Thursday, October 06, 2005

Unity or Unending Warfarre

An Opinion Piece
by Dennis E. McFadden

One of the more articulate voices for the ABCUSA center-left has been Timothy Bonney, a pastor in the Mid-America region with experience on the ABCUSA General Board. He blogs against the PSW proposed withdrawal from ABCUSA by saying, "Sadly, the ABC of the Pacific Southwest's region board has chosen to seek to take PSW out of the ABC/USA. They have chosen uniformity over the unity of the church of Jesus Christ." (

From my perspective, one of the most interesting arguments being advanced by the left has to do with our unity in Christ. In defense of unity, voices such as Dr. Roy Medley and Dr. Tony Campolo have invoked the High Priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17. Jesus petitions the Father, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23). Jesus links his call for unity with the ecbatic evangelistic end that the “world may know.”

What sensitive Christian can fail to be moved by a direct petition by our Lord Jesus Christ? How can we allow ourselves to engage in petty wrangling over issues of biblical interpretation while a world is watching, judging, and rejecting our message due to our own descent into unseemly church fights?

Spiritual unity in the church of Jesus Christ must be maintained as a pre-eminent value. Paul exhorted the Ephesians to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). But such spiritual unity is not the same as the organizational oneness of administrative units.

The plea for spiritual unity calls all of us up short in our pursuit of our own agendas when dialoging with sisters and brothers who differ from us regardless of whether the differences are over eschatology, baptism, balancing justice and evangelism, or the specific sequence of events in the ordo salutis, the order of salvation.

However, the use of John 17 proves too much. Ironically, some of the same people using our Lord’s High Priestly prayer in John 17 to argue against institutional separation in the ABCUSA are the very ones shouting the loudest that we must lift high our “Baptist” principles. Somehow, they do not fear that the proud chauvinism of “Baptist distinctives” is a threat to unity with our Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Lutheran, or Pentecostal sisters and brothers, merely with those claiming to be Baptist. If the holding of views certain to keep us separated from organizational unity with our sisters and brothers in other denominations are not a violation of the spirit of our Lord’s prayer, then how can a strategic decision to go our separate ways organizationally be any more a breach of that same spiritual unity?

What of the claim that organizational unity within the ABCUSA should exert a uniquely firm hold over evangelical Baptists, inducing them to swallow their theological qualms about mainline heterodoxy and just "go along" with those on the left? If unity among Baptists were to be the criterion, then why not work to unite with the numerically more prevalent and more orthodox fellowships of Baptists here in America? Some Baptist groups boast ten times the numbers of members as the ABCUSA, even counting our dually aligned folks. And, with the exception of that portion of the ABC subscribing to Roger Williams Fellowship ideals (including many in the middle of the spectrum), the vast majority of Baptists in America hold firmly to an historically orthodox view of biblical authority. Claims that we alone represent the "true" Baptist principles sound particularly hollow in light of the empirical and demographic reality."

Indeed, the call for withdrawal is being made for the very same reason that denominations have utility in the first place, because it furthers the cause of Christ to have his people refrain from mission compromising, organizationally distracting, and “embarrassing to the watching world” fights. The arguments for separation are predicated on an honest evaluation of the clash of worldviews dividing us in the ABCUSA. The time invested in wrangling over these issues has proven distracting at least and sinful at most. Have we not reached a point where, as Pastor Glenn Gunderson puts it, “We need to bless each other and move on with our own ministries for Jesus Christ.” Well said, Pastor Glenn!

After all, as Pastor Bonney has stated so well: “I'm just amazed that a long time American Baptist wouldn't know that the local ABC churches are autonmous bodies of believers in Christ who choose what denominations, regions, associations and other organizations they will partner with.”

[This op-ed represents my own ruminations and is not to be confused with any official, official position, or entity within the PSW]

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