Perhaps it’s time I look a bit at what I think about ‘Christian Unity’ when faced with those who would say they are Christians, but who probably think rather differently about their faith than me.
I enjoy going for runs, and for the last few years I have used my jogging time to listen to podcasts. Mostly this has been one of a number of Christian podcasts, either looking at various theological, philosophical or moral issues, or hearing some Christian’s testimony.
A number of weeks ago, while out for a run, I listened to an interview with a well known individual who is also a Christian. It was an interesting and enjoyable interview, but one thing that particularly struck we was that this person said was that Christianity was essentially ‘about love and kindness’.
I would agree that love in particular is a very important part of the Christian faith. After all ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16), and “three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). But for all its importance, I am uneasy about this being defined as the essence of my faith. We need to look at some of the Bible’s other teachings also when we face the challenges of life and I can’t see how ‘love and kindness’ on its own can help us make sense of and face up to injustice, wars and other evils that we encounter. And surely it could be the case that we focus on love and kindness with only a marginal place for God – if indeed any place at all. But can such a focus really by Christianity? Don’t we need to make sure that a love for and worship of Him is a part of what we consider essential.
An interview can only begin to sketch out something of what a person may believe, and will leave many things uncovered. I’m sure that any impressions I gleaned from that interview about what that person’s faith in God means to them were limited at best, and probably faulty in various regards. But nevertheless, from some of the other things said in the interview, I’m fairly sure that this famous individual and I will look at least at some things rather differently when it comes to our theology.
So, as some people may ask – is this person really a Christian? And can, or should we, demonstrate Christian unity towards them?
My answer to this first question – is this person really a Christian? – is that, fortunately, this is for God to say, and not for me to judge. For sure, there are times when it is not only appropriate but necessary to try to make humble and gracious ‘judgements’ about what others believe or teach. So if I was a leader of a church and someone suggests inviting someone to speak to the church at a service, then it’s right to consider them and what they believe and teach and make sure it isn’t contrary to the core of what we believe in our church congregation, and hence might be confusing or even harmful to those under my (as the leader) pastoral care. Or if they were a good, close friend, and I was concerned that what they believe is going take them away from really loving and following God, then out of love I should try to graciously talk to them about that. But, for the most part, it is rarely our role to judge where someone stands before God, for who am I to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. (Romans 14:4 NLT).
And how about joining in with practical demonstrations of Christian unity with this person, or others of a similar theological stance? It might be that I feel strongly that God is guiding me to organise some activity or event that I feel passionate about, and that I feel is important for us to do as Christians, and I were to invite this person to be a part of it, and they – because of a difference in theology – feel that it’s not something they want to be involved with. That would be sad, but if it’s something that I feel convinced from Scripture is important, I still believe I should follow my convictions and press on with it, even if other believers feel that they cannot join with it. And similarly they may invite me to join with something that I feel is wrong, or unwise, and against what God teaches in the Bible. In this case I shouldn’t join in for ‘If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning’ (Romans 14:23 NLT).
But while there are differences, I suspect there are still many things which we have in common and which we would both agree are good. So if this person were to – say – organise an event to which I am invited to come along to, where we all join in together in worship and praise of God – should I then go, despite knowing there is a difference in theology in some matters. And to this I say, absolutely yes, I not only can, but should join in – God will be glorified, and that will be a little foretaste of what it will be like when all God’s people worship Him together when Jesus returns.
So let’s look for what we can do together that God will be glorified!