CHRISTIAN UNITY:

BIBLICAL METHOD OF RESTORATION

By Josť M. Di Pardo

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INTRODUCTION

QUESTIONNAIRE TO BE DISCUSSED

THE CHURCH

DENOMINATIONAL DIVISIONS. Their origin; the Reformation; branches of Reformed Christianity; "independent tradition"; etc.

ANTI-BIBLICAL PRECEDENT. Tendencies in conflict should separate and call themselves by different names.

WHAT ARE DENOMINATIONS?

DENOMINATIONAL DISCREPANCIES.

A DENOMINATIONAL SPIRIT was manifested as contention in the Church of Corinth, and re-lives in "denominationalism".

REASONS THAT ADVOCATE IN FAVOUR OF DENOMINATIONS.

FANTASY OR REALITY?

FUTURE VISION. How can we be guided in the future?

DOCTRINE AND HISTORY. Bible Doctrine; Conduct.

REVISIONISM OR "FIDELITY TO HISTORICAL TRADITIONS"?

DOCTRINAL REVISIONISM.

ANTIOCH AND JERUSALEM. Acts 15:1-31.

THE FORMULA FOR UNITY (A. V. A.)

CONCLUSION (Practical Suggestions).

 

INTRODUCTION

THE CHURCH OF CHRIST, THE ONE AND HOLY, as a visible Organism, has been divided for centuries into a multiplicity of Churches or Denominations, such as Baptist, Lutheran, Calvinist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Reformed, etc., which maintain their peculiar distinctions.

The Unity of the Body has been cut up into pieces and placed under the guardianship of different "heads", as though the whole were not of one Head only.

To Paul's severe admonition: "Is Christ divided?" (1 Cor. 1:13) all answer NO in unison! But in their actions they are saying YES! (It is the YES of NO, as certain dialectics would say).

None claim to be exclusive possessors of the Truth, but each one boasts of being the authentic Evangelical Church.

Each one emphatically confesses the Biblical Doctrine of Unity, but they become secluded in their sectarianism and zealously preserve their inter-discrepancies in doctrines and practices.

Each one of their ministers, either from the lecture-room or the pulpit, denominationalise their students or the souls they bring to Christ in the image of the Church or Denomination to which they belong; and as a result, the teaching is not the same in normative matters of the faith. Evangelical teaching, which should be an instrument in favour of Unity, paradoxically becomes a vehicle to perpetuate discrepancies.

Finally, the Evangelicals who make up these Churches, sincere even in their error, but who in majority ignore the reason for their division to which they are submitted, are confused if asked about this abnormality.

 

QUESTIONNAIRE TO BE DISCUSSED

Which is therefore the true Church; why these bitter and sinful divisions and why not have a United Church without isolations of any kind?

 

THE CHURCH

In the New Testament, the Church is undenominational, and for that reason, all denominational division is absolutely void of a Biblical basis.

The word "EKKLESIA" appears with two meanings:

 

a) Considering all the Church, in its integrity:

-"...I will build my Church" (Matt. 16:18).

-" ...and gave Him to be the head over all things to the Church" (Eph. 1:22).

-"...the Church of the living God" (1 Tim. 3:15).

 

b) Considering the Church in its local expression:

 

-"Unto the Church of God which is at Corinth" (1 Cor. 1:2).

-"Aquila and Priscila, with the Church that is in their house" (1 Cor. 16:19).

-" ...and to the Church in thy house" (Philem., v. 2).

In some cases the expression appears in the plural, joining several churches together that belonged to a certain region: "the churches of Galatia" (Gal. 1:2); "the churches which are in Asia" (1 Cor. 16:19); "the seven churches which are in Asia" (Rev. 1:11). But that plurality simply enunciated a geographical situation, and by no means attacks the individuality of the local Church in any matter that concerns it. Such is the case of the "seven churches which are in Asia" who received the letters from the Lord, the text immediately identifies them as Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.

In the New Testament, the Churches are always considered as autonomous units, independent one from the other, each with its own government ruling its destiny and absolutely sovereign in its decisions. The bond that exists among them, as well as the Substantial Unity of the Holy Spirit in those born-again believers who form part of them, is the brotherly fellowship and the profession of like doctrines and practices.

 

DENOMINATIONAL DIVISIONS. Their origin; the Reformation; branches of Reformed Christianity; "independent tradition"; etc.

Our objective is not to trace the genesis of the Denominations nor the determining causes of historical developments through the centuries, as we only want to situate them in our days and consider their transcendent results. It would be a vain task to judge the past without referring it to the present, and this does not reveal itself in its complexity, except to those who, moved by legitimate feelings or aspirations, desire a different future. What could we ask of the past without having deep longings for the future?. We will at least make a brief reference to the origin of the divisions so as to enter into the subject better and go observing from that initial point, which is the principle that generates and sustains all divisions among the faithful.

The sixteenth century Reformation, preceded by pre-reformist movements, in not dating back to the purity of Doctrines and customs of the first Churches, and introducing many of the perversions of the medieval Church, marks the beginning of the fractions of Protestantism. The reformers had not the slightest intention of separation from the church to which they belonged, much less to establish new churches; but rather, "Protestantism wanted to reform all the church and only necessity obliged it to institute its own churches." (Ernst Troeltsh).

But without underestimating the alterations which in a movement of such profound projections as the break out of a Reformation surmises or the historic and political circumstances of the places where the flame was lighted, or the task of worthy servants of God: of necessity it must be recognised that the corresponding churches which were constituted were institutionalised with the surnames and orientations of their initiators. Though they were agreed on the doctrines which constitute the very heart of the Reformation, so that it should triumph, nevertheless, they differed in many others, there was a great deal of intolerance and each one formed his own school of thought which their followers have perpetuated to our day.

