I believe an honest reading of the Scriptures presents us with the burden of Christ for the unity of his followers. He prayed about that unity in John 17, and he and the Father poured out the Spirit at Pentecost for several reasons, including to activate, deepen, and protect the Church’s unity. Descriptions of the early church make clear that those believers did have remarkable experiences of unity that defied all expectations (see Acts 2.42-47; 4.32-35). Threats to the unity of the Church were of grave concern to God and to the leaders of the Church (Acts 5.1-11; 6.1-6; 1 Cor. 1.10-17; Eph. 4.4-6). Leaders were given to the Church to help her grow in her experience of unity (Eph. 4.7-13). The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, so rich in meaning, includes the significance of the participants being “one body” that corresponds to the one loaf (1 Cor. 10:16-17) – and probably includes the dimension of belonging to the world-wide body. The Church that awaits the Lord’s return and the consummation of eternal life with him in heaven is pictured as a unified, singular entity, “the Bride” (Rev. 22.17).
I can’t help but groan at how that picture of Scripture collides with the record of church history. Church history can be fairly summarized as a succession of divisions and a proliferation of denominations that is inescapable. The historical division of the Church is so overwhelmingly with us that many theologians, including some conservative Reformed scholars, have concluded that the Church’s separation is better seen as beneficial diversity and even willed by God – an acceptance of the plurality or “pluriformity” of the Church. I do find, however, that in certain times particular church leaders have sought for more visible expressions of the Church’s unity. Even that good cause, however, is fraught with pitfalls: for evangelicals, much of the mainline ecumenical movement has strayed disastrously from biblical moorings.
I have a concern that recent generations of conservative Presbyterians and other Reformed folk have allowed too much of a gap to exist between our belief in the unity of the Church and an accommodation to the evidences of the disunity of the Church in our regions and nations. Divisions and separations have become so pervasive and most attempts to counteract the divisions with cooperation and even overcome them by efforts at re-unification or reunion have been so unsuccessful that many churches, their leaders, and their members are resigned to the status quo of separation and limited cooperation and prefer to talk about spiritual, non-visible unity instead.
So at a time when the topics of Church unity and interchurch relations are of very limited interest to most in the Church, including most leaders, I seek to foster discussion, reporting of interchurch success stories, and networking with others who share some of the beliefs and hopes reflected here. The initial pages that I have made available include an overview of interchurch relations among conservative Presbyterians in the twentieth century, a short article I just contributed to byfaithonline.com (the PCA magazine’s online version), and a Doctor of Ministry dissertation I completed last year. In that work, I researched and analyzed local interchurch relations, specifically between neighboring OPC and PCA congregations. I intend to add pertinent and helpful links as I find them. All comments, suggestions, and stories are welcome!