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Unity within the church universal can be a tricky issue. It matters a lot what we believe. Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas and beliefs will lead the church into error. But how do you know?
There are certain dividing lines that must be made. You've used the word "church" so there's the first line. There are those who are in the church and those who are not. This is the first of many sticky points. Who determines who is in and who is out? I say only those who have repented of their sin and believed with faith in Jesus Christ. Others would disagree and say I'm being too narrow.
Once we figure out who gets in the circle, there will be questions of who is closest to the center. One of my profs explained it by using Richard Pratt's "Cone of Certainty" (You can find more info on this at Third Mill Ministries). There are things that are non-negotiables that sit at the top of the cone. These are few. As you work your way down the cone you see a decreasing level of conviction. Now, the question is how to we plot theological concepts in the cone? We set up a series of analog switches (like dimmer switches, not really all on or all off, but gradual). How clear is this issue in Scripture? How does it fit with the flow of redemptive history? How much is it emphasized? How convinced are you in your understanding of the issue? How contentious has the issue been over the course of church history? There could be others.
You apply these questions on a sliding scale to the issue and you come out with an idea of where in the cone you should plot your issue. Generally, you'll find that it's some where in the bottom third.
This allows us to shout that which Scripture shouts and whisper that which Scripture whispers.
I could go on, but I'm outta time and these are the first thoughts that popped into my head after reading your post.


Donny, great thougts! I'm glad to hear from you...another buddy of mine who just graduated from seminary posted some good thoughts too on facebook. I encouraged him to put them in the blog, so we can all chime in. In short, what you said about, "Shouting with Scripture and Whispering where it whispers..." is a great point! At an Acts 29 conference i went to one guy said we should pray that un-biblical churches fall apart and have to shut down...and I fully agree. But sometimes we have that perspective when it's not coming from 'shouted' biblical teaching. I hope you guys are doing well!


Yeah, unity is a hard issue to nail down - particularly for evangelicals (or more properly fundamentalists) - previous generations of which would be willing to split a church or condemn a professing believer over almost any theological point. So I guess I don't really feel like I'm saying anything new here.

At any rate, it seems like the Apostles, Nicene, or Chalcedonian Creeds would be a good place to draw the line if we had to for a baseline level of agreement - "believe these and we're cool." But even making that call can cause problems for people who would fear becoming God's counselor. Have I drunk too much from the nalgene bottle of postmodernism? You tell me...

Final point (Ha! Spoken like a true preacher!), what are we defining as unity? I'm apalled to read that people would see variety in worship as a result of sin! What in creation doesn't demonstrate variety, creativity, and therefore, beauty? Forget the fact that no one in the Western world worships in the same form as the early church.

I look forward to the death of modern thought and with it an intolerant Christianity that divides itself over minimally important (and in some cases thoroughly unimportant) points of theology.

Here's a question about unity, what is it that's so often associated with unity (cf. Upper Room Discourse, Phil 2, the entire book of Romans)? Christian love, putting others first, overlooking differences b/c of our common ground in Christ. There is really very little about secondary points of doctrine (and I will defend this view to include such commands as "have the same mind").

So now that I've made myself appear to be a flaming lib, I do hold to the Apostles, Nicece, and Chalcedonian Creeds and refrain from calling Christian anyone who doesn't believe in the Trinity, Resurrection, and serveral other critical points.

Does my view of unity neglect or minimize "truth"? No, it just differentiates between Truth that God has made beyond clear in the Word and other so-called truth.

Anyhoo, sorry for writing so much, guess I needed to vent or something...


Great thoughts Bern! You've always been willing to just speak it like it is. I remember you saying that in seminary you were more passionate about the languages and properly understanding the text(s)...and you got pretty annoyed by systematic theology gurus. I'm probably a little more fired up about theology than you, but I do strongly value humility and wisdom in what to stand firm on. Thanks for your thoughts. Donny is a buddy of mine from staff who is now full-time at RTS.


Where does unity start really?

I can think of at least 9 or 10 Christian Fellowships here on campus. Are we called to be one fellowship? Is unity defined in such a way that we need to be one "Holy Catholic Church?"

