Kevin DeYoung writes a very thoughtful reflection on Christian unity from an Evangelical perspective.
Towards a a Theology of Church a Unity
By Kevin DeYoung
If there are any aspiring doctoral students out there looking for a profitable subject for research and writing, may I suggest to you the subject of church unity. For the past hundred years, church unity has largely been a liberal concern. At times the concern has been an admirable reminder, or a necessary rebuke, that our unity cannot be merely “spiritual.” At other times, unity has been a blunt instrument with which to bludgeon conservatives who don’t share the same doctrinal latitudinarianism and ecumenical pipe dreams. “Unity” has become a byword among evangelicals, especially those in mixed denominations who can be shamed into silence by the mere whisper of the word.
But no matter the abuse, we must conclude from Scripture that the union and happy communion of the saints are precious to God.
Just as importantly, it’s easy to see how problems of “unity,” even among Bible-believing Christians, continue to baffle and confuse. Can Baptists partner with Presbyterians? Can we associate with those who associate with those we wouldn’t associate with? What is the role for denominations? What is the role for broad parachurch ministries or organizations? How should we understand confessional identity? If we are to have unity in essentials, what are those essentials? Where should Christians agree to disagree? Where should churches agree to disagree? What are the right doctrinal boundaries for churches, for denominations, for movements, for institutions, for friends?
I have a lot of questions racing through my mind about church unity. I started writing a book on the topic once, but it seemed too difficult and required a level of scholarship I wouldn’t have time for. The issues are complicated and tremendously important. Thinking through church unity is not a luxury, but required theological homework for any pastor, especially those belonging to imperfect denominations (all of them!) and working with various networks and broader coalitions.
So in an effort to get going on some of that homework, let me offer several points that can be drawn from Ephesians 4:1-16. This is the classic text on church unity (along with John 17) and the most practical for day to day church life. Make sure you read the sixteen verses before reading the following points I glean from the text:
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