Undivided: Could the Good News Still Unite the Church Today?
Churches are beset with a perplexing tribalism.
Everyone agrees that the church should not major on minors. Churches would mostly agree with the slogan, in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty and in all things, charity. Yet we find our churches beset with a tribalism that is perplexing, even though Protestants been through 500 years of church founding and splitting. We may need a deeper understanding of the Scriptures to move past the slogans we find difficult to apply.
Most Christians would declare that what unites the church is Jesus Christ and his salvation. So, the SBC Leadership Conference team asked two biblical scholars and a pastoral leader to engage the Scriptures in answering the question: Could the good news still unite the church today?
Three speakers with diverse tastes in coffee joined me at Steinbach Bible College for a conversation around two questions. What are some of the key issues that are creating disunity in the church today? What do you think your perspective will bring to this conversation?
Pierre grew up in Quebec City. He received a BRE and MA (OT) from Providence College and Seminary and has a doctorate in biblical studies from the University of Montreal. Pierre has served in Montreal and Fresno, California. He presently teaches for Canadian Mennonite University. His academic interests focus on the Old Testament. He has written two books and is working on a third one dealing with divine violence in the Old Testament. Pierre is married to Monika, and they have three grown children and a grandchild. He drinks McCafé and will speak on Inclusion and Exclusion in the Torah.
Key issues: The government’s incoherent and, at times, authoritarian response to the pandemic has created deep and intense divisions in many churches, particularly so in terms of how we understand the relationship between the church and the state. Another source of division ties into the increasing number of leaders and churches that are now embracing the so-called woke ideology without understanding exactly what it is and its implications for their communities and society at large.
My perspective: I have been asked to bring an Old Testament perspective, and I will do my best to examine the foundation for unity for the Israelites who came out of Egypt. The lecture will center on the heart of the Covenant, the Ten Commandments. I will also examine how the notion of unity in the Torah was tied in with the attitude the attitude of loyalty towards God that is expressed in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is one,” and the whole issue of love and loyalty.
Joshua is Associate Professor of New Testament at Providence Theological Seminary and has taught in theological institutions across Canada. His love for both Scripture and the Church has directed much of his academic work, and he speaks and preaches frequently both in churches and retreats, and at academic conferences. He and his wife Mary have two sons. He drinks Starbucks and will speak on Relational Identity in the Gospel of John and Christian Unity.
Key issues: The deepest root of my interest in this issue is a love for Jesus. When you love him deeply, it is impossible not to feel sorrow at seeing his name torn apart by his representatives. And sometimes the way we disagree with each other can be shameful. At the same time, many bandy about Christianese or Christian language to trumpet their own kingdoms.
My perspective: The antidote then, to idolatry or any giving of myself to a lesser god, is to be realigned with the true God. That would be the perspective I would want to bring: the relentless orientation towards Jesus Christ, that we see across the New Testament of course, but in John's Gospel in particular, where he is at the center of all things.
After a decade in business, and 25+ years in pastoral and denominational ministry, Terry Kaufman now serves as Leadership Catalyst for the Evangelical Free Church of Canada -- resourcing, coaching, mentoring, and consulting with church leaders and pastors across Canada. He also serves as faculty at Steinbach Bible College overseeing Ministry and Marketplace Leadership as well as teaching pastoral courses. Terry and his wife Peggy have two grown children and a grandchild. He drinks Tim Hortons and will speak on, Church Unity in the Polarized World.
Key issues: One is simply a lack of trust of other people, especially leadership. That is huge and is a real issue contributing to disunity. Connected to that is an individualism, a self-determination. "I get to decide who I am in terms of all aspects of my identity. Even as a Christian, I get to decide what my Christianity should look like and what it should emphasize, and nobody gets to tell me otherwise. And I get to make all these decisions myself.”
My perspective: I would like to emphasize the priority of unity. We can find this in many ways in the Bible, but I think one of the expressions is how maturity and unity are connected. The pictures of maturity that we have come to believe in the church are proba
bly wrong. We have thought that a mature church might be one that has great teaching or great growth or 1000 programs. But really, a greater sign of maturity is unity.
Discussion: Arlene Friesen
We are inviting Arlene Friesen, instructor at Steinbach Bible College in Bible and church ministries, and non-coffee drinker, to host a round-table discussion with the presenters. The panel will explore the broader polarization in the church and suggest how leaders can respond. This time is an opportunity for further questions, next steps, and application of the presentations.
I asked the presenters, “church leaders are overwhelmed with many responsibilities. So why attend a conference on church unity?”
Pierre: You need pastors to think carefully about this, because Christian unity is not just a question of keeping people together. It is about what we are about, it is about the center, and it is about the mission of the church.
Joshua: I would hope that what will be life-giving to pastors is a clarity on what we are primarily about. There are lots of good things, but there is the one needful thing. And Christian unity is an outcome of that.
Terry K: I hope that that this discussion would inspire them with some good news that we can leverage and take advantage of the brokenness of the present day….I hope that it would help pastors realize that rather than thinking about what we have lost in the last couple of years, what is “threatening” today, we can…see the opportunity that is there, and thus be encouraged and inspired.
The conversation on a cold afternoon in October revealed that although the three speakers are from different institutions and drink different coffees, there was remarkable unity. Pierre Gilbert, Joshua Coutts, and Terry Kaufman all affirmed the centrality of Jesus Christ and believed that the good news could still unite the church today. Join the SBC Leadership Conference live or online on March 17-18, 2023, to find out why and how.