Saturday, August 1, 2009

Struggling with Unity and Baptism

I appreciate all of the comments on the previous post concerning unity and baptism. It is obvious that this is an area of concern and struggle for many of us.

In thinking about this issue, and in listening to your comments, I have come to a couple of conclusions:

1. Christ's church is to be united. I know that sounds very basic, but it needs to be said because we are so ultra-splintered into various denominations. As I search the scriptures, the only issue that I see the church told to divide over is the gospel itself. For example, in Galatians 1:6-9, "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." (ESV)

Nowhere in the bible do we see it commanded or suggested that churches divide over issues that are not core to the gospel message. Therefore, we ought to think about why most of our denominations are divided over issues that are not core issues.

Paul said it this way to the church in Corinth (and they has a lot of problems!), "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment." (I Corinthians 1:10)

2. Baptism is not an issue to divide over. Baptism is an important act that is full of deep meaning. I think we we would all agree on this. However, I would argue that it is not a core gospel issue. In the bible, we never hear anyone say, "Repent, believe, and hold to the correct view of baptism and you will be saved!"

Because it is not core to the gospel, I would argue that we should not divide over it. It is interesting that almost all Christians understand that the bible tells us to be united. However, there is much disagreement over baptism. Because we have clear understanding of the importance of unity (and can be more sure that our understanding of unity is correct than our understanding of baptism is correct), we should fault on the side of unity.

I'm not saying that other issues aren't important. If we are to be united, we will have to deal with the issues that divide us, such as the meaning of baptism, the structure of church leadership, God's role vs. man's role in salvation, whether or not women should be pastors, etc. These are not easy issues.

Despite this, we should emphasize unity and not be so fast to divide where we disagree.

Paul said in Ephesians 4:1-6, "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."(emphasis mine)


Jeff Nelson said...


I agree with your conclusion. I know this is a difficult issue. I can honestly say as a result of this discussion I have a clearer understanding of what unity should look like.


Eric said...


Thanks. I think one reason we struggle with this issue is that we have to separate ourselves from those who don't believe in the gospel. Since we have to take that stand, it may be that we have then gone too far and thought we needed to separate over less important issues than the gospel itself.

This is certainly a stretching discussion. I'm glad we can benefit from it.