UNITY AND UNIFORMITY
Years ago, it was very important to us in the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) to be able to answer every single question that arose about the Bible or Christian doctrine. It was also crucial that we be in agreement on what the answers were. Anything less would have called into question our status as the ``one true church.''
Thankfully, we have come to understand in recent years that we are just one part of the much larger Body of Christ, and we do not bear the sole responsibility for having all the answers. We have made efforts to highlight the central doctrines of Christianity and to distinguish them from those that are less important and about which we are less certain. Wisely, we now strive for unity on fundamental truths and do not insist upon agreement in more debatable matters. The motto that appears on the inside front cover of Grace and Knowledge-``in essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, charity''-expresses the current outlook of WCG and of this magazine.
Some assert that ``unity without uniformity'' is not really possible. A friend of mine once expressed such an opinion, quoting Amos 3:3 (KJV): ``Can two walk together, except they be agreed?'' Undeniably, there is a tension between unity and diversity. But how great a uniformity is required for us to ``walk together''? Must we belong to the same political party? Cheer for the same athletic teams? Have the same favorite color? I would argue that since we are not identical, ``unity without uniformity'' had not only better be possible-it is actually a prerequisite to forming any association of people, in particular a healthy community of faith. I would even go one step further and say that since God has created us with a variety of gifts and personalities, a community of faith can reach its full potential only when certain types of diversity are encouraged and not merely tolerated. In our fellowship, those types of diversity would have to include worship customs and points of view on debatable doctrinal issues.
An ideal situation of ``unity with diversity'' is, of course, much easier to talk about than to achieve. Balancing these two objectives has been a challenge to Christianity ever since Jesus gave the Great Commission to ``go ye therefore, and teach all nations.'' (Matt. 28:19) Any group that is to encompass ``all nations'' will have to be very flexible and include a great deal of diversity!
For us in WCG, this challenge involves changing the dynamics of a church culture accustomed to suppressing diversity. In the past, it was customary for us to accept as dogma the instruction and opinions of our church's leaders on all subjects, major and minor, theological and otherwise. A person who openly questioned any teaching was viewed as being not entirely ``with the program.'' Those who disagreed with a particular teaching therefore had two options: they could either keep their opinions to themselves or leave our fellowship.
Creating a church culture that deals more constructively with our differences and actually fosters diversity will take time. I believe that great progress has been made toward this goal in recent years; in many ways, our church is a kinder, gentler place to be than it was years ago. However, there is still much room for improvement, as evidenced by the way that the continuing controversy over our liturgical calendar has proceeded.
The Worship Calendar Controversy
Most in WCG now agree that a particular worship calendar is not a factor that distinguishes true Christians from ``Christians so-called.'' There is great variety in the worship traditions of genuine disciples of Jesus, so in one sense it is true that ``days don't matter," as I have heard some say. Nevertheless, the subject of when and how we worship is an emotional and very important one for us individually; I have met very few people who do not have opinions on this subject. In that sense, days do matter.
Given the sensitive nature of this subject, it would make sense for the
leadership of WCG to play the role of peacemaker, promoting an even-handed
diversity that would include the Christ-centered use of our traditional
calendar. Unfortunately, in the
For those of us who have chosen to remain in WCG, it can be easy to become depressed about our church's future. A good way to combat discouragement is to lift up each other, so in the spirit of mutual encouragement, I offer what I hope are some constructive suggestions for facing the future as a fellowship. I will organize my remarks around the three parts of Peter Meiderlin's motto.
``In Essentials, Unity'' It is encouraging to note that there has been much valuable instruction in fundamentals of Christianity coming from the pulpits of the WCG and the pages of The Plain Truth in recent years. I disagree with those who disparage such teaching as the ``mere milk of the Word.'' The basic truths of Christianity are, in fact, the most important ones. When we worship together, we can rejoice in these truths. We can also share them with others, for they are the ones most needed by the world around us.
This was brought home to me a few weeks ago when a friend of our daughter's confided to my wife that he was not sure about the existence of God. Sherry listened to his questions and shared with him her own perspectives on the subject. In her remarks, she drew upon her own firm grounding in basic Christianity, not on her knowledge of more esoteric doctrines. I do not know if this young man will decide to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but he certainly heard the gospel that night in a way that he undoubtedly never had before.
In Grace and Knowledge, we have been highlighting the fundamental truths of Christianity in our ongoing series on the Apostles' Creed. In the current installment (page 20), Jared Olar focuses on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and its implications.
Jared also discusses a more controversial doctrine, that of Jesus' ``descent into hell.'' This latter teaching is not part of the earliest version of the Apostles' Creed, and it sounds strange to most of us. Still, it is a doctrine that has long been believed by many Christians and is thus worthy of our careful consideration. This leads us to the next part of Meiderlin's motto:
``In Nonessentials, Liberty'' I sometimes become discouraged when I read an article in a church publication or hear a sermon that expresses a lack of regard for our worship traditions, makes an antijudaic statement, or makes what I consider to be a historical or doctrinal error. In such situations, I find it helpful to remember that on controversial subjects on which orthodox Christians differ, the opinions of our church leaders are just that-opinions. To be sure, these opinions should not be simply ignored, but it is no longer necessary or even advisable to regard them as dogmas. Our liberty on nonessential issues includes the freedom to inform ourselves about debatable subjects and make up our own minds, as we are led by the Holy Spirit.
Another part of our liberty on nonessentials is the freedom to responsibly
express our opinions on controversial subjects. In our church culture,
one needs to have a bit of courage to express a dissenting opinion-a
person who does so will usually still be regarded by some as not being ``with the
program''-but I believe it will generally be better for our church if such
opinions are expressed rather than suppressed. For example, in 1998,
members of the
A third aspect of this liberty is the latitude to utilize our spiritual gifts to start ministries that supplement our church's official programs. For example, a group of brethren who would like to assemble on a Sabbath or festival day when their congregation is not officially meeting could join together and do so.
This magazine is another example of such a grassroots ministry. One of the reasons that we founded Grace and Knowledge was to promote discussion on subjects of interest to current and former WCG members. We believe that such discussion can help us come closer to achieving a true ``unity with diversity. '' In particular, the theological dialogue in our denomination can be greatly enriched by including more than just the teaching that comes ``from the top down.''
In this issue of Grace of Knowledge, we again investigate the meaning of the New Covenant, a topic of great interest to many in our fellowship. In the conclusion of his two-part series on this subject (page 5), Jared Olar shows how the New Testament agrees with the Hebrew Scriptures in refuting replacement theology and predicting the continuing participation of Israel in God's irrevocable promises. In addition, he makes clear the nature and mission of the Church and describes what we can do to hasten the return of our Savior.
``In All Things, Charity'' Charity is the essential ingredient that enables unity and diversity to coexist. It allows brethren to be able to agree to disagree, if necessary, on a controversial issue, and still worship together. It reminds us to respect another's choices and views, even when they are different from our own.
In Grace and Knowledge, we celebrate both the common heritage of all Christians and our distinctive WCG culture. In doing so, our aim is not to compete with official WCG publications, but rather to complement and supplement them, providing food for thought on subjects of current interest. We hope that you find Issue 6 to be enlightening and inspiring. As always, we look forward to hearing from you.
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