The Purpose and Promise of Biblical Unity, And It Is Not Institutional Survival

From the Desk of Chet Harris, East Ohio Wesley Covenant Association Regional Director, July 2019.

Dr Chet Harris

Biblical Unity is not based on an individual’s emotional comfort, cultural setting, or prevailing societal worldview. Biblical unity is based on the individual’s willingness to amend their life to the one constant in existence, simply the will of God as expressed in the Bible. The Bible remains our single source of truth and authority.

The affirmation of biblical unity keeps us from yielding to mere agreement by two or more parties to get along or live in peaceful coexistence by accepting the mantra that all religions and expressions of life are equal and represent an embodiment of truth. Biblical unity navigates the follower of Jesus through the storms of life and the temptation to sail only in waters of life that are culturally and temporal in nature. Such waters are rife with jagged reefs and hidden shoals that rip one’s relationship with God into shreds.

Biblical unity rallies around the truth shared in scripture. One example is the resurrection of Jesus. Remove the mandate to believe and confess the bodily resurrection of Jesus as an absolute truth exempts such a person from claiming biblical unity. The intent of the Nicene Creed was to solidify the truth of the resurrection before a movement that desired to negate the death and bodily resurrection of Jesus. Demeaning the resurrection to a quasi-spiritual event. This view is apostacy and heresy which if embraced will not sustain the true unity of the Church. Point of fact it opens the hatch to a torrent of further relinquishment of what the Bible teaches. The virgin birth of Christ, salvation exclusively in Christ, holiness, and other core beliefs will fall by the wayside like dominos in a child’s game.

The belief in the sanctity of human sexuality is challenged by those desiring to affirm a plethora of sexual preferences to the point of even denying human sexuality. Certain voices, progressives, are making this the main concern of the WCA. The dehumanizing of sexuality is the presenting issue. The core issue remains the authority of scripture and how traditionalist or evangelicals understand and read the Bible. {Next week’s article from my desk will address the how traditionalist read Scripture as compared to the progressives.}

Unity is the clarion call of the progressives. Keep the church together and let us exist as one with various expressions of how each interpret scripture. This is call a for pseudo-unity. The Church is not in jeopardy. The United Methodist Church as an institution is in jeopardy. The United Methodist Church is now scrambling to save the institution. Institutional Survival! When we hear from our denominational leadership that unity is supremely important, one must ask the simple question, “Why?” Answer: Institutional survival. Far too often the answer from the progressives is covertly woven with the threads of remaining in sync with biblical love.

At our 2019 East Ohio Annual Conference every speaker used the theme of love as the singular unified point, but it was not the major point of their message. The major point was unity in love requires the church to accept LGBTQI-plus agenda without question. I found it fascinating that the video created by our conference office with sound bites from each service resounded in a very cogent way the theme of love with the major point of accepting LGBTQI plus expressions of sexuality never referenced, although key to each message. As I watched the video at the church my wife and I attend as part of the report from Annual Conference, I must admit I was blessed by the powerful preaching on God’s love. Contextualization was removed and the link to the overwhelming push to accept the LGBTQI plus agenda was missing! Curious? The use of the theme of love remains a clever means to entice us to affirm that which will begin the domino effect of removing every semblance of biblical authority from our institution, United Methodist Church.

