In the first three installments of this series I outlined three points in response to the challenge that Christian disunity invalidates the faith’s truth-claims. While I agree that disunity does exist and, to some degree, hurts believers’ witness to the world, I argue that the subject warrants closer inspection than many critics (especially skeptics) give it.
Part 1 showed that historic Christianity possesses an abiding unity in essential beliefs, values, and worldview orientation. Part 2 highlighted the positive features that denominations contribute to the health of Christian theological traditions. Part 3 explained how the deeply imbedded sin nature contributes to disunity in the church (itself a biblical truth).
Keeping these three important points, Christians can work to improve church unity. In this article, I’d like to propose two ways that Protestant evangelical Christians could promote more unity within their ranks. This emphasis upon unity could help form a more solidified witness to the nonbelieving world.
Appropriate Steps toward Unification
First, evangelical church bodies that share much theological ground should consider unifying or working toward building greater unity. Let me begin with my own theological tradition, the Reformed church.
There are several theologically conservative Reformed and Presbyterian church bodies (Calvinistic in theological orientation) that overlap both in doctrine and ecclesiastical practice. These bodies include the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), and the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA), to name just a few.
These Calvinistic church bodies need to consider appropriate steps toward unity and cooperation. I am calling Reformed Christians, one of the original theological traditions of the sixteenth century Reformation, to greater ecclesiastical unity. Reformed Christians would garner greater attention and respect if they spoke with one consistent voice.
I’m not alone in making such a proposition. Robert Godfrey, president of Westminster Seminary (in California), has also appealed for greater unity among conservative Reformed churches.
The same call could be made to all conservative Lutheran church bodies. How about calling all the evangelical Wesleyans to promote unity within their ranks or extending the call to evangelical Baptists, Anglicans, and others?
Therefore the first step in building greater unity among Christ’s church is taken among churches with the most similar beliefs and practices. This might be a small step, but it is nevertheless a significant one.
Reinvigorate Established Theological Traditions
Instead of starting brand new churches with little connection to the past, why not return to traditional Protestant denominational (or interdenominational) evangelical churches? There may be circumstances where starting a brand new church would be quite appropriate (for example, in a missionary context). However, most of the time a believer can find a historic Protestant church solidly evangelical, rather than liberal, in theology and practice.
I am suggesting that, before Christians consider adding one more denomination or non-denomination to the long list of churches, they prayerfully consider joining a historic Protestant church. And if it needs reinvigorating, then they might consider dedicating themselves to this important task. Working to revive God’s church is a wonderful service to the Lord and to his people.
Since other branches of Christendom (Catholicism and Orthodoxy) often ridicule Protestantism for its constant splintering, it seems appropriate that unification should start with the original Protestant church bodies.
In part 5, I will offer other suggestions concerning the promotion of unity among God’s people.
For a principled call for reunion among evangelical church bodies, see John M. Frame, Evangelical Reunion.