This is not a case of pronouncing judgement on the Reformation or to judge doctrinal concepts of the reformers. We understand that in exceptional circumstances in the midst of untold convulsions, not only the light of the Word which one might have should shape one’s attitude, but to some measure the battle line should establish the theological method and strategy to adopt. But we need to refer to those events so as to establish the historical and Biblical transcendence on the subject of the divisions which we are considering and we conclude that, doctrinal discrepancies beget divisions and one deflection needs another so as to prevail.

Thus in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries there emerged in Germany, Switzerland and England, the three main branches of reformed Christianity: Lutheran, Calvinist and Anglican. Contemporaneous with these three, there is a fourth current called "the independent tradition" which did not acknowledge the ascendancy of any reformer. It was mainly made up of Anabaptists (re-baptisers), who also had a greater influence and by Hussites and Waldensians. These, though they showed gratitude towards the reformers, demanded more thorough and radical reforms. They believed that the Church should be made up of born-again believers, that each local church should be an autonomous unity with a democratic ecclesiastical government. They did not admit to the pretended rights of the "officia1 Church"; they maintained separation of Church and State, and demanded conscientious liberty and religious tolerance for all: principles these, which were infringed upon by the reformation. "Roman Catholicism had corrupted the original deposit of the Christian faith, with its institutionalism, its ritualism, its scholasticism and its sacramentalism. These elements of corruption were reappearing, so they believed, in the official Churches." (J. Minton Batten).

A fierce wave of persecution was unleashed against the Anabaptists not only by the Catholics but by Protestants too, and some groups went to such extremes of fanaticism and violence that they cast a shadow onto all the movement.

We close this short note on the origin of doctrinal discrepancies and divisions in the Church pointing out its first fruits, which have left such deep tracks that the consequences subsist to this day, not only among the denominations emerged from the Reformation and those which separated from them, but even among those which do not recognise their historical ascendancy, but were overtaken by its impulses.

From there on and throughout the centuries, within the field universally called Protestant, the divisions multiplied to such an extent that the amount of denominations, sects and fractions have been so prolific that it would be very difficult to trace their origin.

 

ANTI-BIBLICAL PRECEDENT. Tendencies in conflict should separate and call themselves by different names.

The churches, confronted with whatever kind of disagreement, instead of following the Biblical instruction of seeking reconciliation in brotherly love, so as to eliminate error, according to Acts chapter 15; established the anti-biblical precedent that all tendencies in conflict should separate and call themselves by different names, allowing in this way the co-existence of error. This precedent has not been revoked and still governs just because of the usage of time as though its existence were logical and normal.

WHAT ARE DENOMINATIONS?

Today, after the experience of several centuries, we state our most elementary judgement, considered historically and Biblically, not only as a simple deduction imposed on our reasoning because of the regularity which this phenomenon offers us, but also as direct induction of past events:

a)Historically, a denomination is an organisational body which includes several churches of different geographical areas, national or foreign, with a distinctive name (Methodist, Presbyterian, etc.), with a body of doctrines and practices which are specifically theirs and some with centralised governments.

b)Biblically, one denomination cannot conceptualise the whole church nor the local church. Therefore, reverencing the dignity of the churches which form a denomination, we must state that to adjust them to Biblical prescriptions it is necessary to ignore the organisational body that groups them together and denominationalises them -which is of an entirely human nature- and discern each one as a local church.

c)Within the Church of Christ, each Denomination constitutes the historic and institutionalised concretion of the achievements of its founder and his theological school of thought.

d)Both elements which are carnal -because one (the achievements) tends to exalt the man, usurping the honours due to Christ; and the other (his discrepant school) which creates confusion of concepts-, violate the ONE LORD AND ONE FAITH of the Word and constitutes the beginning of perversion which divides the Church.

-"For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?" (1 Cor. 3:4).

"Only Christ should govern and reign in the Church and have in it total preeminence, and this government should be performed and administered by His Word. As He does not dwell among us in a visible presence, nor does He declare His will aloud... He uses for that purpose the ministry of men whom He uses as His delegates, not to transfer to them His rights and honours, but only that He Himself may do His work through their lips" (Calvin, Institution of the Christian Religion).

 

DENOMINATIONAL DISCREPANCIES.

Evangelical Christianity presents itself before the world in a context of denominations with doctrines and practices in discrepancy:

 

a)Their organisational bodies (within the body of Christ) are of dissimilar conceptions.

b)Their bodies of doctrine do not harmonise with each other. (For example: in doctrinal areas with reference to predestination, sanctification, dispensations and eschatological events, time and manner, ordinances, form of government, the ministry of women in the church, etc.). We do not want to signify that a chaotic situation exists, but it is undeniable that, though all do invoke the authority of the Scriptures to prove their position, they are not altogether in the precise line of interpretation.

c)Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3) is said to be fulfilled in the bonds of relationship and collaboration among denominations.

d)But no one can deny that peace ceases when some classical differences comes out into the light, such as baptism for example -if it should be by immersion or aspersion, if it should be administered to believers or also to babies. So as to avoid these frictions which split brotherly relationships, they must mutually respect these discrepancies which in this way, by tacit agreement -they agree to disagree-, become untouchable and unsolvable.

e)It is not sufficient to maintain inter-denominational relations. Unity entails and demands a spiritual fellowship without restrictions of any kind, which makes sense on the basis of a unity in all that pertains to the Faith, which can only be obtained by means of a frank confrontation with the doctrines and practices in discrepancy.

f)Denominations can only exist on condition that disharmonies exist. -Why then hold Unity captive within the confessional limits? Why walk with a shameful crutch of disagreement when our Lord can heal all spiritual paralysis? What meaning must we give to His expression: "That they all may be one... that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." (John 17:21)?. Does not that mean, as well as the substantial Unity in Christ, the objective and efficient manifestation of that Unity which will be so much more impressive and real for the world to believe when less disharmonies and contradictions exist?

