A secret of unity
After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.
(Colossians 4:16, NIV)
A couple of weeks ago I posted about denominationalism, and have been thinking about how real unity can be built between churches. I am not talking about the wishy-washiness that characterises much ecumenical dialogue, but unity in the truth. I am talking about genuine, Christ-honouring unity (of a kind which, thankfully, is there between many churches in Cambridge).
Here is one suggestion: consecutive expository Bible teaching. By this I mean not some specialist activity, but the normal business of preaching based on passages and books of the Bible; working through them as they’ve been given to us.
In the verse above, Paul rounds off his letter to the Colossians by urging them to read it out and then pass it to the church down the road. This shows (a) that the Apostle expected a church to work through a letter - presumably starting at the beginning; and (b) that he expected more than one church to do so.
Sadly, this is not what we always do. I read of a minister who, Sunday by Sunday over a long period, preached right through the Westminster Confession of Faith. This is a fine document, but it is not the Bible. Making this the basis of one’s preaching is not only a dereliction of ministerial duty (for we are to preach the Bible!), but is bound to foster denominationalism.
A quick look at the websites of some local churches in a part of the world where there is strong denominationalism shows me that the local tradition is for ministers to pick isolated texts week by week, rather than preaching the Bible as it’s been given to us. Almost inevitably this will result in an unbalanced presentation of God’s truth, and a church fashioned more in the image of the minister than it should be. (At least I know my own heart enough to know I’d be unbalanced if I did this.) Does this, too, promote denominationalism?
On the other hand, if the Bible is preached in our churches, we will all - across the churches - be hearing what C S Lewis called “Mere Christianity”. We will be hearing the common deposit the Lord has given all His people, everywhere.
Many of us have had this wonderful experience: we visit a church different from our own in externals and in some secondary matters, such as service style, system of church government or baptism policy. But we discover real unity at a deep level because we meet brothers and sisters shaped by the Bible; we discover they, too, have learnt much from reading Mark, or Exodus, or Daniel, or Colossians…
There is obviously more to say on this matter of unity, but I wonder if here is a practical secret which could bring us much blessing.
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