Necessary Gospel Division and Its Implications for Ecumenical Work

[Note: The following is bound to offend most. Read with caution. Pray with discernment. But most of all pray for me, a sinner.]

It is taken as a given that the divisions among Christian churches is a scandal and a blasphemy. This is unquestionably true. It is also taken as a given that the reunion of all Christians in one visible body is a good explicitly tied to which is a more effective evangelism. This, too, is unquestionably true.

On the basis of these fundamental truths, then, is raised the ecumenical edifice. The rationale is something like this: We must work to eliminate division between our various bodies and to foster unity at every opportunity. So ecumenical groups such as the World Council of Churches, and the U.S. National Council of Churches work hard to remove the barriers circumscribing fellowship. Other groups, such as pro-life Catholic and Evangelical organizations, work hard to join together in common causes based on clear Gospel and Church teaching. But primarily, ecumenical work is seen as the coming together on matters of belief and worship, discipline and polity, such that denominations otherwise formally divided from one another can come more closely to share in ministerial, liturgical, and, ultimately, Eucharistic fellowship. To accomplish this, of course, the primary and non-negotiables of belief must be staked out and common ground achieved.

This last is not only misguided, but a mistake. Contrary to common present-day mores, unity is not about feeling close, or doing and saying the same things at the same times with one another. Rather, unity has to do with dying to self and thorough-going obedience to Christ. Indeed, the Gospel necessarily creates division. The Gospel necessarily destroys any peace that is not built on the exclusive claims of Christ on us.

Matthew puts it primarily in filial terms:
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The Coherence of Christian Theology IX

[Note: This completes this series of posts. The entire series can be found here on this blog. I have also posted it here as a single html document.]


It may not be hyperbole, nor redundant, to say that for Christianity everything is in some way a reflection of Christology. Ecclesiology is founded on a proper Christology; what you say about the Church you effectively say about Christ. What you believe about the Mysteries (or Sacraments) is an outgrowth of what you believe Christ has come to do. The reverence or inattention you give to Mary comes from your vision of Jesus. Whether or not you believe the classical dogma of the Trinity will determine what you believe about Jesus. Christology is the dogma upon which hang all the unique beliefs and practices of the Christian Faith.

The divisions among Christians are not so monstrous simply in terms of a lack of institutional unity. Rather such divisions are so hideous because they divide not a Church, they sever Christians from one another not merely over whether baptism is necessary to salvation or not, no, such divisions are hideous because they attempt blasphemy: the division of Christ within himself. Whether or not the Church is to have bishops is not a matter of Church polity, it strikes at the heart of what we believe about Jesus. If we believe differently about the Church, we believe differently about Jesus. The implication is inescapable: to preach a different Church is to preach a different Christ. The Incarnation is that central to every particle of our faith.

These several doctrines of Christianity make sense only in light of the Incarnation. Philosophy does not comprehend Christian theology. Philosophy attempts to reduce talk of God to logical syllogism and rational category. But no person can be reduced to a logical formula or defined in a single concept, or even a group of concepts. And if this is true of human persons, how much more the Second Person of the Trinity. Philosophy must reduce God to a concept. But God is not a concept. God is a Person, indeed a Trinity of Persons. Philosophy cannot synthesize this. Confronted by the Incarnation, philosophy is burst asunder, unable to hold together the paradox. Theology shares this same ultimate failure when theology takes its cue from philosophy rather than from prayer, worship and poetry.

But one thing philosophy can witness to is that on Christianity’s own unique terms, which is to say, on the terms of the Incarnation, it is coherent. Philosophy may not accept the cornerstone of Christianity, the Incarnation of Christ. But philosophy can attest that having been built on and from that cornerstone, the lines are straight. The various patterns are woven expertly together into a whole so beautiful, so pure, so real that one is left speechless and penitent.

Christ himself has appeared to us. Glorify him.