 

A DENOMINATIONAL SPIRIT was manifested as contention in the Church of Corinth, and re-lives in "denominationalism".

From the lofty historic and doctrinal teaching of the New Testament, we bring to mind that it describes minutely all the deviations of the first churches, which with their later development have been passed down to our days, we find that the "sectarian or party spirit" manifested itself as contention in the church of Corinth.

"I am of Paul, or I of Apollos; or I of Cephas; or I, of Christ." (1 Cor. 1:12).

Each one, individually, evidenced that "spirit" enjoying the favour of a favourite master, in this way glorying in man. The apostle Paul refuses to be flattered and severely condemns this attitude which robs Christ of honour at the very root.

That same sectarian spirit re-lives in denominationalism: "I am Waldensian", "I, Lutheran", "I, Calvinist", "I, Presbyterian", "I, Methodist", "I, Baptist", etc. This constitutes, even involuntarily, a direct reference to Waldo, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Wesley, and among other things, the immersionist way of baptism; all this is detrimental to Unity in the body of Christ, adding other distinctive names to His Divine Name.

It is in that affective nucleus, in that finest layer of sensitiveness, where sentiments and a denominational spirit are begotten, which are like our own deep underlying self-life incorporated into Christian personality itself and which denominationalises its teaching, style and language.

We accept the good faith of those who feel and think this way, because that is the way they were taught, but we cannot compromise with error as though it were sound currency. If we draw close to our denominational brethren to justify those sentiments instead of stimulating in them what we hold in common, that most noble possession, the new creature, which yearns for brotherly Unity in every sphere, we will not contribute to solve the serious problem, as far as it depends on human possibilities. For that reason we want to rescue them for Unity, working with understanding and brotherly love. Each one checked off with the same spirit of Biblical pedagogy. Because error was generated in the mind, it is necessary to work so that the mind be enlightened with the truth.

 

REASONS THAT ADVOCATE IN FAVOUR OF DENOMINATIONS.

We understand that nobody, in the light of the Scriptures, can feel spiritually satisfied with a disunited Evangelical Christianity. Nevertheless, denominationalism, with the multiple divisions which nourish it, is too important a historical fact to imagine that it has not confused many lucid minds.

It is necessary to descend the phases of the complex process, so that the evil may be penetrated, since it is only by this means that it will cease to be a burden, or at least a burden that cannot be redeemed. It is in the degree to which this knowledge is penetrated that the concept on this will change. -Why was the denomination or division to which I belong formed? Which were its purposes? Which is its doctrinal basis and which its relationship to the Body of Christ? All dilemmas which make up the essence of the matter.

But, as such an analysis is very personal and subjective, it must be left to the consideration of each one to humbly pray for light and leading of the Lord. Nevertheless, we will try to give a few general answers to certain frequent reasons given in defence of denominationalism.

 

a) That denominations are part of God's "permissive will" in the history of the Church.

Some "theologisers" with a pseudo-Biblical covering, affirm that if denominations were permitted by God, then, -why fight them? They ask us, -Why would an unchanging God sanction them if they were not pre-existent in His eternal plans and purposes?

It is obvious that God has permitted them. Whether He has permitted them and approves of them as being according to His will, is the crucial point which should be made clear, so as to avoid evil and confusion. We would state the problem asking these questions: -Does God's "permissiveness" necessarily include "His pleasure"? -How can the following points be conjugated in relation to His Sovereignty and will?: (1) the "permissive" part which is passive and permits action; (2) the part that is "not permissive" which is active and does not permit action; (3) the "executive" part which is active and fulfils what He wants done.

Our answer, stated briefly, is: (1) in the "permissive" part, God respects the free will of His children and creatures and permits them to act, even though what they do displeases Him and opposes Him (Genesis 3:11; Isaiah 1:19,20; compare John 7:17). This is what occurs with Satan. God permits his rebellion and opposing wickedness as a free creature, but He is certainly not pleased with it. That is why He sent His Son, that He might destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) in that, His pleasure is manifested, YES (Matthew 3:17). (2) In the "not permissive" part, God places limitations to permission (Job 1:12; 2:6; Amos 7:8,9). (3) In the "executive" part, God puts His acceptable, perfect will into action (Romans 9:11-23; compare Job 9:2-15; Isaiah 45:9).

It is obvious that the multiplicity of denominations is detrimental to the Unity of the Body; and the very confession of their advocates places them within what God permits the rebellious free-will of the disobedient to do.

The fitting answer, then, to the deceitful argument of God's "permissiveness" -if His approbation must be understood by this- is perhaps the same which the Lord cast in the teeth of those who tried to tempt Him. When they inquired why Moses permitted to give a writing of divorcement and to put the wife away. His thundering answer was: -"because of the hardness of your hearts... but from the beginning it was not so". (Matt. 19:8)

It is easy to see the analogy between this case and the one we are dealing with, because in both cases a human rebellious attitude (permitted, yes, but with displeasure), causes a deviation from the original purpose.

In the same manner, denominations are absolutely foreign to the simple organisation given by the Holy Spirit to the Churches (in their local expression); according to the New Testament "from the beginning" was practised in the churches of the first century, and today by those who desire to adjust to Bible prescriptions.

 

b) That the need to maintain a faithful Testimony, has made it necessary and continues to make it necessary, to separate from apostasies, modernism and ecumenism, and to constitute new organisations.

