Why Your Church Hates Other Churches

Unity won't be possible until the doctrine of the Trinity is taken seriously.

The church has undergone numerous splits from the Chalcedonian Schism of 451 to the Great Schism of 1054 to the Protestant Reformation of 1517 (ish). And each time, the split created a new distinct branch of Christianity like Oriental Orthodoxy (e.g. Coptic and Syriac Orthodox), Eastern Orthodoxy (e.g. Greek and Russian Orthodox), and Protestantism. But none of them fractured the faith like the latter.

Out of the Protestant Reformation have come Lutherans (1517), Anabaptists (1525), Anglicans (1534), Calvinists (1541), Presbyterians (1561), Baptists (1609), Quakers (1648), Methodists (1744), Episcopalians (1789), Mormons (1830), Seventh-Day Adventists (1844), Jehovah's Witnesses (1879), and Pentecostals (1906)--just to name a few.

That's not to say that a unified church is a homogenous one. To the contrary, one need only read Romans and James to see that diversity has always been part of the design. But where diversity conflicts with unity is when it creates segregation.

Baptists and Lutherans argue over the method of baptism, Presbyterians and Methodists argue over the efficacy of good deeds, and it wasn't until the Second Vatican Council of 1962 that Catholics started referring to Protestants as "separated brethren" instead of heretics. And for all the recent strides made in ecumenism, many denominations still refuse to fellowship with others for a variety of reasons. 

Eschatology

One of the more ironic reasons that some are fearful of unity in the present is based on their view of the end times. Particularly for those who hold to futurism, the pursuit of ecumenism is seen as a fulfillment of the prophecy in Revelation 17. They hold that this passage describes the judgment of a one world religion which, like the one world government, was inaugurated by one of the beasts of Revelation 13. As such, they believe that true faith must be marked by separation, not unification, to avoid becoming a part of this condemned system.

Unfortunately, this perspective relies on ignorance to the rest of John's writings, especially these words of Jesus:
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one--I in them and you in me--so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Unity through love is the church's testimony of God to the world. It's not a ploy of the devil, but a manifestation of the one Lord, one faith, and one baptism to which we all belong. In truth, division is more likely a sign of the devil's work than the work of the Spirit.

Hermeneutics

A second reason some fear unity is because they actually think Scripture discourages it. I just saw someone post this verse on Facebook in response to partnering with unbelievers on social issues:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?
The logic follows that if believers and unbelievers cannot work together, then believers who disagree ought to be equally cautious because another denomination's beliefs might technically be in darkness. But apart from misapplying a passage about sexual union, this reasoning disregards Paul's words about the importance of gospel proclamation, despite the motives of those proclaiming it.

These sorts of vigilante hermeneutics or interpretations are common among those that not only devalue unity externally with other denominations but internally. For example, congregationalists (churches without a strong, centralized government, like Southern Baptists) have run with the Reformation tenet of sola scriptura ("by Scripture alone") to the point where individual interpretation is more important than a corporate one. Of course, none of them would say that; rather, they would say that the Bible is their highest authority. But since that authority is dependent on the hermeneutic or interpretive method used, the individual becomes the highest authority. And nothing opposes unity more than the idolatry of the individual.

Soteriology

Probably the biggest reason that unity is feared concerns the integrity of the gospel. Evangelicals, in particular, are known for making this one of their primary distinctives. They read Paul's words to the Galatians and make it their sacred duty to preserve the gospel at any cost (assuming it needs to be):
Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God's curse!
Unfortunately, the truth of the gospel doesn't stop with the gospel. Because one's understanding of it depends on one's understanding of truth, every truth becomes a doctrinal litmus test. The problem is that this ends up being less about the gospel and more about metaphysical theories. And even though one's opinion on abortion or marriage equality has literally nothing to do with the gospel, they indicate the way in which a person perceives truth. Tests of fellowship don't get much simpler than reducing a person's beliefs to their voting records.

However, there should only be one test of fellowship: confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and the belief that he rose from the dead. Any requirement on ecumenism beyond that exhibits a modalist ecclesiology.

Like the heresy of old, this form of modalism disallows the church from bearing witness to God's three-in-one nature. Instead of showing unity amid diversity, a modalist church explains away diverse denominations as temporal manifestations. The church may have existed as the Acts church or even the Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches, but today it exists as... fill-in-the-blank. It's an immodest posture that positions its own denomination as the only contemporary expression of orthodoxy.

Unlike Jesus' prayer for unity, this is a heterodoxical view of the church. If God exists as three distinct persons in one essence, and we were called to be one as he is one, then churches today ought to accept that their distinctions should be unified under one spirit. Because ecumenism is not a matter of doctrinal compromise; it's a matter of submission to the Spirit that binds us.


photo credit: Coldwater Baptist Church via photopin (license) 
photo credit: BiaƂystok Basilica via photopin (license)

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