DEEP UNITY AT REDEEMER

These conversations got me thinking. What kind of church do I want Redeemer Church to be? What does the deep church look like in the area of unity? As I pondered this, I was reminded of an e-mail I got from another pastor in my denomination. Someone brought to his attention that our church had ethicist and theologian Vigen Guroian speak on culture and literature. I will never forget the Friday night talk on Pinocchio from a Christian worldview. The audience sat entranced as this master teacher took us through the story, episode by episode, bringing it alive in a way we had never heard. Why had we not learned this in school?

 

 

This other pastor who e-mailed me wondered why we would have someone from the Orthodox tradition speak at our church. This was causing confusion in our little corner of the denomination, making it hard for pastors like him, he said, to explain to people what our denomination stands for. In his eyes, our churches don't host Orthodox thinkers who don't hold the same views as we do. By having Guroian speak, we were endorsing, in this pastor's eyes, faulty theology. He described our church as being less than Reformed and Presbyterian.

 

I didn't respond to the e-mail. But if I had, I would have explained to him that Vigen came to speak on culture, not eastern Orthodox theology. But even if he had come to enlighten us on Orthodoxy, that would have been fine. We can learn from him. But this topic aside, Redeemer Church stands squarely and proudly on our tradition and heritage. We are not ashamed of our tradition; we embrace it and practice it. But at the same time we desire and promote the broader unity of the church. We hold strongly to the classical consensus, finding our unity with Vigen and others in the "unity of the gospel" as articulated in the creeds of the first four centuries. This allows us to be very open and charitable to fellow believers who hold different bottom-tier views than we do.

 

 

How does Redeemer hold faithfully to the tension of plurality and particularity, that is, being deeply rooted in a historic tradition and at the same time open to dialogue with our differences? Let me give some examples. First, we root our congregation each week in historic liturgy that draws from the best of Christian history. Our sermons and our weekly school of discipleship are rooted in a commitment to teach the full counsel of God in a way that is culturally relevant, timely and informed by the Reformed tradition. We teach the Bible. But our understanding of the Bible has been wonderfully shaped by the tradition we are part of.

 

But we also celebrate our commonality with other Christians. For example, there is no "safe" book list at Redeemer. We allow and encourage our people to read widely from the other traditions of Christianity. Our book table contains—right alongside Luther, Calvin and the Puritan divines—Miroslav Volf, Vigen Guroian, N. T. Wright, Glen Stassen and Dallas Willard. All of them affirm the classical consensus even though our bottom-tier views differ. We train our members to read discerningly, to think for themselves and to be enriched by other traditions even as they dig deep in the soil of their own tradition.

 

 

Second, we don't merely preach deep church distinctives; we practice them. In other words, we spend our time and energy joyfully living in our Christian commitments; we don't spend a lot of time pointing out our differences from other denominations, churches or Christians. We don't want to be defined by what we are against but what we are for.

 

 

Third, we watch our attitude. Sinful attitudes divide Christians. As my former professor John Frame says, "Because we want glory for ourselves, we seek to find fault in others. Contentious people are constantly looking for something to argue about, some way to start controversy and disrupt the peace." Though we strive to be discerning, we don't dwell on the faults of other traditions or Christian thinkers. Even when we disagree with others, we try to find their strengths and don't blow their weaknesses out of proportion to make our case. This is divisive. We give others the benefit of the doubt, reading them in the best possible light to preserve unity and foster mutual dialogue in order to learn from and exhort one another. Agreeing with Frame, we eschew harshness, jealousy, snobbery, party spirit, bitterness and lack of openness—all enemies of unity.