Separation from apostasies, in obedience to the Word of God (2 Cor. 6:1-18), pleases the Lord. But to then form "denominations" with a sectarian spirit, without seeking doctrinal Unity with faithful brethren according to the Scriptures: that does not please the Lord. And if separation was the result of carnalities among the faithful: that does not please Him either.

 

c) Denominations have brought untold blessings and in many aspects, both in the country of origin as in other countries where they expanded.

We must not deny any merit which can be attributed to denominations, except those resulting from apostasies into which many of them have fallen. We do not ignore that an endless number of denominational missionaries and evangelists, went and still go throughout the world proclaiming the message of the Gospel with a thousand privations and sacrifices, offering even their lives in many cases. Neither do we ignore that in exceptional circumstances, chosen servants of the Lord -such as John Wesley, for example- wrote pages of glory in the annals of Christianity and they were the protagonists of great religious transformations and other realms of life, in their own countries and in all the world.

But it is undeniable, in the last analysis, that though all this endeavour may appear under other denominations, all the dignity, honour, growth, wealth and prosperity of it all, CORRESPONDS TO THE GOSPEL, "the power of God" (Rom. 1:16) and its essential virtues, which does not need other labels for its manifestation and growth. Even the Lord's recompense to His champions and all His children, will not be determined by his having been a "Methodist" or "Baptist" or "Reformed", etc., etc., but rather what he built of gold, silver and precious stones on the foundation as a born-again believer (1 Cor. 3:12).

There is an abyss which can never be bridged between the remembrance, recognition and gratitude we owe our pastors (Heb. 13:7) and the commandment to imitate them (1 Cor. 11:1; Heb. 6:12); and the institutionalising of their labour with their names, doctrines and practices which are not Biblical and that break the Unity of the Church.

 

d) That if denominations have their place in the History of the Church, they constitute links that cannot disappear, because the chain would be broken, and all they comprise and contain would disappear.

The historical process, for those who so think, would be an unbroken chain of causes and effects from which not a single link could disappear, because -they say- all are absolutely necessary. For that reason, denominations should not disappear from the chain of historical facts so as not to break this chain.

Such persons begin with the tremendous error of causalism and determinism. But History is not composed of an uninterrupted chain of inevitable facts created by determinism. History is a sequel of creative acts, of varied value and efficacy, which must be submitted to the trial of fire (1 Cor. 3:11).

FANTASY OR REALITY?

In our desire to eliminate all discrepancies in doctrines and practices so that brotherly Unity can be completed: are we going after some fantasy or a perfectly defined Biblical goal?

It is of vital importance that we state this with precision, because the conclusion which we adopt may depend upon this resolution. We affirm very emphatically that we follow a holy purpose which is perfectly attainable. How could those who possess the Lord of Truth (John 14:6), the Spirit of Truth Who guides to all truth (John 16:13) and have the Word of Truth (John 17:17), say anything different to put an end to all their controversies?

If "the Scriptures cannot be broken" (John 10:35) and if it holds any real meaning for us: -Why put the Unity which the Lord demands onto a utopian level? How is it possible to accept the Word and at the same time deny it by our actions? Do we not observe in the instancy of His love the reproach which reproves us when He states: "What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done to it?" (Isaiah 5:4).

We cannot remain indifferent or passive or isolate ourselves in a neutralism which egoism or comfort could dictate to us, when Divine requirements mediate.

 

FUTURE VISION. How can we be guided in the future?

First and foremost, there must be a desire to direct our steps in a positive direction starting from the following affirmative principle: it is not possible to profess doctrines which are denied by our actions or yet other doctrines which are not permitted to come into contact with reality.

Evangelicals, whether they are denominationalist or not, cannot travel along one road and the doctrine of Unity on another. The task will be to draw them together until they are identified with each other -and this is one of the purposes of the "Philadelphia" Testimony - that the action may be saturated with Biblical truth and the latter regain its movement and visible manifestation.

If we have traced historical notes and formulated doctrinal criticism it has only been thinking of the future, fully identified with the affirmation which will also be our compass in what remains of this paper and with which we will unite all our thoughts or considerations.

We therefore enter the constructive part of our subject; that is, to outline and summarise the elements and the ways that lead to a complete recuperation of brotherly Unity, which has nothing too intricate to be solved, nor anything metaphysical nor obscure: "But the path of the just is like the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Prov. 4:18).

 

DOCTRINE AND HISTORY. Bible Doctrine; Conduct.

Bible Doctrine furnishes a powerful contribution to the understanding of History, it exerts judgement on it and does not permit happenings to perturb or mystify it. It cannot be left to anybody to arbitrarily modify fundamental doctrinal terms, because that would compromise its purity. To alter the prescribed rules or the standards that govern it is to invalidate the Bible at its very heart.

Conduct must have a moral prerequisite in its innermost being, a subjective element of doctrine to substantiate it and which must be spontaneously manifest in its actions.

 

REVISIONISM OR "FIDELITY TO HISTORICAL TRADITIONS"?

Historic revisionism, seen by some as an unfortunate perturbation of their most blessed quietism, and desired by others as a factor conducive to greater religious purity, is not only needed immediately to make Unity possible, but must be understood as a normal condition at all times.

Truth in History cannot be evaluated only by what is merely historical, by means of data that historiography offers of the past, or of what is biographical, or anecdotal or even of memorable happenings. It is necessary to discover it in all its bareness, and get to the bottom of it to establish whether its actions are founded in correct doctrines that must rule and standardise them. Criticism and revisionism are, therefore, normal attitudes in the study thereof, not to strip them of all that is noble and great which is imperishable, but to restore the doctrinal order, should it have broken in some area. In the framework of values where great contributions of many servants of God are classified and given their hierarchy, their transcendent errors are also registered which still remain denominationalised, because their historical continuators, sooner than correct these errors, prefer "to be faithful to their historical traditions".

