust. Where theological unity exists, trust reigns. We rest in the confidence that–whatever the circumstance–the brother or sister next to me thinks about and serves God the way we do. Their thoughts are molded by the same God-honoring verities revealed in holy Scripture. Conversely, mendacity destroys trust.
Disagreement. Here’s a hidden benefit. When a group rejoices in the same theological truths–especially on the main matters–it enables them to retain trust and love for one another <i>while they disagree on other matters</i>. Groups bound together by sound theology find themselves able to go to “war” with each other over a host of secondary matters and still leave the table knowing they’d rather be in the foxhole with the very men they just “battled” with. When truth is held by all, disagreement almost never threatens unity but strengthens it. It’s counter-intuitive, but disagreement where men and women hold the same view of God actually leads to greater love for one another.
Focus. You don’t know how precious focus is until you’re pulled away into theological controversy. The controversy can clarify our focus on the theological issues at hand. But we also feel the controversy distracting us from more glorious pursuits. We feel the brakes applied in our souls, the wheel turned to the left or right, and the destination disappearing in the rear view mirror. But let a group commit itself to the same truths about and from God and you’ll see a group possessed by uncommon focus and godly ambition. That’s one of the gifts of theological unity.
Now, sometimes we must work hard for theological unity. We battle a number of misconceptions, from “theology doesn’t matter” to “theology always divides.” The group that downplays the importance of the truth about God and opts for unity based on something else (usually appeals to love) will for a while experience a unity of sorts. Things can be really good. But here’s what they lose: marrow in their spiritual bones, ballast in their wind-tossed boats, the north star for wandering nights, the God who calls us to know Him and enjoy Him.
In the final analysis, there is no knowing God without theology. Or,said another way, there is no knowing God without these words about God. Our knowledge of God gets embodied in the language of theology. Where we disagree theologically, we’re like two persons who think they have a friend in common. At first, they give brief descriptions and references that lead them to believe they’re describing the same person. Then one remarks on a quality the other doesn’t recognize. They look at one another askance. They try to clarify but that leads to another discrepancy in description. Finally, when the discrepancies pile up, they realize they don’t know the same person at all. So it may be with those who try to maintain unity with others who do not know their God. Sooner or later the discrepancies will pile up and we’ll have to conclude we don’t know the same God. It’s better that we realize and acknowledge the mistake sooner rather than later. The unity of God’s people is too precious.
I’m beginning the week rejoicing in the precious gift of unity in the truth. I hope you are, too.