News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: Unity & the differences we must sustain

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–As a result of the decisions at the triennial convention of the Episcopal Church, the fragmentation of the worldwide Anglican communion appears imminent.

That will be a sad moment, for the unity of the church is something for which all Christians are to hope and work (Romans 12:18; Ephesians 4:3). Our Lord Jesus Christ prayed for the unity of His followers in His high priestly prayer (John 17). The early church, in the shaping Nicene Creed, confessed the church to be “one” and “universal.”

Yet in Jesus’ same prayer in John 17, we cannot miss the important emphasis on truth and holiness, as he prayed: “Sanctify them in truth; Your word is truth.”

Ultimately true unity is based on true truth.

Any other kind of unity is earthly, worldly and temporal at best. In Jesus’ prayer, He makes clear that truth and unity go together. Truth without a concern for love and unity seems harsh. A unity that exists without truth is mushy, empty and misguided. The church is not only “one” and “universal” according to that great fourth-century confession, it is also “holy” and “apostolic.” True holiness is based on the truth taught by the Apostles in the Holy Word of God.

The decision of the Episcopal Church to appoint V. Gene Robinson, an avowed practicing homosexual, as bishop of New Hampshire is obviously in contradiction to the direct teaching of Scripture. While the unity of the church is always worthy of our pursuit, there are times when differences based on the clearly taught distinctives of the Christian faith must be sustained.

The Church cannot choose between being “one” or being “holy,” between being “universal” or being “apostolic.” This is not an option. We cannot be “one” if we are not “holy,” and we cannot be “universal” if we are not grounded in the teachings of Christ’s Apostles.

The issue of homosexuality is not an issue that we have chosen nor would have chosen. But the decisions of recent Supreme Court cases and major denominational discussions across the country this summer have pushed this one issue to the forefront of the church’s moral and social agenda.

It is now a matter that we cannot ignore. The church must address this issue — boldly, yet lovingly; courageously, yet sensitively. We are not homophobics and we are not interested in depriving rights from any American citizen that are rightfully theirs.

But I am convinced from Holy Scripture about four important points as places for the Church to stand and stand firm:

1. The New Testament sees all homosexual practice as wrong, sinful and inappropriate.

2. The New Testament knows nothing of any “blessed homosexual union.”

3. The New Testament teaches that marriage can only be understood as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman. Any other understanding is clearly unacceptable.

4. The New Testament holds no place for avowed homosexuals to serve in leadership capacities in the church.

The decisions of the Episcopal Church are symptomatic of a culture that has chosen to suppress the truth of God revealed in Holy Scripture. Their contemporary vision of “user-friendly” truth is not the truth of God made known in Holy Scripture. We must recognize that these are not just cultural controversies. What is at stake is the very soul of the church for whom Jesus Christ died.

Let us pray that we would all be sanctified in and by the truth (John 17:17). Let us pray indeed for a picture of unity among God’s people everywhere, but unity that is founded upon the Word of God, a unity that is “holy” and “apostolic.” We join Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, who boldly and firmly disagreed with Robinson’s election last week, in praying for God to have mercy on His church.
David S. Dockery is president of Union University, the nation’s oldest Southern Baptist institution of higher learning, founded in 1823.

    About the Author

  • David S. Dockery