Immersed, as we all are in Ecclesiastical History, we cannot partialise it. We should be great out of a sense of History, not out of a sentimentalism towards "our history".

The Church has always made its history, rather can we say it has suffered its history. Though it is true that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18), nevertheless "the mystery of iniquity doth already work" (2 Thess. 2:7). It has marched behind its leaders, sometimes along paths full of risks and contingencies. No one like the Church suffers from its errors, precisely because they are sincere errors; no one like the Church needs to know the truth in Biblical matters so as to proclaim it without deviations. With knowledge and application of doctrinal standards, the Church must retake the true spiritual and victorious path.

How is it that Evangelicals persist in remaining divided because of their "fidelity to historic traditions", when a changing world seeks to conform to a fictitious unity in all the spheres of its activities?

Historical revisionism worthy of imitation was that performed by those who condemned the attitude of Calvin towards heretics, erecting a monument in 1903 to the memory of Michael Servet, the Spanish medical doctor, who, escaping from the Roman Catholic inquisition, fell victim to the Geneva inquisition. The dedication inscription being: "Respectful and acknowledged sons of Calvin, our great reformer, but condemning an error which was of his century, and firmly dedicated to conscientious liberty according to the true principles of the Reformation and of the Gospel, we have raised this atoning monument".

 

DOCTRINAL REVISIONISM.

Why stir up again a centuries-old problem of such insurmountable difficulties such as the conciliation of discrepancies?

Long ago, this subject which constitutes the "classical" and traditional disagreement among denominations was exhausted. The confessional theologians zealously guarded the doctrinal line of their respective initiators, and libraries were filled up with volumes that defended one or another denominational position, without any conciliatory solution, if such a purpose ever existed. Each one held fast to his position, claiming for himself the truth of the doctrine or history, even though they contradicted each other on the same subject.

Logically, error has taken refuge in some of them, but that does not seem to trouble any leader, to be a denominationalist or not, or at least not in an ostensible manner, because they accept discrepancies -if I may say so- as a licit institution within Protestantism, because it is admitted that certain diversities of doctrine, worship and organisation are not incompatible with Unity.

If the controversy has concluded, since the theologians of the different tendencies have spoken their last word and the differences subsist; if the prevailing "status" has been accepted as something logical and normal, it is argued: why stir up again a centuries-old problem of such insurmountable difficulties such as the conciliation of discrepancies?

With a concept such as this we must discern three elements: the present moment, ourselves, and the Word of God.

All effort to reduce the magnitude, importance and transcendence of fulfilling our complete Unity would be useless, today as never before. Biblical and historical reasons join in tacit accord to make an absolutely necessary definition which can no longer be ignored without serious disappointment. From Rome and Geneva ecumenical currents through winding roads, are trying to "unite Christians" demanding for themselves the need and justice of this purpose. They create confusion in our own ranks and demand a Christian faith confrontation which does not allow us to take refuge in our religious individualism. Why not take up the challenge and accomplish our own true Unity which is only possible among born-again believers?

In 1948 the large denominations which include hundreds and thousands of Churches, obeying the impulses of their leaders which had fallen into apostasy constituted, together with portions of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the "World Council of Churches", and thousands of our brethren were deceived with the song of the mermaid with regard to Unity. How can we forget that very recent experience when the majority in Protestantism was swept into ecumenism?

There are those in "re1igion" who mystify and hide the truth and even feign error, when they have privileges to defend or appetites they can satisfy thanks to the ignorance or deceit of the rest. How different would have the events been if those thousands of Churches had been organised according to the New Testament pattern, so that each one from its own choice could decide, and not be tied to the arbitration of its leaders who when they halt or apostatise from the faith, drag a whole denomination with them. It is not possible to expect the Lord's protection if one does not hold to His precepts.

Do not theologians see that Evangelicals who long for Unity -even sentimentally- on seeing how doctrines clash, end up by attributing a relative value to them; and so to concrete "their ideal of Unity" as the case may be (and as has occurred) they do without them and so are deflected towards the apostasy? Consider the Apostolic counsel:

-"Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine; continue in them; for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee." (1 Tim. 4:16).

To not understand, to disregard and even to underestimate the painful lessons of history, it is important to include ourselves in the judgement of the Lord:

-"For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light." (Luke 16:8).

As to "ourselves and the Word", we conclusively affirm that the more we emphasize the insolubility of the problem, so much more we will acknowledge a spiritual poverty; because there has never been nor ever can be a moment or circumstance so complicated in the history of the children of God that they are beyond any Biblical solution or doctrine, with all the truth contained in it. In all sincerity we must conclude, therefore, that having the effective remedy to treat all our spiritual ills, we have not applied it conveniently because of our carnalities.

Under these circumstances a doctrinal revisionism which would conclude with the present state of things and would make provision for the future, until the day of Christ, must be understood as a normal condition in the life of Protestantism which, essentially, does not believe that any man or institution can be infallible, that is an attribute of God and the Truth of His Word exclusively. Perhaps the following estimations may clarify our thoughts:

-"Who can certify the truth and divine value of the Bible, if the Church does not do it? This is as though someone were to ask: ‘how could we differentiate between light and darkness, white and black, sweet and bitter?’. Because the Scriptures do not show less proof of themselves to make themselves known than do black and white things to show their colour, and sweet and bitter things to show their savour." (Calvin, "Institution of the Christian Religion").

Paraphrasing these expressions, which remind us of the fearful judgements which are registered in Isaiah 5:20: -"Woe unto them who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!" -we wish to address our theologians, professors, scholars and teachers of the Word of all Evangelical confessions, (if perchance they condescend to read this), to ask them:

a)Who will certify what is true of all that the teachers were not able to agree on?

b)If each one has said "his truth", - which would be "The truth"?

c)Will it not always be possible to discern (by means of the Word) light from darkness?

d)How long will white be called black and black white?

