Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What to Look For in a Church-Part II

In the last post we discussed what is most important when it comes to church shopping. We discussed how to go about determining what is most important. The conclusion was to look at what is most stressed in Scripture. The way to determine what is most important in Scripture is to do a study on the themes of the books of the Bible. The three themes that are most prevelant in the letters of the New Testment are 1. Unity/love, 2. Persecution brought on usually by evangelism, and 3. Doctrinal purity. In this post we will discuss the first of the three themes of the New Testament epistles (letters)-Unity.

Before we do this however I want to make one observation. Notice in the last post that the emphasis was on the Bible. A good one-sentence summary of the last post could be: If you are shopping for a church, look for one that is built upon the firm foundation of the Bible. What are you to look for in a church? You are to look for a church built upon the Bible. A church built upon any other foundation is unstable. Now, what we will be doing in the following posts is discussing what a church built upon the Bible actually looks like.

The first characteristic of a church built upon the Bible is Unity. This characteristic will take a lot of explaining, because we live in a society that worships unity. Unity, in our culture, is the end all be all of our society. What is the problem then? It is not good enough to simply use Biblical words. Athiests and God-haters use Biblical words all of the time, but they pour their own twisted meaning into these words. One of the best ways of learning the reality of this is by sharing the Gospel with a Mormon. Mormon's use the same exact words that Evangelical Christian's use. Words like justification, sanctification, regeneration, glorification are constantly being used by the Mormons. This is the main reason why Mormon's have found greatest success in converting Baptists. They use the same words, but the meaning they put on these words is completely different.

You see, it would not mean all that much if I said, "I believe in God," if by "God" I meant "trees." In actuality (if this were the case) I do not beleive in "God" I just believe in trees, but I say that I believe in "God" because I am making "God" and "trees" synonymous. Almost everyone who lives in America claims to believe in "God." But their definition of who God is is not the same as ours. So in reality, although they claim to believe in God, they actually do not. They believe in something other than God and then just use the name "God" to identify it.

In like manner, almost every individual in our culture claims to be sold out for unity. Most Christians who hear this get excited and say, "Wonderful, because unity is what Christianity is all about." When I hear a person say that they are sold out for unity, my first question is, "Ok, so what is your definition of Unity." 99% of those who say they are sold out for unity are not actually sold out for unity, they are sold out for something other than unity, but then, out of ignorance, call it unity.

Let me illustrate. I go up to a man on the street named George. I say, "Hey, what is the most important element of a healthy society?"

George answers, "Unity!"

I answer, "Unity? Cool! Let me ask you though, what is unity?"

George answers, "Hmm, I guess I haven't thought much about that. But if I would have to nail it down I would have to say that unity has to do with accepting the fact that there is no absolute truth. Unity can only be accomplished when we embrace the fact that no one is right and no one is wrong. We are all on the path of learning. Unity has to do with accepting and embracing everything said by another person or group."

Do you see the problem? George claims to herald unity, but in actuality he does not herald unity. He heralds something other than unity, but then calls it unity. This really is what the call of Sola Scriptura is all about. Being Biblical does not just mean using Biblical words, but using them the way that the Bible does.

So when the Bible speaks of unity, what is it talking about? First of all it is important to point out that unity has nothing to do with being ok that you disagree with other Christians on doctrinal matters. Christians are not to embrace doctrinal/theological diversity. I am not saying that we cannot be unified with those of different theological persuasions, rather I am saying that unity does not involve embracing doctrinal diversity. I find that so many in our culture embrace such diversity.

I do not know how many people I have heard say something similar to this, "It is good for Calvinistic Christians to be around Arminian Christians so that they won't over emphasize the Sovereignty of God. It is also good for Arminian Christians to be around Calvinistic Christians so that they will not over emphasize the freewill that humans enjoy. Without these two theological camps coexisting in Christianity we would probably be in a big mess." The same sort of statements are said about charismatic and non-charismatic circles of Christianity. "It is good for Charismatic Christians to be around Non-Charismatic Christians so that they will not get too caught up in experience. Likewise, it is good for Non-Charismatic Christians to be around Charismatic Christians so they will not turn the Trinity into a Dualinity by neglecting the role of the Holy Spirit."

This logic, at the outset, sounds good. The only problem with it is that it is not grounded on the logic of the Bible. The Bible does not prize doctrinal diversity, rather the Bible prizes doctrinal purity. Think about it. If Christians disagree on Christian Doctrine (which is what has to be true if we are doctrinally diverse) then at least someone has to be wrong. God never rejoices when Christians embrace false doctrine, no matter how helpful it can be in bringing balance to the rest of Christianity. God rejoices when Christians are faithful to the Bible. Christians are never to rejoice in untruth.

If doctrinal diversity is not embraced by the Scriptures, what then is the correct response to dealing with doctrinal disagreements? Pursue doctrinal unity! What is the difference between doctrinal diversity and doctrinal unity? Doctrinal diversity is where two Christians hold mutually contradictory truths. Doctrinal unity is where two Christians believe the same things. What I am saying here will not fair to well in a culture that idolizes diversity (in thought and practice).

