The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls . . . So wrote Simon and Garfunkel in their 1966 hit song, The Sound of Silence. If we pay close attention, we will find that the secular artists (poets, musicians, authors, etc.) of a culture often speak kingdom values and insights to the people of God with a clarity not found among the people of God.
“Objective historic theology is Reformation theology. It is historical evangelicalism. It is historical orthodoxy.” So says John MacArthur (Charismatic Chaos: 32). If John’s lips are moving, there’s a good chance I don’t agree with much of what’s coming through them! The narrow and sectarian nature of that statement is appalling. But John is just following in the footsteps of his spiritual forefather, Martin Luther. Luther said that in the history of the church no one–not Augustine, not any of the Church Fathers–NO ONE other than himself–ever understood “pure doctrine.” He called everything before himself “great darkness.” (Table Talk: §530)
Have you ever known someone who is a zealous reforming advocate for some cause that they were once part of themselves, like alcoholism or drug addiction? In their newly found zeal they are often overbearing. I was that person in the early days of my Christian experience. I had a hard case of Christian idiocy. It is a relationally toxic and unsafe mix of sincerity, ignorance, zeal, and self-righteousness.
Ecumenism is usually low on the spiritual hierarchy of values for most. Passive indifference to passionate disdain—the equivalent of dancing with the devil—parenthetically enclose a wide spectrum of perspectives. If not the alleged compromising work of the devil, ecumenism is often viewed as something reserved for the academy. There, grizzled and gray theologians parse and probe the subtlest of theological nuances trying to come up with “unifying statements of faith.” Its value-relevance to ground-level realities of parish or local church life is simply not recognized. What follows is a true story of the human pain that can occur when ecumenism is not valued.
Grace is costly. It may accrue to us freely, but it cost Jesus dearly. Love is costly, as is peace-making reconciliation. It is not enough to understand these things as abstractions. We must grow in grace-ness (graciousness) toward others—even those with whom we may disagree or those who may have hurt us. Jesus was wounded in the house of his friends and betrayed by one of his most intimate friends. The disciple is not above the Master. We have been given a ministry of reconciliation to, and for, the world and it is a tall order. Would it not make sense that it actually work among those who call upon Jesus as Lord, before we try to export our convictions to others?
There’s an old saying that if we ever saw sausage being made, we would never eat sausage! Saying you favor Christian unity is like saying you love sausage. Anyone can wax eloquent about the philosophical virtues of ideal sausage. The question is, do you have the stomach for the process of making sausage? Yielding to the processes of God that will actually yield John 17 Christian unity rather than cheap counterfeits is an entirely different matter than agreeing about the eternal priority of unity. How unity is defined, implemented, and embracing its cost will separate sausage lovers from sausage producers. God has called us to produce sausage, not just rhetorically extol its virtues. It is not for the faint of heart.