There are tasks, in the elimination of the present discrepancies, which have to be done in centres of study by theologians, philologists, scholars in History and specialists in Biblical disciplines. Complete brotherly Unity, which is the burden of our hearts, we would willingly cast down, before those to whom this honourable mission is given. Our prayer will be to ask the Lord to fill them with all His grace and wisdom, and that He will raise up skilled men who will understand and honour the Lord's High Priestly prayer: -"That they all may be one" (John 17:21).

This subject touches to the quick one of the greatest preoccupations of theologians and gifted ministers, who ask themselves if the evil of present day disunions is not the least among all the likely ones, if revisionism were to be reopened, because of the danger that new divisions or false doctrines could be introduced, sheltered by the doctrines desired to be corrected. They might resort to the theory of the lesser evil and think perhaps that a doctrinal revisionism would be like drawing leviathan to the shore... (Job 41:1). We answer that the necessary precautions would have to be taken so as not to be infiltrated and that the committees for study should not only be chosen from among the most zealous conservatives, but should confine their task to deal with points of discord, respecting absolutely what some theologians call "the Fundamentals of the Faith", that is, the doctrines that do not need any revising.

 ANTIOCH AND JERUSALEM. Acts 15:1-31.

The Holy Spirit determines and enlightens there, the way which should be taken to restore Doctrinal Unity, when it has been broken.

Respecting all sound exegesis of Acts 15:1-31, we would underline its historical value, because it is the only recorded precedent with regard to inter-Church treatment -with the presence of the Apostles- of a crucial doctrinal discrepancy for all Christendom.

The activities of a party of rigid, Pharisaic, legalist tendency proceeding from Judea, perturbed the Gentile brethren of the Church in Antioch, inasmuch as it was trying to enslave them to Judaistic rites, falsifying the pure Gospel of Grace. If those "false brethren" had had success in their pretensions, Christianity would have become a Jewish sect. It was therefore, the decisive hour for the universalization of the Gospel.

The Biblical Method. The Jerusalem Assembly, considering and resolving the question, with Apostolic authority, established the Biblical Method which should govern the Church in similar cases in later times. Their governing principles are, briefly, the following:

a)The Churches seek each other in brotherly love to deal with the problem.

b)Their spiritual leaders, to whom the Holy Spirit gave gifts of knowledge and wisdom, considered the question in the light of Scripture until full accord with the Scriptures was obtained.

c)Their conclusions are made known to the Churches, to whom also the respective indoctrination is administered.

In the BIBLICAL METHOD, three factors concur which we will analyse immediately.

 

THE FORMULA FOR UNITY (A. V. A.)

This much desired doctrinal Unity will only be possible through a full manifestation and preservation of a Biblical formula, composed of three elements that must be conjugated harmoniously:

ACTION - VERITY (Truth) - AGAPE (Love)

 

which cannot be disassociated from each other, and which should guide our conduct, and which is recorded with power and great beauty in the precious chapter that deals with Christian Unity: "...SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE..." (Eph. 4:15).

How could we become infatuated, following vain "idealistic" formulas for unity, that the spirit of harmony and peace might come, if this formula has the seal of Divine Authority?

From "the beginning" (that is, measurable time, Gen. 1:1; 1 John. 1:1) and from all passed eternity, Truth and Love, as essential Attributes of the Highest, have prevailed and will remain steadfast in the consummation of the ages without end in the manifestation of the Triune God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Such are the "wondrous works of Him who is perfect in knowledge" (Job 37:16). Who, from His grandeur, sublimity, omnipotence, highness and lordship, descends to our low estate (Ps. 8:3-6) to shed upon us His unspeakable gifts, conforming Himself to the simplicity of the humblest. Did not the Lord in His Grace bestow upon us the Word of foundation (the Incarnate and written Word) and the Holy Spirit who has begotten us, making us partakers of the Divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4) who is the Spirit of Truth and guides to all truth (John 16:13) and who likewise sheds abroad God's love in our hearts (Rom 5:5)?

But even as children of God, we run the risk of professing doctrines without possessing them fully, if our specific intentions and sentiments are not in conformity to the will of God. Above all else, therefore, it is necessary to descend to the depths of our souls, and there assure ourselves that in reality we desire His will (2 Chr. 15:12-15). If that objective is not our goal we will not find the necessary means nor the exact solution to articulate our purpose. This rule is as old as is humanity, because it goes back to Eden (compare Gen. 3:17). The Lord authenticates this with preciseness when He expresses: -"My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work" (John 4:34). Even more, in broad terms, He makes the "knowledge" of the doctrine depend upon the "will to do" the Father's will (John 7:17; Eph. 5:17).

Particularising, therefore, about Unity: if there is not a definite spiritual attitude, there will not be a full recognition of the doctrine and it will not be possible to penetrate to the roots in the outworking. Foreign interfering motivations will cause a collision between divine doctrinal proofs and darkened intellects and hardened hearts. As to the ecumenical intents, which are misrepresentations of the will of God, they lack the moral estimate of Biblical doctrine to sanction them and they lose themselves in the foliage of utopia.

On the other hand, he who has a holy disposition, permits God to work in him, "both to will and to do" (Phil. 2:13; Ps. 91:14-16) and most assuredly the Heavenly Voice of Truth and Love will be audible to him, because both these expressions live together, they are not isolated, but are intimately bound together, and when God works He does so fully. "In human matters it is necessary first to know so as to love; in heavenly matters, it is necessary first to love so as to know." (Pascal). -"Oh how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day." (Ps. 119:97).

