Monday, August 30, 2010

The Unity of the Church vs. New Church Bodies

As a new church body forms out of the continued wreckage of the ELCA, one hears concerns about the unity of the church raised. A similar note can be heard among Anglicans as their communion continues its ongoing fracture. Many from the more liberal side of the spectrum will undoubtedly appeal to Jesus' words in John 17 about His prayer that we should be one, even as He and the father are one. The desire for outward unity, a conviction shared, ironically with Rome itself, forms a core of the modern ecumenical identity for the church. So, is any disruption of this outward unity of breach with the will of God for His church?

Any student of church history will acknowledge that maintaining outward unity at all costs ultimately sacrifices something else critical to the church. Usually this involves fidelity to the truth. Agreeing to disagree only erodes the church's commitment to a clear confession which is exchanged in turn for social statements that embrace increasingly liberal agendas. If one understands the theological distinction between the hidden and visible church, we realize that the unity for which our Lord prayed has always been fulfilled. The gates of hell will never prevail against those united in true faith spread throughout time and eternity.

It is sad when a church body begins to crumble and die, and part of us dies with it. Denominations form significant parts of our identity much like our families do on a more personal level. Yet these outward organizations exist not to maintain a memory, but to carry out the call of the Lord of the church to proclaim the Gospel and administer his life-giving sacraments. If this cannot be done in faithfulness to the Word, then the time has arrived for that denomination to disappear and others to take their place.

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