THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 134
The evil of disunity
[For archived articles please go to tonycrosscolumn.org.uk]
Over the last few years the Church of England and the Anglican Communion have slowly dissolved into warring factions. Whole churches have disagreed with other churches and in all the churches there are those who think one way and others who think in diametrically the opposite way. It has been a sorry spectacle. Hardly a good witness to the world. I suppose we could try to gather some benefit from it by saying that the church has been willing to face up to the issue of homosexuality and consider the consequences. Unfortunately, the truth is that the church only faced the issue when it was forced to.
The Anglican Communion is, however, only one out of many Christian Church groupings that is having to face the same question. It is a global issue because homosexuality is natural to all human societies across the world and, therefore, is to be found in all peoples wherever they are. Insofar as Christianity is global then it has a global issue to resolve.
Hitherto there has been very little resolved! Various resolutions have been passed and various statements have been made by various people and committees - but it doesn’t amount to much because at bottom there is real disagreement between honest, true and sincere Christians on the matter.
All Christian churches are going to have to come to some sort of arrangement as regards homosexuality sooner or later. They can hide but they cannot escape eventually making some sort of decision, even if it is only to wait and see for the time being!
I want to suggest in this article two basic assertions. The first is that the sort of unity that Christians have with one another is not based mainly on doctrine. It is based on a deeper human characteristic. The second point I want to make is that there is an evil of disunity that kicks in when unity at this deeper level is not celebrated.
1. Unity is not based primarily on doctrine.
If one looks back at the history of the Christian Church it reveals a catalogue of divisions and splits. They started right from the beginning, as indeed it was necessary they should. The process whereby the main body of Christians defined and redefined who they were and what they believed was in place from the earliest times. It was necessary in the first few centuries of Christianity while basic belief was being established and because heresies abounded. Many of these were very serious errors of doctrine and, had there not been a correction, the basic thinking of the church could have gone down a number of byroads. It could be suggested that the church went down a number of byroads anyway! And to some extent that would be true!
When it comes to the more obvious heresies it is not difficult for Christians to agree. But when it comes to ethics or what might be called the practice of Christianity then we are in a much greyer area - as evidenced by the current disagreement between Christians worldwide on the subject of homosexuality.
Is there any solution to this problem of periodic confusion among the ranks of Christians as to what is right and what is wrong? Or have we got to always go down the path of radical disagreement, split and schism and, eventually, a settled Christian mind of the matter?
I suggest that there is.
I think all Christians need to realise and accept that the real unity between them - the unity that is important - is not doctrinal or based on ethics. Instead they need to recognise that there will always be important differences in doctrine and ethics, and in other ways too, among Christians worldwide. Our different cultures will accentuate that. But we have a different sort of unity. A unity of the heart. And this unity is much more important.
What do I mean by the expression a unity of the heart?
I explain this term by looking at the way Jesus dealt with his disciples. Study the gospels carefully and it becomes very apparent that Jesus had to train and develop his disciples. Far too little attention has been paid to this training. They had to be trained to do their immediate job - which was to cope with overwhelming crowds that would have completely swamped Jesus if they had not been controlled. The disciples also had to be trained in their attitude - to each other and to those outside the larger group of disciples - for the future.
Imagine a huge crowd - say a thousand people. Imagine that they all wanted to observe what one man was doing and saying. Pandemonium! Unless they are shepherded and directed where to go, how to leave aisles between the groups, whether to stand or sit - and in other ways (for example - how to deal with a food break) - they would just become a rabble. Indeed, there was a real danger that the mindless crowd would crush Jesus and might do him an injury.
Now imagine that it was not a thousand people but five thousand! (Matt 14.21) It is obvious that the main day to day task of the disciples was vital - it was to manage the current occasion. This was especially true, of course, in the popular period of the ministry of Jesus. In addition of course there would also be the task of organising where the group slept, ate, rested, and where they went next (no doubt after consultation with Jesus) - and the route they took to get there. When there were these vast crowds they needed to plan ahead to find a level piece of hillside, or shoreline, into which they could funnel the crowds so that, eventually, they could all be quiet enough to hear what Jesus had to say to them.
To Jesus this group of disciples was a vital management group without which he could not have had the ministry he did have. The evidence is that there were great numbers of poor people in the countryside who had nothing better to do than go and hear an itinerant preacher who entertained them without charge. It comes across in the gospels again and again.
I believe the way Jesus dealt with his disciples is the key to what we are examining. If we want to know what Christianity is about we need to look at how Jesus taught and moulded his disciples. We have all the indications in the gospels.
So what do we know about what he taught his disciples? We know that he was teaching them all the time. Constantly talking to them - and of course they were constantly hearing his message to the general public (when they were not busy about some other task). He taught them that they were all equal in God’s eyes. He taught them that they must serve one another - counting the others better than themselves. He taught them to pray to a loving Father - whom he wanted them to call by his familiar family name of Daddy - and he told them to pray and go on praying as it was the secret of the Kingdom.
Nothing here about the importance of doctrine. Nothing about making sure that they believed the correct things. Nothing about expelling those not of like mind. Just a loving Father and love between themselves and to all people outside the group.
2. The evil of disunity
As a consequence, can we not assert that the sin and evil of disunity between Christians is far greater than we have hitherto suspected? Can we not say that being right with each other in our hearts is paramount? Can we not accept that our relationship - Christian to Christian - is absolutely top priority?
We are not talking here of what might be called ‘organic’ unity - for example that all Christians should worship in one church. Different churches are accepted as a necessary reflection of our diversity as human beings. But oneness of heart across the churches and groups and individual Christians should be paramount.
How is it, then, that we are letting doctrine and practice divide us? Should we not be hanging onto each other in love despite all? Should we not be saying that nothing will divide our hearts from each other, whatever disagreements we have about doctrine and practice?
How can we have become so closed off from our loving Father that we feel alienated from our brothers? Are we not all brothers and sisters under one Father? How could we let an argument about sexuality bring down an iron curtain between brothers in Christ? How could we be so blind?
Disunity between Christians of the sort I have described is evil and a bad witness. It should never happen. We need to find the way to be at one in heart and spirit - and to sort out our disagreements over time and with much prayer.
As for the idea that we expel a million Christians from our company because we don’t agree with them about homosexuals! It is incredible that we could ever get to this position! What a field day the devil is having! I wonder how many millions of people all over the world are being turned off religion, Christianity and their local church because of this totally wrong attitude of alienation between Christians!
The Christian gospel can be summarised in very few words. Anything more is our opinion. If you think that simplistic then just think for a moment of the many disputes of the past that have now utterly faded into history. ‘What was that all about!’ we now say. Angels on a pinhead! Usually it was about a power struggle between men. And if truth be told the present dispute may be seen in that light too!
We are called into a world wide fellowship of Christians. Let us be tolerant and generous in our fellowship. Let us not carp and dispute with each other to the extent that we shut off from fellowship. That surely is not the way of Christ. We must learn that Christian love leads to tolerance between Christians
We are one in Christ. Lets live that unity - a unity of heart - whatever our disagreements.