We said that in the formula: "SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE" there are three elements:

a)The volitional ACTION (inferred in the verb "speaking") incessant, persistent and systematic, in which the person including his ego, his feelings and whole conscious consecration is yielded to his Lord and desires to obtain the Truth (Prov. 23:23). Daniel, "a man greatly beloved" who afflicted his soul before the presence of God because of the Truth, was richly blessed (Dan. 7:19; 9:23; 10:11,12).

b)The TRUTH incarnate in Jesus Christ (John 14:6) and which is a synonym for "the Word of God" (John 17:17) determines the Bible to be divinely inspired, inerrant and infallible as the only basis and foundation on which Unity should be constructed.

c)The LOVE with which we should love each other (John 13:34; 1 John 3:11). A tacit and inseparable companion of the Truth (2 Thess. 2:10) which in spirit must be maintained and preserved (Eph. 4:15). Love is "the bond of perfectness" (Col. 3:14) which covers and penetrates with its essential virtues.

It may be said, perhaps, -this is just a phrase, and not more than a phrase, and that terms and opinions in their functions of harmonising and conciliating cannot be defined by mere logical semantics, but they obtain significance working together spiritually with reality, so as to state precisely, if in truth they are a contribution in favour of this praiseworthy end. Yes, this is so, figures of speech, which do not correspond to a reality, often deceive us and tend rather to maintain a fiction. But recognising the Divine origin of the phrase, we affirm that if among those who disagree for whatever reason or circumstance, this trilogy (volitive action, which seeks the truth in love), becomes a reality individually and collectively, they will have become identified with the life-giving method of the Bible to find agreement and harmony of doctrines, practices and even of the most insignificant details of the Christian life. Not as an expression of immaterial, intranscendent, verbal, platonic idealism, but rather in the full sense given to the related theory, not separated from practice.

In the realisation of this task and the projection of its basic elements towards an explanation of the problems so as to channel and solve them in a concrete and singular process that repels by antonomasia all attempted "unity" which might preserve discrepancies.

We will try, in one case, to illustrate the practicability and the intentional elaboration of Unity. Let us suppose two ministers with different criteria with regard to the form of baptism: one an immersionist, the other an aspersionist, both firm and irreconcilable in their convictions. Both know they have been incapable of persuading the other and, logically, they do not ignore that one of the positions is incorrect, from a Biblical consideration. Finally the matter is dropped and each one believing in good faith "to be in the truth" practices, teaches and administers the ordinance as he understands it.

But now it should be different, because the discord would be approached in a different manner and with a different purpose from what had currently inspired this task. Neither have unity on the subject which constitutes the problem, but they have Unity in the Methodology to solve it. The method demands that the virtues of Truth and Love which are inherent to it be exercised together, we cannot repeat the formula and deny it in our actions. Biblical pedagogy, eminently didactic and experimental, is not developed in abstract principles nor in personal solitude, but rather in conscious concrete action. Lives should therefore be conditioned in accordance with these spiritual requirements.

Emancipating from prejudices, inflexibility, and even from environment and all that contributes to create confusion of concepts, giving in this way a new direction to feelings and will, according to the apostolic pattern (Phil. 3:13,14).

The Scriptures will be approached in a worthy way, not as controversialists to defend points of view, nor to mutually reproach what is considered as inconsistencies, but rather with the intent of heart to seek Biblical truth for the sake of truth, which is not the patrimony of any confession, but of the whole Church (1 Tim. 3:15). Biblical and historical material must be permitted to show all the truth they contain on the subject, without violence, sophism, misrepresentations and contradictions.

Brotherly love consubstantiated with Truth (2 Thess. 2:10) will consequently keep those two ministers together and will not permit at any moment that they separate with "two truths". At this point, perhaps it would help to clarify this thought, with the opportune observation of a minister who asked us: -"Would you be willing to change your form of baptism?". He wanted to indicate how difficult -if not impossible- it is to accept the possibility of rectifying that which one has the certainty is the truth. We answered we would if the Biblical proofs showed us we were mistaken. Truth does not fear to be contrasted nor "rectified" by error, and without presumption nor pride, we should militate fearlessly for our convictions which we love. When there is a lack of deep-rooted convictions, or there is no love for them, doubts and fears overcome us. "Perfect love casteth out fear" (1 John 4:18). Nevertheless, with the firm persuasion of being in the truth, before any dialogue takes place, and while it is being carried out, love must fight the battle and win. -Did not the Lord command that we love one another as He loved us? (John 13:34). An instancy of our souls, for a brother in error, should make supplication as Elisha the prophet did: -"Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see." (2 Kings 6:17). -"For with Thee is the fountain of life, in Thy light shall we see light" (Ps. 36:9).

Who would dare to think that when truth is sought "by the same rule", Unity, unanimity of thought and mind, will not be reached? (Phil. 3:16). Or will the Spirit of Grace and Truth be unoperative in the hearts of those who seek the truth?

This is not the case of an attempt at Unity, on the basis of a proposition, intentions and human methods, that usually end in frustrations. Success in its genuine meaning, can never be separated from the method it uses to obtain success and this is the BIBLICAL METHOD: ACTION with the concurrence of TRUTH and LOVE. Perhaps it would be presumptuous to affirm that the results can be wonderful if the demands are fulfilled?

 

But if we have the same fundamental statements in common: The Lord, the Spirit and the Word; how can we explain, in the light of the cannon, the fact that "different truths" are professed on the same subject and that all affirm to be "Speaking (or following) the Truth in Love"?