Christians are commanded in Scripture to "think the same thing" (Phil 2), to "Be of the same mind toward one another" (Rom 12). Unity is not had through putting our brains in our pockets. True unity has to be worked for. True unity is something that is only accomplished through blood, sweat, and tears. Being committed to doctrinal unity does not involve overlooking your doctrinal differences. It has to do with working together to come to a deeper knowledge of the truth. Do you agree with your Arminian or Calvinist brother or sister? Don't pretend that you are pursuing unity with them by putting your differences aside. Fight for unity! Fight for being like minded. This, of course, does not involve forcing your Christian brother or sister to your position. It involves working as a team to better understand the Bible for the sake of the glory of God, the edification of the church, and the salvation of souls.

Do you see how far off we can be? Our ideas are shaped by our culture in ways that we do not even realize. It is of utmost importance that we are continually going to the scriptures to be told what to believe, to be shown where we are wrong.

We are commanded in the Scriptures to be like minded. This is not an option. We are to work for unity--true unity--unity based on thinking the same things. I am not saying that unity is not accomplished till you have worked out all of your doctrinal disagreements. What I am saying is that true unity produces a desire for like mindedness. True unity drives Christians to want to think the same things.

We have all heard people say similar things, "It's not about being right. It's about love." As in any lie, there is an element of truth in this. Love surely is the greatest commandment. However, true love rejoices in the truth. True love does not sit back with a smile when he knows that his bro/sis in Christ is holding to false doctrine, because false doctrine leads to anxiety, sin, a lack of confidence in God, an earthly mindset, deciet, false practice, false assurance, broken relationships, and many other things. True love pursue's the truth in unity.

The purpose of this post was to introduce the topic of unity. This introduction only focused on one small aspect of unity. I wanted to expose one of the most common misunderstandings of what unity is. The majority of Christians who are "all about unity," are actually not "all about unity." They are are "all about" something other than unity (doctrinal diversity) and then call it "unity." In the next post, we will look further into unity, what it is, how it is accomplished, and how to identify it for the sake of finding a biblical church.


Luke said...


Were the Reformers misunderstanding unity in saying, "In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity?" They were not influenced by modern or postmodern relativism!

your thoughts!


Luke said...


Just one more question that will hopefully illicit some helpful qualifiers to what you were saying. How does Romans 14:5 fit into your dicussion on unity?

"One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each should be fully convinced in HIS OWN MIND." (ESV)


Jimmy Snowden said...

I really do not see diversity as a good thing when it suggests that someone has to be right and someone has to be wrong. Romans 14:5 does not have to do with right and wrong, it has to do with right and right. According to Paul (the one given authority by Christ--which means everything) observing certain days (or eating meat sacrificed to idols) contained no moral right or wrong. Eating meat for the Christian is only wrong if it is either 1. done in such a way as to offend another brother, or 2. not done in accordance with faith.

Having a disagreement over something like this (something that does not involve right/wrong-morality/immorality)is much different than disagreeing over the commandments and teachings of the Bible. In other words, I do not celebrate the fact that some Christians encourage missionary dating (where a believer dates an unbeliever). Because it is an issue of right and wrong. Diversity in this instance is not a good thing.

In regard to the reformers: I am not into being happy about Christians believing and practicing wrong things no matter the degree of importance. Once again, many may point to Romans 14 at this time and say, "Hey wait, but Romans 14 seems to celebrate diversity." Even if the people at Rome thought their actions to contain moral value (outside of the two exeptions stated earlier) Paul is teaching that eating and not eating, observing and not observing says nothing about a certain believers morality or immorality. Pauls statements were not merely practical in nature, they were also informative. Paul was teaching them that certain things for the Christian were neither moral or immoral, neither right or wrong.

In regard to beliefs: beliefs do not fall under the Romans 14 issue, because they are not conscience driven issues. When two Christians disagree doctrinally either one has to be right and the other wrong, or both have to be wrong, or both have to right to a point (and then wrong to a point). The point is that either way, when Christians disagree on doctrine, someone is teaching something false. If by "non-essentials" the reformers were talking about conscience driven issues I will sound the loudest "AMEN" in the building. But if by "non-essentials" they are referring to right/wrong-morality/immorality, I really do not find any scriptural warrant for it.

Disagreements on morality/immorality-right/wrong need to worked out. Believers on all sides of the issues need to join hands for the sake of coming closer to the truth. Church government, eschatology, war, predestination etc. Chrsitians ought to work together to come to truth. The color of the church's carpet, eating meat sacrificed to idols, what movies to watch/not to watch (outside of pornography and other explicitly sinful films), what kind of a car to get etc. Christians ought to celebrate diversity in these areas.

Christians are also to celebrate ethnic, cultural (in so far as it does not go against the clear teaching and practice of scripture, i.e. what about someone who comes from a culture that prizes cannibalism), personality (in so far as it does not go against the clear teaching and practice of scripture, i.e. I have a flip-out-and-kill-people type of personality), social class, age etc.

