RPM, RPM Volume 15, Number 31, July 28 to August 3, 2013

Do Mature Christians Pursue Unity or Do They Pursue Doctrine?

By Sam Crabtree

Executive Pastor, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis

This is of course a trick question, though not tricky. Paul's instructions are plain that we are to pursue both unity and doctrine. Further, pursuing both at the same time will be one indication that growth is occurring. "...till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men..." (Eph 4:13-14).

Some see doctrine as divisive, discordant, and disagreeable. Others see the avoidance of doctrinal clarity as the slippery slope to the church's undoing. So how can Christians grow in unity without compromising the church's foundations for unity, and yet simultaneously press for clarity in doctrine without becoming quarrelsome?

One way is by contending in love; that is, standing for truth in the face of error. "...but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ..." (Eph 4:15). People who grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ are the same ones becoming increasingly ready apologists for God's truth in order to graciously benefit God's people, balancing courageous firmness with tender love. One need not be a busybody nor a burdensome crank in order to correct someone for their sake. This is what Paul did in corresponding with the Galatians and Ephesians. He contended, but without being contentious. He fought the canker of seductive deception but not cantankerously. His was an attitude of pastoral contention, battling for doctrinal essentials but for the sake of the people in beholding God's glory. There is a holy tenacity that defends truth, even at great personal risk.

Such contending for truth is pivotal if the aim of evangelism and missions is worship. Worship presupposes knowledge. To worship God in truth is to approach him on the basis of his self-disclosure. To get a wrong answer to the question "What is God like?" is to go down a path of ignorance or superstition or idolatry. Because "deficient worship displeases God" [J.I. Packer, Knowing Christianity, p. 142], worship must be rigorously informed by revelation. "Untruth pollutes and disqualifies worship" [Bruce Leafblad, in a seminar on worship renewal at the 1999 BGC annual meeting]. There will be little unity in corporate worship if we sweep away precision in understanding just which God it is we are worshipping.

"The increasing abandonment of truth and moral absolutes in our culture, as militant diversity threatens all firm conviction, has dramatically influenced the evangelical mindset. The political spin doctors who specialize in deflecting attention away from truth onto feelings and relationships and styles have their counterpart in the evangelical tendency to avoid doctrinal disputes by casting issues in terms of demeanor and method rather than truth. Serious disagreements are covered over, while vague language and pragmatic concerns preserve hollow unity at the expense of theological substance and Biblical clarity and power." (John Piper, God's Passion for His Glory, p.24)

The way to keep the second commandment (love your neighbor as yourself) is not by abandoning the first commandment (love God without reserve). Clarity on important things (i.e., God) is a means to unity. People who cherish the same truths find themselves unified, seemingly without effort. That's why we throw ourselves into things like Sunday School, small group Bible study, Fighter Verse scripture memory, courses offered as part of The Bethlehem Institute, biblical preaching, and rigorous personal Bible meditation - for unity and doctrine... and maturity.

Desiring truth and love with you,

Sam Crabtree
Executive Pastor, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis

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