 

It is evident that the cannon has been mutilated and does not perform its function and to be honest with the Lord and with our own conscience, we must undeniably admit in self-criticism that we sin against Truth and Love, which are as bonds of brotherly fellowship, if we maintain alive and latent a doctrinal discord, without giving place to a rectifying Action which would be conciliatory.

 

The very truth professed is robbed, if even the most zealous and firm in their stand do not militate except in their own ranks, they do not confront the truth with all that is antagonistic to it, nor do they try to vindicate it of the "errors" which attack or perturb it. The "status" of acquiescence implies validating what one believes to be "error".

 

Simultaneously, brotherly love is robbed by the attitude of indifference and disinterestedness toward a brother, supposedly deceived in his standing, who is in that way deprived of partaking of spiritual benefits which one believes to possess. (Consider 1 John 3:17 by analogy).

How differently our brethren of the churches of the apostolic period laboured, when Christianity reached its greatest purity! (Acts 18:24-26; Gal. 2:11).

Carnalities cast their shadow upon the "Body of Christ"; errors are projected upon the Truth of the Faith and the lack of Love upon Love; all of which is foreign to its true essence and nature.

 

"Awake, O north wind, and come..." (Songs 4:16). May strong winds of the Spirit blow to dissipate those shadows. May the image of that reality which encircles us all -because no one who is of the "Body" is exempt- perturb us healthfully to shake off this apathy, awakening souls to contrition and repentance. May that loving "excuse" which makes us avoid each other for lack of harmony cease and may we decide in all Christian love to face them in all frankness according to Biblical Method, in authentic brotherly dialogue, so as to establish the sound Truth in Love. That will be the way of the highest spiritual level, of the most sublime significance which could enrich us all abundantly.

How should we conduct ourselves so as to reach those holy objectives?

It is in this intention and at the end of all we have expressed that we offer the following conclusions.

a) Action, in all that depends on the human condition of individuals, must not be submitted to or interfered with by the flesh. Each person must permit the Holy Spirit to have complete liberty to use him as His instrument.

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." (Rom. 12:1,2).

b) The Action must gain in spiritual meaning, health and robustness, but only as it develops with the interrelation of Truth and Love.

"Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other." (Ps. 85:10).

c) Truth must never be sacrificed for the sake of Love; but even an Action with Truth as its basis without the manner and spirit of love, would just be a frustration, because it would carry with it bitterness and intolerance, the antithesis of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It would be like a blind giant, an avalanche of sentiments and violent attitudes, which would bring no good ending.

"...the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning. The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips. Pleasant words are like an honeycomb, sweet to the soul and health to the bones." (Prov. 16:21b and 23,24)

d) Action that presumes to have Love, but without the foundation of the Truth, is deceitful condescension; it comes from a "false love" and opens the doors to all doctrinal perversions. It is like a halting spirit and can we measure the debasements and desertions to which that can descend?

"Oh, send out thy light and thy truth" (Ps. 43:3a).

"Love... rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth" (1 Cor. 13:6).

e) If the formula is disassociated from the Action, the dialogue will end and we will lament one more frustration. For that reason, our own individual experience and the history of the Church record periods of spiritual unrest, convulsions, moral turbulences and even cataclysms in their fundamental directions.

"And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is bind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins." (2 Pet. 1:5-9).

Conscious that the formula "SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE" would, at all times be of profound spiritual benefit for all, we would like to make it effective, brief, dynamic, easy to retain and to repeat. We would say then:

ACTION, VERITY (TRUTH), AGAPE (LOVE), IS EQUAL TO UNITY. That is: equal to the harmony of our lives with the Lord, with His Word, and with our brethren.

CODIFYING THE FORMULA, that is, substituting the terms for initials, we have the following equality:

A. V. A. = UNITY

We do not wish to diffuse or recite brilliant or exciting metaphors without Evangelical sense or content. Neither we do want to coin a metaphoric slogan as a substitute for man and his duties. It is a Divine axiom that should nourish our daily tasks vitally, presiding with its virtues of Truth and Love, while our pilgrimage through this valley of shadows lasts, and as we go towards the Heavenly Zion. May it please God to prosper this in the hearts of His children for the sake of His Holy Cause!

 CONCLUSION (Practical Suggestions).

Finally, we wish to address our brethren who feel urged to do something in favour of Unity and who perhaps ask themselves how this can be accomplished from the place they occupy in their respective Churches.

Nothing is to be despised and there is much to do in all quarters and even from the lowliest positions. All should collaborate to create the spiritual climate which has been the forerunner of the great revivals recorded in history. It is necessary to speak on the subject and to consider it with pastors and teachers, so as to make people fully aware of it, and that a united voice, an irresistible spiritual pressure may move the powers of Heaven.

Particularly should independent churches use New Testament methods in every possible way, remembering that whosoever: "knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (James 4:17), and that the lighted lamp is placed in a visible place to give light (Matt. 5:15,16). We suggest that this matter be presented to churches as a motive for constant prayer in the usual meetings and that committees of two or more ministers should be named to be specifically occupied in this matter. That they get into contact with officials of other churches to promote interactions in the area or greater areas when the Testimony transcends with greater volume and intensity. That they get into touch with brethren of the "PHILADELPHIA" (BROTHERLY LOVE) TESTIMONY, either in the United States of America with appointed spokesmen, and in Argentina and Uruguay, with the Churches which have proclaimed and sustained it.

The task is great; but, to young people especially, we could not offer them a small programme of action!

The journey, the labour, will not be easy:

 

"BUT THEY THAT WAIT UPON THE LORD SHALL RENEW THEIR STRENGTH; THEY SHALL MOUNT UP WITH WINGS LIKE EAGLES; THEY SHALL RUN, AND NOT BE WEARY: AND THEY SHALL WALK, AND NOT FAINT."! (Isaiah 40:31).