I think this is completely ridiculous. Ludicrous! Whether or not minute differences in Worship, or "bottom-third-of-the-cone" points in our "about us" section should or should not divide our Churches and Fellowships is irrelevant. The fact is, these things do separate people into denominations. Since the reformation, this has been the continuing trend: if you don't agree with something in your church, make a new one. We are too late to change that trend as a whole, but I think it is vital as believers too look past certain "issues" and see other churches as your Christian brothers. Obviously there is a line, we want to separate the Wolves from the Shepherds (so to speak), but in general, we need to be unified as a body of believers that reaches different people through different churches.

Basically what I am saying is this: 1) different denominations are necessary and if having 30000 denominations world-wide helps further the kingdom of God better than 5 denominations world-wide, I'm all for it.
2) Of those 30000, some are unbiblical and do not hold fast to the "top part of the cone" as Donny put it. These churches are Wolves deceiving the lost and are not considered (in any form) to be a part of the Unified body of Christ.
and 3) The remaining denominations and fellowships need to not speak disrespectfully of eachother, or have irrelevant quarrels (as Paul puts it: irreverent babble) that divide the remaining part of the body further.

Whew. That was a long post...


Hey Dave,

Great Blog man! I guess we can approach the term "unity" on a couple different levels, and I'll just start by writing what comes to mind.

#1) Mark Driscoll gave a great analogy to "unity" within the church. You have 3 categories.
a.)"city borders" which are your beliefs about the holy spirit or tongues, you have your
b.) "state borders" which are your thoughts on Calvinism and Arminism, then your have your
c.)"Country borders" which are your beliefs that JESUS IS LORD, died/resurrected for your sin.

And the POINT IS! is to be in the SAME COUNTRY! You can debate, talk, discuss, but don't ever make something like a "state border" an issue that makes you separate from the country.

#2) We have to all realize that JESUS has sent us to fulfill the Great commission but has also called us on different types of missions within that overall goal. Let me describe what I mean by that.

"Imagine you lived in Australia and the Olympics are next week. Your President/commander says to the country "I WANT THE ATHLETES OF AUSTRALIA TO BRING BACK 7 GOLD MEDALS" Well all the athelets get together and figure out WHICH PERSON is good at each different type of sport. So the Aussie athletes go to the Olympics and compete in 7 DIFFERENT SPORTS, and win 7 gold medals all for the SAME COUNTRY."

Thats what Jesus has called each one of us to do, and I think has designed us to believe, think, and act differently on issues that don't determine salvation, or taking Glory away from him. Things we get bad if all the AUSSIE ATHLETES tried to be track runners, because not all would win, and we would eventually let our country down, (let Jesus down or not fulfill the Great commission.

3.) Lastly, my point is "ITS OK FOR ME TO THINK YOUR TOTALLY WRONG."

I think in the postmodern culture where everyone is right, and relative to what you think, and no one else is wrong.:) Its easy to to expect that within Christian culture.

Let me give a real example. In my faith right now, I 100% believe that any Arminian completely has a WRONG THEOLOGY OF GOD. And might even say that it's completely twisted and you need to correct your view of what the bible says. But I will NOT break fellowship over that, or call them a non-christian. Here's the thing. I WILL NOT SAY "YOUR THEOLOGY IS RIGHT TOO" instead I will say "my THEOLOGY IS RIGHT FOR ME AND I DISAGREE WITH WHAT YOU THINK." Its ok to disagree with people and have CONVICTION over that disagreement. And not say we are BOTH RIGHT. Because in my conviction, or my ministry, or my beliefs about God, if there is a disagreement, we are BOTH not right.

This is the verse that came to mind.
"Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, FOR WHOEVER is not against us is for us."
--Mark 9:40

We need to be unified in a couple issues and that's it.


