There is an incredibly popular sentiment in contemporary Christian interactions regarding unity and division. You may have heard it before, especially if you’ve been involved in any conversations that fall even a little bit into the “comment war” category. It goes something like this:
Why does [insert theological topic] matter to you so much? Just love Jesus. All this fighting only makes the devil happy because Christians are being mean to each other. Remember, a house divided against itself. . .
And here are the two big problems with this kind of thinking:
- It believes that division and distinction are the same thing, when they aren’t (from either a biblical or linguistic perspective).
- It believes that “Christian unity” can happen without knowing – or caring – what Christianity actually is in the first place.
Now, I’m not proposing that only members from specific theological traditions can be considered true believers. The Gospel is for Calvinists, Arminians, Molinists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists – you name it. And I’m not saying that all theological error is tantamount to real heresy, or even that you can’t possibly be saved if you don’t know the difference between propitiation and justification.
But it does not make the Church healthier to promote the idea that it doesn’t matter what exactly you believe about Scripture, Christ, prayer, salvation, or church order. We are not doing our fellow Christians any favors when we tell them they can approach God on their own terms, even if this attitude of tolerance appears to be kind and loving. I feel like I’ve said this before, but it’s still true, so I’ll say it again before moving on: You cannot love the true God with your heart if you don’t know who He is with your mind. It’s impossible. This is exactly the same, if not worse, as when a young girl imagines herself to be “in love” with the mysterious boy who sits in front of her in seventh grade Pre-Algebra.
So, again, theology matters. It’s not about big books or seminary lectures or Latin vocabulary. The heart of theology is the pursuit of the heart of God through an understanding of His true character, intentions, and self-revelation. With that said, it makes absolutely no sense for the contemporary church to be so uncomfortable with theological debate and discussion. These conversations are important, and when they are conducted with godly, humble intentions there is an excellent chance that at least one person will walk away with a better understanding of who God really is. And this is always . . . always . . . a good thing. The more we understand who God is, truly, the more we can’t help but love and worship Him. A lack of worship toward God is always due to a lack of true knowledge of God.
The idea that what the divided church needs is for more people to plug their ears, shield their eyes, and cease to speak to one another about matters of highest importance (the things of God, I mean) is a ludicrous idea. It hinges on a total misunderstanding of what theology is, what love is, and what kind of unity Scripture calls for among Christians.
The exhortations given in the New Testament regarding Christian unity are not detached from some specific object around which believers are meant to unify. I don’t mean “object” literally, but figuratively, as in a concept, doctrine, or Person (namely Christ). Biblical unity is always meant to join believers in fellowship and shared identity around some particular truth or belief:
“[Be] diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. . . until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God . . . We are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. . . So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them” (Ephesians 4.3-18, NASB) [emphasis mine]
If you want to promote a healthy, unified Church, then promote sound theology. The Christian Church is supposed to unite around the truth of Christ as revealed in Scripture . . . not around the whims and fancies of each individual believer.