John 13:34 -35 calls the disciples of Jesus to love one another as he loved them. An excellent teaching on unity. This teaching leans toward the purpose of love is to live out a unified witness to the world. The world should look at us and agree that we as followers of Jesus have an obvious love for one another that is a no holds barred kind of love typified by self- sacrifice, humility, forgiveness, and compassion. Yes, we live and serve in a fishbowl for all the world to stand back and observe our interactions. In John 17, Jesus prayer really stretches us as he affirms that this level of unity will authenticate before the world that God really sent Jesus into our world for the purpose of salvation. Our compassion toward the world caught in the grip of sin and injustice calls us to radical love toward the victims caught in the vortex of a world operating out of alignment with God’s will. Clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, advocating for the weak, innocent victims of injustice are just a few very biblical mandates of action. But we respond as a unified body of believers with heart and mind in agreement with God’s Word. (Romans 6:5 and 15:5) Our supreme love is first postured toward God with words of acceptance of all that God desires us to do and how to act in this sin sick world. Secondly, our love is turned unselfishly toward each other. We truly care for each other, support each other through life’s challenges, relentlessly forgive each other, defend each other, call each other to accountability, and serve together without thought of rights, position, or privilege. This removes all pretense of ‘church politics.’ Servant is the embodiment of love. Third, our love is turned toward the world. We cannot intervene in every pocket of need as individuals, but as a unified body of believers sensitive to God’s counsel every ‘church’ and believer is drawn into faithful response to God’s directional call to service.

One of the missionaries we have supported throughout the years was called to serve among a predominate Islamic country. He was a gregarious and generous in reaching out to any and all within the permitted guidelines of the Islamic controlled nation. When asked about his faith he shared in a way that was genuine and the people never felt threatened by his winsome love of ‘his’ God. Many people remained unmoved, but not all. Until! Until a typhon swept across the island nation destroying homes and businesses as well. The loss of life was staggering. Impending disease and starvation were looming realities for the communities that lost everything. The missionary and his family lived on the side of the island nation that was secure from the storm’s wrath. They knew many of the people devasted by the storm. They packed up provisions and traveled the distance to a village they knew would need help. On arrival they joined a group of people attempting to dig the debris out of a well, their single source of water. Without clean, unpolluted water the small village would be victim of disease and dehydration. The missionary worked shoulder to shoulder with sweating exhausted villagers. One such person was a shop owner who the missionary had talked with numerous times. The shop owner recognized him and from that day forward the door of his heart swung open for future discussions and sharing about faith in knowing Jesus. The missionary did not hesitate to share the biblical truth of Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life.

I shared this narrative to underscore how love is practical, unrelenting, and is a God ordained means to reach the unredeemed. Love is active, not passive. Love is the motivator to step out of one’s comfort zone and serve. Love does not ignore the spiritual need in a friend’s life. Love does not smile and say, “You are ok.”

The traditionalist loves the community of people represented by the letters LGBTQI plus enough to reach out to them and in love tell them the truth without condemning their personhood. If we withhold the truth taught in the Bible, we have allowed ourselves to mimic the culture and will stand before God as followers who refused to truly love a people group enough to tell them the Truth of God’s redeeming love. We do not wave placards condemning them to hell and using slang terms to describe the LGBTQ community. Is it necessary to say, “we do not hate them, rather we recognize their life is not compatible with Scripture?” Obviously, the answer is, yes.” We cannot justify institutional survival at the cost of biblical integrity and failure to address sin in the lives of a people group. That is why any plan to keep us unified as one denomination with an expression that LGBTQ is a lifestyle acceptable to God is unacceptable by those who hold a high view of scripture. It is impossible to co-exist with integrity. If we agree to have various expressions of how we read the Scripture, we are giving credibility to a lifestyle that is contrary to God’s teaching. This cannot be justified! Our call is to reach the LGBTQI plus community with the redeeming love of God.

As we remain faithful to God’s call to reach all people with the redemptive message of His love, I am certain God will provide us opportunities to work shoulder to shoulder removing debris from a well with LGBTQ folks. When we finally move past the debate and politically positioning around the issue of biblical authority with the progressives, God will open doors for fruitful conversation with the people we allegedly do not like. I believe we will witness opportunities to dialogue, share, and witness to God’s redemptive love in ways beyond our imagination. I pray for the harvest of lost souls as we place God’s Word as central to our lives. I want to conclude this article with Paul’s prayer recorded in Ephesians 3:14 – 21. His counsel remains our mandate and counsel.

“14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the LORD's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

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