-Dan (twitter:danomite84)

Nick Stewart

Dave and company,

I have grown up reciting the apostle creed in church, and through some questioning in my adolecence I have come to completely agree with the statement and I believe there is great truth and unity in that statement. As it has been brought up, if we are seeking some scale to define what is a christ-centered church, I think the apostles creed is a good grading scale. The fact that many churches break apart because of certain theological issues, is sad yet I think it's necessary for us, so we can see God's work at hand. Maybe, part of that mystery of how God works, is revealed in these fractioning of churches. As someone said earlier, because of the different denominations people of all ages and races are "reached"; in the sense, they can associate with a that body of Christ. I think this is essential to understanding the different denominations...we are the body, yet more importantly a unified body who serves our Sovereign Lord and Creator.

I used the phrase "fractioning of the church earlier" and I think this gives an insightful image of a the church. Each denomination is a fraction of God's unified church, but each is necessary to the completion of it. What do you think?

In 1 tim 2:14-17, we get this instruction on godless chatter and quarreling and eventhough in context, it refers to issues much more foundational to knowing our God and His truth, I think we can extrapolate some truth. There are times to avoid this meaningless talk and times to defend it, ultimately staying focused on God, His truth, and The call.


Nick and Keith, you guys both had some great stuff to say. I love how you both mentioned 'irreverent babble' from our studies of 1 and 2 Timothy. Also, the value of diversity within the body is such a critical need and I am excited to lead alongside you both because you get the big picture.
I would love for us to talk more about how this specifically looks with campus fellowships. I've started meeting with a few of the men who lead the other groups and it's been great. We all seem to get this tension and it is great to be a part of the greater body. My fear is that many students fail to walk this tension in a spirit-filled manner with a desire to understand. The pendulum swings from sinful pride that says, "CRU (or whatever) is the only way to go and anything else is just second-class"...and sadly, I have to repent of being puffed up from such talk. However, we do have a specific call and that needs to be taken seriously...and the other side of the pendulum, which is where most lie, is to think we should just have one group, or that we should do everything together all the time...keeping us 'in fellowship', and leaving no room for the missional aspect of our calling. Give some thoughts on that if you have another minute.


Dan, I love the word-picture of the map as well. As has been said so much, we must be quick to discern what is worth fighting for, and what is not. I am not slow to speak and quick to understand, as James exhorts us, and I pray for continued sanctification to change that. However, i'm beginning to get a distaste for my young calvinist-cohort who pop off every chance they get and draw lines that should not be drawn. While I have strong convictions about...everything, I will end this post with a short list of what I think are worth breaking fellowship over and what areas are worthy of stern discussion with fellow believers.


Let me preface my response by saying I am ignorant and unqualified to respond. But since you asked Dave...

I think sin has much to do with the amount of schism found in modern Christianity. As I think about it, it reflects much of our common brokenness. On one hand our soul is captivated by the glory of our Savior who has rescued us from many sins and given us glimpses into The Kingdom. On the other we are a byproduct of our individualistic and self-driven culture. That's is why we see so much good and holy zeal for evangelism paired will splits and division. If we are supposed to be the family of God, then we come from a broken home. As for a solution. I think we first turn inward. The sin we see manifested “out there”, dwells in us. The only answer is to weep and repent of our brokenness before our Savior, who heals the broken and gives dead people life.

I believe there is only one Holy, Apostolic and Catholic Church. It is a concrete reality that the Jesus of the Scriptures founded. Does that limit God? Can he work apart from it? He did in my life. Finally, How do I regard someone who calls themselves a Christian? I call them brother, only God knows the inner man. Forgive me if I gave any offense.


Yeah man, I totally agree with your reply here. In the context of College fellowships, we have no right to be puffed up and say that we or any other fellowship is the only way to go. It is ok to have many fellowships, but we should be in more contact with them to have a strategic goal in mind: tell people about Jesus. I like Dan/Mark Driscoll's map analogy here, and I think that it would be absolutely a mistake to have one large super group. In my experience, people slip through the cracks with big groups, plus when you have different groups of people, they reach different groups of people (epic, destino and cru for example).

