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Unity Based on Scriptures

May 21, 2007

Enumerating all the doctrinal causes of division among believers in Jesus would be a colossal task. Divisions exist over conversion doctrine, communion doctrine, predestination vs free will, eschatology, church governance, and a host of other issues. More fundamentally, there are divisions rooted in differences over the authority of scripture. Intelligent discussion of unity cannot proceed until the authority question is settled.

Authority is one of the most fundamental principles in Christianity. What does it mean for Jesus to be Lord? What does he command? How are we to follow?

There are three broad categories of belief on the authority of the scriptures, found among those who profess to be Christian. First, there are those (eg. Catholics) who hold that the teachings of the church hold equal authority with the scriptures. They maintain that the church’s interpretation of scripture is correct and binding, by definition. And they hold that the average person is not capable of correctly interpreting the scripture to validate the teachings of the church.

A second category of belief holds that some parts of the scriptures are outdated and no longer apply in the modern world. They believe that modern churches have the ability and the right to judge which scriptures are outdated and which still apply.

A third category of belief holds that the scriptures carry the complete and inerrent message of God. This belief maintains that the scriptures carry divine authority over the church in all ages, including the modern day church.

I think the first two categories are seriously flawed.

The first category errs by placing the church on the same level of authority as the scriptures. In Acts 17:11, we learn that the Bereans examined the scriptures to see if what Paul was preaching was true. Even the teaching of the apostle Paul, although confirmed by great miriacles, was not above being validated by comparison to the scriptures. And the ordinary Bereans were commended for examining the scriptures to see if what Paul said was true. Those who examine the scriptures today to verify the teachings of the church, are likewise worthy of commendation. If what is being taught is not backed up by scripture, it has no authority.

The second category errs by placing human reasoning above the scriptures. By judging which scriptures still apply, and which do not, this approach makes human judgment the ultimate source of authority. Step by step, this approach will cause the church to conform to the culture around it. On many familiar and controversial topics, some churches are abandoning clear teachings of scripture to adopt instead the standards of the modern world. In effect these churches have no standard other than their own human reasoning. They will eventually lose their reason for existing, if they have not already.

The last category has to be the starting point for Christian unity. Without a common soure of truth, we will not agree on what is true, even on the most fundamental questions. Unity between Protestants and Catholics cannot occur until there is agreement on the question of authority. Likewise, lack of agreement on the standard is a barrier to unity between the latter two categories.

For those who share the third category of beliefs, there should be great hope for unity. All that is needed is to identify who has been forgiven of sin through Jesus according to the scriptures, and to embrace all such people as brothers and sisters. Then we will proceed toward complete unity, as Paul taught:

Eph 4:11-13 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Christian unity does not require agreement or even understanding of every theological question. But it does require a common standard, and a common commitment of living under the lordship of Jesus. If those things are in place, as we are built up through the teaching of the scriptures we will all reach unity in the faith and knowledge of Jesus.

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2 comments

  1. Excellent thoughts Alan.Shalom,Bobby Valentine


  2. I enjoy your blog and appreciate your calm, scripture based comments on other blogs.



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