Friday, February 7, 2014

Accidental Pharisees: Part Six THE QUEST FOR UNIFORMITY

Proverbs 6:16-19 has a list of seven things the LORD hates. The seventh is one who sows discord among brethren. 

Another Scripture I came to recently in my Daily Audio Bible trip through Scriptures is Matthew 22, the parable of the wedding feast. Jesus ends the parable in verse 14 with For many are called, but few are chosen. Then in the next chapter Christ warns woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men (23:13). It is not for us to decide or shut up or shut out by being exclusive and insisting on a certain type of uniformity.

This part of Larry Osborne's Accidental Pharisees looks at the difference between uniformity and unity. Unity is what we need, not uniformity. I refer back to pp. 100-102 where Osborne deals with the diet wars and the Sabbath wars of Romans 14 and 15. We do not need emphasis on these wars,  but we do need unity. 

Some Reformed folks I know insist on uniformity and it is so sad. Where might they go--home church, an Internet church or no church at all?!  We all need to accept the leadership in our church and be accountable to the pastors and elders who preside. Or we need to prayerfully transfer our membership to an active congregation and not run off in a huff over uniformity. We need unity not wars about uniformity.

Questions from pp. 157-158 are in red and my answers are in black and blue.

1. After reading part 6, how, in your own words, would you define the difference between uniformity and unity? Unity doesn't expect uniformity.

2. Have you ever seen firsthand a situation where the quest for uniformity destroyed the potential for biblical unity? Yes, I have.  If so, what happened? Church members took it upon themselves to run away from unity to uniformity to their "perfect church," rather than stay and be the body of Christ in the local congregation. As if THEY know best, they opt for nonessentials that they feel are essential!! What did you learn? Don't know yet. Still hurting over this. Hope there is repentance and restoration. We will move on from this with tears in our eyes.

3. If you had to name your tribe's boundary markers, code words, and "red-word" teachers, what would that list look like? Be as specific as possible. Maybe what has been called young, restless and reformed. However, I don't really like labels.
a. How would someone from outside your tribe learn about those things if he or she wanted to fit in? By being drawn to our church and attending it and then they would not even know about young, restless and reformed. 
b. Would the Jesus of the New Testament be inside or outside of those boundaries? Inside it, but He is inside other boundaries also. DO NOT SHUT UP THE KINGDOM, as Christ warned the scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites in the Matthew 23:13 passage I quoted before these questions.

4. As we saw, there are some things that are worth fighting for. Which specific issues do you believe should be on that list? Authority of Scripture (Solo Scriptura). What filter do you use to decide when an issue is worth fighting for and when it's best to "agree to disagree"? The filter I use is Scripture, careful exegesis of that Scripture, and reflection on what is essential and what is nonessential. I also consult with my pastors. I can have fellowship with a believer who doesn't celebrate Christmas--we can joyfully agree to disagree as long as we can both maintain unity. This falls under the diet wars and Sabbath wars of Romans--both are right and both can have love for one another and unity. Christ prayed in John 17:21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 

5. On a scale from 0 (we are slopes) to 10 (we are shockingly different), how would you rate the diversity (not just racial diversity) of your congregation? How would you rate the Christian diversity of your personal relationships, circles of friends, and colleagues? Just going to skip this numerical analysis. It seems a judgmental question to me. Over my lifetime I have Christian friends and relatives in other congregations.

6. Looking back over the chapters in part 6, what one thing most jumps out at you as a new insight or an important principle? There is more than one thing. Osborne quotes Luke 9:49-50 and Philippians 1:15-18--like those passages. Why? It is not biblical to have those boundary markers. How do you plan to respond to it? To answer these questions, in part, I will end with quotes from this part of the book.
Our biblical unity is rooted solely in our relationship with Jesus. It's not dependent on shared religious practices, patterns, or preferences. It's not contingent on agreeing on every point of theology. It existed even if we wish it didn't. p. 140 
When the quest for uniformity replaces the maintenance of biblical unity, the first thing we tend to do is to establish boundary markers. Boundary markers are the telling behaviors, symbols, and viewpoints that identify us with one group or another. p. 141-142 
Instead of our answers and theology flowing out of the Bible, we end up with answers and theological systems superimposed upon the Bible and read back into it. Eventually the Bible becomes nothing more than a proof text for what our tribe already believes. p. 146 
Osborne recounts a church debate and writes:
There was a long list of crystal-clear commands in my Bible telling me to live in harmony, to be diligent to maintain the unity of theSpirit, to be humble, long-suffering, loving, and forgiving, to bear with my brothers and sisters, and to submit to people in spiritual authority over me. It made no sense to me to disobey this long list of clear commands in order to wage a fierce battle over a handful of verses that were admittedly hard to decipher. p. 152 
By definition, bearing with one another is an act of selfless obedience. It means dying to self and overlooking things I'd rather not overlook. It means working out real and deep differences and disagreements. It means offering to others the same grace, mercy, and patience when they are dead wrong as Jesus offers to me when I'm dead wrong. p. 155 
Osborne quotes 1 John 2:9-11 and then ends this part with these words:
We can cause people to say, "My how they love one another," or we can cause them to say, "What kind of God has a family like that?" p. 156

Lord, help us unite about nonessentials
 and love one another. 


  1. I especially loved what the author wrote on pg. 152. I've struggled with this issue for years. The better theologian I become (all Christians are theologians) the better able I am to discern between the essentials and non-essentials. I really appreciated this post!

    1. Thanks, Georgene. Larry Osborne has a way of making me think theologically also.

  2. I definitely think we need to work on unity over uniformity. When Jesus talks about his church, he is talking about all of us, not individual churches or denominations, but us collectively together and I think we need to be able to put aside differences and unite together in the whole purpose of making Jesus known and spreading his message to others. I, like you, back everything with Scripture, so if someone tells me something and I can't back that up with Scripture, I'm not going to believe it to be true. As churches, there are key concepts (theology if you may) that should never be argued about, like who Jesus is, what the Bible is, etc. There may be those items that people might want to argue about (infant baptism versus baptism at an age people can make their own decision) but in all, we should remember the main thing, which is Jesus and telling others about him.


    1. Yes and Amen, Betty! During Jesus last days He said, "He who is not against us is on our side." Then Paul in Philippians 1 contrasted those who preach from selfish ambition with those who preach from love, and wrote that he rejoiced that Christ is preached whatever way, in pretense or in truth. However, I do think we have to heed for ourselves 2 Timothy 2:15 "rightly dividing the word of truth." So much balance is called for!

  3. Unity verses uniformity is such a great topic to consider. It really is amazing how we can all be in Christ (unity) with such different tastes, backgrounds, talents, provisions, and gifts. It really is a beautiful thing when we are unified by God's Word (John 17:17), as a diverse body. Uniformity really takes away from God's glory, God's authority, and his beauty.

    1. Absolutely! It's great when we do not say I am of Paul or I am of Apollos and we can use Scripture for our unity. We "cast down arguments . . . and bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" according to 2 Cor. 10:5. We let our obedience to Scripture be above our arguing with other believers.


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