Nick Stewart

Kieth and Dave,

I totally agree with you guys, and I even want to admit that I have my own prideful reasoning how Crusade is a more effective ministry comparaed to the others on campus. THis becomes most evident especially in the spring time when we encourage the freshman to pick the group they feel led to because as much as I respect those who decide to go into another fellowship, I am deeply saddened by their decision. One because I was hoping we could do ministry right along side each other, and two is my questioning of whether they settled for something more comfortable and less faith-streching? I feel horrible when I think of our ministry as more effective because that automatically means we rank the other groups in our biased opinion, and that is not how we should do nor think of ministry.

I will definitey side with the side of the pendulum that we need this map of ministries where we are CAPABLE of reaching many different people and areas of campus with all the same common purpose of serving our Lord.

Carlton and I actually talked a little bit about this over the weekend, and he recognized how in the differences of how we do ministry we can still serve together, but how there is no perfect ministry. For example, in Crusade our outreach to the community of Davis lacks (in the sense of serving them), but by focusing on evangelism, we cover an are of the body that no other group does. Unfortunately that also creates this barrier between groups.


Great stuff Nick and Keith. We need to be true to our distinctives and the specific call that the Lord has given us, while maintaining a humble realization of the bigger picture and the role he has called us to in His greater Work.


Murph, you are neither ignorant nor unqualified, so let's squash that right away. You make some good points and I agree with all that you wrote. As somebody who has been courting the Orthodox Church, I am interested in whether you think the one holy, unified, catholic church is specifically what is today called the Orthodox church. I think you said only the Lord knows who are His own, so that may answer the question. I'm going to post another discussion-starter in a couple of days on the word 'blessed', and i know you've had some thoughts on that too...so hopefully you'll chime in there. If Mike C gets involved, i'll be excited to hear his thoughts. God bless brother, -Dave


Yes, I do think the fullness of the Church is found in the Orthodox Church. That confession does not imply salvation cannot be found outside of it.


I think one of the things that I learned recently has been so important in helping me place things in context. It's a saying that goes something like this. "In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity (or love.)"

I think there are some fundamental non-negotiables about subscribing to the title of "Christian." First and foremost, that Christ is the Son of God, that He lived a sinless life, that He died and his blood covered our unrighteousness, that without His perfect sacrifice we would have no hope of salvation, and that He rose again. Additionally, that the Bible is the Word of God, and that it is by grace through faith which we are saved. There are a few more that some would like to throw in the "essentials" list, but the point is that we must be unified on the fundamentals.

As far as non-essentials, I suppose what falls into this category can be subject to interpretation, but the Bible states that "all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial." Can/should a Christian drink alcohol? Can/should a Christian see R rated movies? The list goes on.

I think where we get into the most trouble is the last part - "In all things, love." I think that it is so easy to cling unrelentingly to our convictions on philosophy or interpretation that we run the risk of becoming dogmatic in our approach. I believe that the application of the subtleties of scripture to our lives is supposed to be an edifying exercise, not one that causes others to stumble or ignites heated debate that ultimately tarnishes our witness as believers.

Michael Coatney


"Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself. One far superior to me has well said, in reference to this point, "A clever imitation in glass casts contempt, as it were, on that precious jewel the emerald (which is most highly esteemed by some), unless it come under the eye of one able to test and expose the counterfeit. Or, again, what inexperienced person can with ease detect the presence of brass when it has been mixed up with silver?" Lest, therefore, through my neglect, some should be carried off, even as sheep are by wolves, while they perceive not the true character of these men,-because they outwardly are covered with sheep's clothing (against whom the Lord has enjoined us to be on our guard), and because their language resembles ours, while their sentiments are very different" -- St. Irenaeus

Dave, I strongly believe (with all my heart) that we live in an age of effeminate and intimidated Christians (theologians and laymen alike). They (I say not, "we") have been so pummeled with the Post-Modern, Neo-Evangelical influence that few (precious few, brother) are willing to stand for Christ's Honor and Glory ALONE. They corrupt the Truth of God and bow to idolatry. They worship themselves and advance their own private theories and substitute erroneous, made-up doctrines for the Pure Word of God. Arminians, charismatics, fundamentalists, unitarians (THE MOST repugnant), neo-evangelicals, gnostics, Arians, etc. etc. And these are found in CHRISTIAN churches! Why?