Pastor Luke said...


You are the first person I have ever read or heard say that Christians do not have unity if they are not on the same page regarding eschatology. I would like to propose the following critiques to your statements:

1. Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 9 are about right and wrong issues. If they were not there would be no such thing as a "weaker" brother. Paul clearly teaches that one of the brethren is wrong, there is no question about that. Paul does not deal with it as if they are both right or as if their decision or conviction on a matter is void of ethical value.

Romans 14:2, "the weak person eats only vegetables." This is a right and wrong issue as it is the weak persons right to eat meat and the one eating meat is perfectly right to do so. While it may not be wrong to limit freedom, it is wrong to do so for the wrong reason. The vegetarian who is so because he doesn't like meat is in a position of amorality. The vegetarian who is so due to conviction from the Bible is plain wrong, they are a weaker Christian whose beliefs are deficient.

I don't know how else to take his argument.

2. There is a false distinction between issues of application and issues of doctrine. Application and doctrine have equal moral value. One's opinion on Church carpet may very well, in their mind, be based upon doctrinal foundations. They may be weaker but coming from their perspective this is an issue of doctrine or morality. Some use this in regard of musical style. I have heard the argument that since, doctrinally, God is a God of peace not of confusion any music that sounds confusing to their ears is from satan and not God. I believe that all music in every style can be used to worship God and the fact that God is a God of peace has nothing to do with my perception of various styles of music. But, the moment one bases their position on what they percieve to be Biblical truth it is now a matter of which you'd say we must be united without diversity.

In the end, your insistence that we need to be united on eschatology but not carpet color is essentially deficient. You must also say, that if you base it on scripture you must either be proven that it is not a matter of truth or be perfectly united.

3. There is a false assumption made when one thinks that unity among diversity of doctrine promotes a degree of relativism. The reformers were not in any way, ever, saying what you are here. Their point, as mine as well, the non-essential issues where diversity is necessary are non-essential to the degree of revelation given on a particular issue.

The reason why I am presently serving as an Amillinnieal pastor with 2 other pastors who are, one comitted to Postmillenialism and the other the national spokesman for Chosen People ministries (a strong Premillenial ministry). I do celebrate diversity here not because the truth does not matter, but because we are finite people dealing with a very small amount of revelation that is not straight forward and explicit on this issue.

The reason why I'll joyfully submit to the teaching of my premillenial pastor and not a pastor who is of the homoiousia camp is due to the vast amount of explicit teaching, including the theological implications based upon such a belief.

The reformers determined what was essential based upon the clarity of God's word on a particular issue. We must do likewise, if not we'll end up in Churches that are less than 10 or 15 people, and at that for a short time. If we can't agree to disagree on some things and yet retain intimate unity then there is a problem of pride in our hearts.

4. All this to say that you bring out a much needed point. While I do not believe it will ever, ever, be possible to achieve, anywhere, the degree of agreement you propose must exist for there to be unity, I do agree with you that there is a lazy, relativistic, overly simplitic acceptance of diversity without any serious attempt to bring unity of mind. We should pursue it, but with humility and genunine Biblcial love for one another. We can, without compromise, know the joys of intimate christian fellowship with diversity. I would go so far as to say that if a calvinist and arminian can't know deep intimate genuine unity then there is something other than doctrinal disagreement plauging them.

Jimmy Snowden said...

Luke thank you for your comments, and critiques. When I wrote this post, right before I finished I said, "I do not want to communicate to anyone that I am saying that if you disagree with someone on doctrinal issues that you cannot be unified with them." That is why I inserted the third to last paragraph on the post which says,

"I am not saying that unity is not accomplished till you have worked out all of your doctrinal disagreements. What I am saying is that true unity produces a desire for like mindedness. True unity drives Christians to want to think the same things."

I did not say that unity is produced ONLY when we have attained likemindedness, but rather that unity is that which produces in us a desire to work toward likemindedness.

I think this is expressed in this very conversation. You do not want me to be wrong. You desire for me to know the truth. You do not want me to go off into something dangerous. In regard to Romans 14 you do not want me to swallow hook line and sinker a non-essential because, whether non-essential or not, it has massive implications for how you do church and everything else. This conversation is wonderful, because you desire me to be more biblical. I am responding because I desire you to be more Biblical. We have not attained likemindedness (completely), but we are pursuing it. This is doctrinal unity being pursued.

In regard to Rom. 14: I think you brought up some really good points. Good enough to make me doubt my stance on it. However, i am not convinced. Right now I am a bit to busy to discuss further on this issue. But I do want to look into it when I have some more time on my hands. Could you send me (via email) some of the most convincing resources which you have struggled with on this passage pleeeaseee! Both those you agreed and disagreed with. Thanks

Jimmy Snowden said...

Just to clarify. When I said, "n regard to Romans 14 you do not want me to swallow hook line and sinker a non-essential because, whether non-essential or not, it has massive implications for how you do church and everything else."

The non-essential of Romans 14 is a faulty interpretation of 14:2.