Christian unity has been on my heart for a long time. Longer than I can remember. Eight years ago I wished that Pentecostals and Baptists could find a way to focus on Christ more and spiritual gifts less. Focus on reaching the lost, helping the poor, and better caring for single mothers. It’s been a concern of mine for a long time, and it has only been fueled by the recent events surrounding the Strange Fire conference.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m an academic. I try to hide it sometimes, but I love studying. I like learning new things, and sometimes just for the sake of learning it. I like being right, and that’s caused problems that God has been gracious to help me see and repent from. Now I’ve even relaxed enough to end a sentence or two in a preposition! But there’s an added weight to studying Scripture and wanting to be right about understanding the Bible, namely because Scripture commands us to rightly handle “the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). Now, I do believe this text has a greater context than studying, but how do we rightly live out the rest of the context without rightly understanding Scripture?
I feel that much of what has been going on lately is because people take seriously the Scriptures and feel the appropriate weight when they see people practice that which they believe Scripture does not condone. When it comes to core issues, I understand the need to spend a weekend or a week or a month detailing why it’s important we believe Jesus was God and man, why the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement is so crucial, or why belief in a Triune God is necessary to be a Christian. I can even see validity in seeing as primary what some people see as secondary. Calvinism, spiritual gifts, and method of baptism are all secondary. Some see them as primary, because they affect the teaching of and obedience to Scripture.
So, I can understand the need to teach one’s church one’s convictions of what the Bible teaches about these doctrines. What doesn’t make any sense to me is holding an entire conference about “Why Charismatics are wrong” or saying things like “A Calvinist Charismatic is an oxymoron.” In fairness, a man being both God and man seems like an oxymoron, too. So maybe there’s a bit more room for Calvinism and a Charismatic understanding of spiritual gifts to coexist than what may initially appear. I equally don’t understand how someone can automatically assume anything Mark Driscoll does is a publicity stunt. I’ve heard this from several people, even people who like Driscoll. So he showed up at another conference close to his Act Like Men conference to GIVE AWAY books. Then when the whole Internet blew up over his being asked to leave by two security guards, people get mad at him for writing an open letter to John MacArthur inviting him to come talk at a conference.
Do I believe Driscoll was being genuine in his letter to MacArthur? Yes. Do I believe that he also had other intentions for posting this publicly? Yes. I can’t count the number of times that Christians were saying “I can’t believe MacArthur would treat Driscoll that way” or “I can’t believe Driscoll would just show up uninvited and cause such a problem.” I believe that correcting this misunderstanding was part of why Driscoll wrote the open letter to MacArthur. He wanted to show that it was not MacArthur or his staff that treated Driscoll poorly, and that Driscoll intentionally came during a break so that he wouldn’t cause any problems for the conference. When a Christian public figure’s actions are misunderstood, and especially when they cause the slander of another Christian, he or she needs to set the record straight in a public manner.
Now, I’ve said all of this because I want people to understand why this bothers me so much. Christians seem to have forgotten all sense of charity toward one another. Sure, we’re all about giving to the poor, but Heaven forbid a fellow Christian step out of line. We’re committed to combating sex-trafficking, and we’re equally committed to combating each other if we don’t like what they say. It’s odd how we think we can gauge someone’s intent without even knowing the person in real life.
I’ve used Driscoll and MacArthur and the responses I’ve seen as an illustration, but this is a much deeper issue. This is a gospel issue. This is an issue of soldiers getting too comfortable during peace time. I have friends and family in the military, and I was in ROTC in high school. So, I know that during peace time the different branches and departments will rag on each other. “The Marine Corps is the Men’s department of the Navy,” and things like that. Each service thinks they’re the best, and I’d be worried if they didn’t. But when war comes, they work together. They fight together. Because if they don’t, they die.
Christians, we have grown so comfortable in our American freedoms that we have forgotten we are at war. True, our war is not against people. Our war is on our hands and knees in prayer, and proclaiming the Lordship and gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost, broken, and dying. We’re lying to ourselves if we think we have time to attack one another for differences in second-tier beliefs. So what if you think something’s a publicity stunt? Don’t talk about it. If you talk about it, you publicize it and the stunt was successful.
I completely believe that there is a time when we need to come together and talk about our differences. Differences in strategy, beliefs, how the gospel should affect local communities and global missions, and how Biblical wisdom should pervade politics. But until we really die to ourselves and are more concerned about the spread of the gospel than our comfort, we’ll get torn apart by an increasingly secular culture. What’s worse, we’ll lose the ability to effectively minister the gospel because we’re too busy defending ourselves against one another.
The sad part is that so many people who agree with this post only want to apply it to other people. We want people to stop attacking us for what we believe, but we don’t want to stop attacking others for believing something that offends us.
May God give us the grace to love Him more and serve Him better by pursuing unity in Christ.