"For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths." 2Tim 4: 3,4
"As for you (Dave), always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." 2Tim 4: 5

Sadly (and I do mean 'sadly'), I believe our mutual friend (I do love him so, Dave), Ryan has ignored Paul's warning. I pray God will grant His Holy Spirit, if it be His Perfect Will, to Ryan and correct his idolatrous, Arminian heresies (and they be many), to the profit of his soul, for Christ's Glory and Name, only.

As for your question, it is a difficult one. Obviously, it is a given that the Holy Spirit must grant individual sanctification, true knowledge and wisdom (as He has chosen to work through Scripture) to so guide you as to know 'when' and with 'whom' fellowship is to be broken. And even if so drastic (yet sometimes, essential) a move is not quite warranted, it IS often the case that brothers MUST be challenged and told (sometimes in no un-certain way) that they are WRONG. Period.

As for myself, I tend towards caution and a fight. Why? Do I love controversy and offending my brothers in Christ (or the un-regenerate)? Absolutely not! I would die for my fellow elect saints. They are precious in Christ's sight and thus, in mine. I love my brothers, Dave. Yet, I love Christ and His Truth MORE. I also value defending my Beloved's Honor MORE than risking offending someone (if, again, a challenge is warranted). Somehow, I suspect with the relativistic, "God is love" (I mean that in the charismatic, mantra-sense, of course), liberal theology of this disgusting and perverse generation, many immature Christians have been gradually innoculated against the ABSOLUTE necessity of owning an advanced theological acumen. They say things like, "I don't get caught up in doctrine. I just want to live for Christ." Or, "The Bible is all I need." The latter statement is especially nauseating because THEY DON'T MEAN IT. Besides, while Holy Writ is just that, HOLY, and is THE ONLY Infallible, Inerrant and Inspired revelation given to men, God has blessed His Church with great theological tomes from great theologians. A mature Christian is a well-read Christian; a scholar; a learned theologian. He is knowledgeable, in addition to being loving. Sadly, in our age, only the latter (and a faux love at that) is stressed.

Dave, I think that being a confessional Christian is vital. It truly is. For instance, the Westminster Standards (which I believe to be the best system of doctrine, codified) serve as not just the anchor of my faith but also, as the balance upon which I weigh the opinions, theories, beliefs, etc. of my fellow Christians. Being confessional simply implies a desire to remain orthodox and recall to mind what God has said.

I would encourage you to assemble a mental rubric (again being confessional helps) through which you can disseminate and filter the attitudes and prevailing convictions of your brothers and friends, acquaintances and un-regenerate contacts.

Dave, if you have specific instances or questions or scenarios relating to the grounds for division or challenge among professing believers please let me know.

There is one final point I want to make: FIGHT. It is far better to be a John Knox and choose the hills upon which you will die for Christ than a Charles Finney (a false professor and heretic) and attempt to be all things to all people, while really being nothing for Christ.

Hope this helps. Pray earnestly for Ryan. Love you and God bless you in Christ in all (the whole fam, as well).

Christ My Portion,
Michael Coatney

Soli Deo Gloria


Hey Dave,

I love the languages! I also love epistemology and world-views. Something that I don't think many Western Christians realize is that Western Christianity (even protestant Christianity) is a lot more Western than it is Christian (the gnostic parallels are staggering!). This, next to proof-texting, is why I had (and still have) such disdain for systematics. Imagine how differently the Bible would read with an Ancient Near Eastern Worldview?


Good point Bern. I love the subject of how we know what we know... probably why I studied philosophy at U of A. I would love to talk more about how we discern the relationship of the timeless (or all-time-relevant) truth of the bible vs the time-sensitive lenses through which we understand our surroundings and the things we are taught. In the end, the short answer would be that God is able to sustain His Word, and God the Holy Spirit must awaken hearts to hear and understand the real truth, that is un-hindered by cultures, languages, or personal biases. Maybe we can talk more on Monday, but give your thoughts for others to read as well. Thanks -Dave


On Bern's note...

I was blown away by the fact the East does not put a lot of weight on the legal side of things. Probably why systematics don't really exist in the East. Humanity's problem is primarily existential (living out of communion with the Giver of Life), not legal.

