The bible is clear that God desires unity for His church.
As Christians, we have unity in Jesus Christ.
When we discuss subjects such as unity, disagreement, and doctrine, a large dose of humility is a key.
Scriptural authority and truth are of great importance. We should always test our beliefs and practice by comparing them to scripture.
How do we deal with this? How can we have unity without falling prey to relativism? I certainly do not have a step-by-step process (nor do I think one exists), but I do have some suggestions. Some of these may have come from your comments.
-We need to move beyond thinking that theological differences automatically mean that we should separate. In my denomination (SBC), we have a tendency to argue over just about anything and everything. This should not be the case.
-We should pray earnestly for the unity of the body.
-When we disagree on an issue, we should pray that God will keep us united as we discuss it.
-We must accept the fact that we can be incorrect. I'm not suggesting relativism, but rather humility.
-Keeping Galatians 1:8-9 in mind, we should look at whether or not the subject of disagreement in any way harms the gospel message (not the truth of the gospel, but our proclamation of it).
-As believers, we ought to search the scriptures together, with humble and truth-seeking attitudes, desiring to discern exactly what the bible teaches about what is disagreed upon.
-If we cannot agree, we are left in a difficult spot. For most of us, this seems to be the crux of the issue. What do we do in these situations?
I have a suggestion. I realize my answer may not please very many of you, but here it is anyway: when we come to a place where we cannot agree due to biblical convictions and conscience, I propose that we remain united in spirit, but not gather on a regular basis for worship and mutual edification. In other words, we remain united with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we only gather with those who are like-minded on certain core issues. What are those issues? Beyond the gospel, I think there are probably not very many of them. This is where scripture and conscience will have to decide.
In my case there are a few issues that would keep me from gathering with other believers for regular worship services if we were in disagreement. Those issues (stated in the positive) are the truth of scripture, the authority of scripture, believer's baptism, male elder/pastors, one man-one woman marriages, and spiritual gifts being used for the edification of the body. There may be a few more, but I can't think of them at the moment.
I consider myself to be united with all other Christians as I go about my life. I'm excited to meet and talk with anyone who is a follower of Jesus Christ. We share a special bond that I do not have with non-believers. However, this does not mean that I will automatically join with this person in a local church. I would first want to find out what he believes about the above issues.
Let's take an example - baptism. In general, Christians either believe that it is biblical and good for infants to be baptized, or it is unbiblical for infants to be baptized. I do not see how these two positions can be reconciled within the local church. No one has ever explained it to me. Are those who find no biblical support for infant baptism (like me) supposed to support parents who baptize their infants? Is this good in order to keep unity?
R. C. Sproul is one of my modern-day heroes. He is one of my two favorite writers (John Piper is the other). He is a strong Christian man. I hope I grown in Christ to be like Sproul someday. However, if you know anything about him, you know that Sproul is a big proponent of infant baptism. How could we have church together? I'm still waiting for someone to explain this to me.
I heartily support the unity of the body of Christ. However, holding to our biblical convictions is also important. Humbly accepting the fact that we are fallible creatures, we ought to strive for unity with all other Christians. However, this should not be unity at all costs. God's commands for us to be united do not suggest complete unity (uniformity) no matter what.
This is certainly a difficult issue to work through. Let's remain united in spirit with all Christians. However, let's also let scripture and conscience lead us in deciding which doctrines are worth standing up for.
As always, please let me know what you think. Thanks.