I remain unalterably convinced that unity between Calvinists and non-Calvinists in the SBC is not only possible, it is the will of God. If we do not unite, we are dishonoring Christ who redeemed us and intended us to be one people. Spiritual unity with other believers is not optional for Christians, it is essential – as essential as orthodoxy or orthopraxy in the church.
But I have seen my views both twisted and demeaned by those who assume that the call for unity is the call to lax doctrinal standards or a sloppy Christian living, the kind of ecumenism I was warned about in my childhood – let’s ignore doctrine and standards of holiness and just love Jesus together, in spite of what anyone believes or does.
That is not what I believe, that is not the kind of unity that the Bible teaches and that kind of unity would not bless Southern Baptists, it would destroy us. Sometimes, I wonder if some who misrepresent the view I (and others) advocate know that they are misrepresenting my view. I don’t know. But I know that it is much easier to dismiss a namby-pamby “let’s-all-join-hands-and-sing-kumbaya” kind of unity than it is to ignore the clear biblical teaching on the heart of Jesus for unity in his church.
What I would like to do in this post is clarify something. The call for unity is not a call for “peace at all costs.” It is not a demand that we unite with evil in the interests of peace. In fact, as Ecclesiastes tells us, there is a time for peace and a time for war (Ecclesiastes 3:8). Jesus, who poured out his heart for unity among his followers also took a whip to the moneychangers and called the Pharisees poisonous snakes and whitewashed tombs.
Jesus said something so shocking (in Matthew 10:34-39) that we tend to try to explain it away instead of dealing with what it really says.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
The call to serve Christ is a call to separation from anything and anyone who opposes the work of grace. Jesus promised that the world would hate us as it hated him and that we were in a war against it! We are an army advancing a kingdom – hostilities exist.
Our unity is not universal. Jesus understood that.
Paul also understood it. Paul, who exalted love as the highest value, who called the church to walk in unity and to do all it could to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace, who called on us to bear with one another and forgive each other as Christ has forgiven us, that same Paul had an understanding that at times, you had to stand and oppose sin!
He did so against Hymenaeus and Alexander. He told the Corinthians to put the sinner out of their midst. He, who railed against the division in Corinth, also called on Titus (Titus 3:10-11) when dealing with a man who sowed division, “to have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”
Both Jesus and Paul understood that there is a time for unity and a time for war.
I would like to reflect, for a moment, on when war is called for in the Body of Christ. Each of us must commit ourselves to being agents of God’s unity, to be Body-builders; using the weapons of love, forgiveness, grace, patience and kindness to combat our natural tendency toward schism and disunity. But there also comes a time when each of us must stand against evil, when we must face down and excise spiritual cancers that would destroy the Body of Christ.
The problem, of course, is telling the two apart.
Here are some biblical examples of times when it is appropriate to go to war, instead of seeking peace.
1) We divide from those who sow division in the Body.
Here’s what Paul said to Titus in Titus 3:9-11.
But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
First, he made a call to avoid division, to avoid foolish controversies (I’m not sure Paul could have been a blogger – that is our specialty, isn’t it?), dissensions and pointless quarrels about genealogies and fine points of the law. He calls such dissension as unprofitable and worthless.
There is a time when controversy is profitable and valuable. But we must make sure that we choose our fights well and only fight when such is the case.
But, when someone is a proponent of division, when someone continues to foster division in the church, there is a solution according to Paul. “Have nothing to do with him.” That is, I believe, both a call to church action and a personal tactic.
What do you do when you think someone is a purveyor of useless controversy and a sower of pointless discord in the body? Do you fight them? Do you argue with them? No. Controversialists love controversy. When you argue with them, it’s like alcohol to a drunk – you are just feeding their sin. The best way to deal with such divisive, controversialist, discord sowers is simply to ignore them.
But, do not miss the point. Unity is so important in the Body, that we must fight against those who uselessly and needlessly undermine it!
2) We divide from those who undermine the Gospel with False Doctrine
Hymenaeus was likely an Ephesian believer. He departed from the faith and began teaching what Paul called “irreverent babble” and claimed that his teachings led people into ungodliness. Paul had no patience with those who undermined the gospel or teachings that led to godliness.
Look at 2 Timothy 2:16-19
But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”
Then, again, in 1 Timothy 1:19-20, Paul told Timothy how he handled such a man.
By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
That’s pretty extreme, right? He handed him over to Satan! But that is not unusual with Paul. In Galatians, Paul says some pretty harsh things about those who tried to restore the Jewish law among Christians. He called on them to be damned and he wished that if they were so interested in circumcision, they would go all the way and emasculate themselves.
When the gospel was undermined, Paul did not play.
So, when we are dealing with disagreements among brothers in Christ, we must seek unity (without sacrificing conviction – see my series here on “Brick Walls and Picket Fences”). But when the salvation offered in the gospel is at stake, we must not compromise.
My view is that Calvinists and non-Calvinists in the SBC both uphold the gospel. A Calvinist, obviously, believes that he and those who share his views understand the implications of the gospel better than non-Calvinists. And a non-Calvinist obviously believes that he and those who share his views are closer to the biblical teaching than Calvinists. But only the most extreme Calvinist or the most ardent anti-Calvinist believes that the other side denies the gospel.
That means that this is a disagreement among brethren and we must seek to cooperate in unity, not to divide.
But, there comes a time to fight.
3) We must oppose the wolves among the sheep.
Scripture warns us that the church will always have its share of wolves in sheep’s clothing – those who claim to be followers of Christ but are really there to devour, not to disciple. We must constantly be on guard against them. Wolves can be doctrinal, they can be divisive, or they can demonstrate themselves through lifestyle choices.
We must not tolerate such among the Body.
In Jesus’ letters to the churches of Asia Minor, he gives harsh warnings to both the church of Pergamum and Thyatira for permitting “Jezebel” to operate in their midst. If you see a wolf among the sheep, you do not try to make peace. He is there for one purpose. Lunch.
Paul warned us, in Philippians 3:18, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.” Enemies abound. We must recognize them and remove them!
I could go on. Perhaps you will. My point is that there is a limit to the biblical command to be unified. Sometimes, to be obedient, we must stand and fight against those who would undermine, against the enemies of the Cross.
But I do not believe any of these conditions apply in the current SBC controversy. SBC Calvinists love Christ, the Cross and the Word. SBC non-Calvinists love Christ, the Cross and the Word. We should not treat one another like we don’t.
I will continue to call for unity. But our unity is not a “let’s ignore doctinre” unity. It is a “let’s put our disagreements in perspective” unity. Ours is not an ecumenical unity with those who have rejected the gospel, denied the Word, or embraced false gospels. It is a gospel-rooted unity; we have each been saved by Christ’s blood, baptized by the Holy Spirit and brought into the Body of Christ. We have a spiritual unity purchased by Christ, something he is passionate about. And we must not break that unity over the issues that divide us today.