If any are interested, Seattle Pacific hosted a talk on how the East views salvation in Christ (Dave, you will envy his accent): http://tinyurl.com/pl29vx


No doubt Murph. Even our definitions in the West are far more Greek than Hebrew (I ain't talking languages). For example, Torah is translated by nomos in the LXX and used for that concept in the NT, but nomos is not a direct translation of torah. Nomos is very much legal while torah is more instructional. There's just enough overlap to create some confusion here in the West but not so little that we're left with a total undecipherable mess. To better understand the Bible and the God of the Bible we might want to have a firmer grasp of the Ancient Near Eastern worldview (cf "Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament" by John Walton [from Wheaton - for those who are concerned...]).


Murph and Bern, I like this discussion, and it is something that I LOVE to teach on. We do well to consider the lenses through which we look at things, but do we need to have a similar world-view ourselves in order to get the real meaning of what Jesus says himself and through His apostles? After all, Paul did preach the same gospel to totally different people. We see this in Acts 2 vs. Acts 17. The same is true all over the place (Jesus in John 4 vs. John 3...a Samaritan and a Jewish leader).

More specifically to what you're talking about with the Law. You mentioned Romans. Please explain that more. Propitiation and Expiation are critical legal terms that are used to explain our legal standing before God. It is not left at that, as John 15 paints the beautiful picture of abiding in Jesus (more of the day-to-day living that you mentioned, Murph). To be clear, let me ask this: Do we need to have an eastern world-view in order to properly understand the gospel? I would say that we need to be aware of the audience these things were originally written to... while recognizing the timeless truths that God is delivering which seems to always result in Him turning the World (our world and natural world-views) upside down (in our own lives, as well as throughout the thousands of years that the Word was delivered and recorded). I'm loving this conversation, guys.


Mike, thanks for chiming in here. You are a brilliant man and I hope your knowledge is drawing you ever closer to Jesus. I agree that we have a charge to fight, but it seems there are things we choose to fight for that have more to do with our own glory, than the glory of Jesus and the worship he is not getting. The more I have grown in my faith, the greater humility I have forced to walk in and the greater conviction I have gained for understanding and love. By love, of course I understand that sometimes calls for outright rebuke, in love (as commanded in 1 Cor. 5), but to do so with gentleness and with a desire to ultimately build up/correct (2 Tim. 2:22-26). I pray that you are doing well and, most of all, that you are seeing and savoring Jesus: the true Shepherd and the ultimate leader of His Church. Every fight we enter into must be from submission to him and in-line with His heart for his sheep. God bless brother, Dave G.


Dave, I think you're talking to me about Romans. Broadly speaking I see the fundamental issue that Paul is dealing with throughout the book is ethnic reconciliation between Jew and Gentile in Christ on the basis of what He has accomplished for each. In other words, I am mildly New-Perspective on Paul but still hold to such doctrines as imputed righteousness.

I suppose I would argue that there is a legal AND relational aspect to the problem of sin. Logically, I'd give the relational aspect priority or call it the cause of the legal problem.

As for prioritizing worldviews, even my understanding of the East comes from one who can't help but think with a Western worldview. Its like speaking in Spanish, thinking in English, and doing the translating in my head, knowhatimean?

So Murph, if you can do some translating for us that'd be helpful...


I will answer your question with a question :) How do we deliver the fullness of the Gospel to all people without the continuity of Apostolic teaching? My point is the the Apostles delivered more than just books to their disciples. They set forth a way of worship, a way of living and ultimately a way of interpretation. Can we re-create this after the fact?

Salvation is like a multi-faceted jewel. To reveal its depths the Apostle uses many metaphors. The legal language used by St. Paul underscores many effects of our salvation. But it doesn't create a theological system, that is a relatively new doctrine. Should we be concerned if our theological conclusions do not jive with the first 1,000 years of the church?

The root of our problem was/is not a legal one. Christ did not come to make bad men good. He came to make dead men live. Life is only found in union with the Wellspring of Life.

BTW-You can kick me off your blog at any point I get too annoying ;)

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