Conventional wisdom says Christian unity is finding the lowest common denominator of agreement and trashing everything else that could possibly disrupt the unity. Unity, in this sense, means total conformity. And where we cannot conform, we must downplay, whitewash or forget.
But a more interesting approach is to unify around the gospel and allow significant doctrinal divisions to remain prominent. This is how Together for the Gospel was assembled. For the first time I can recall we are seeing this ecumenism in action in the debate over baptism. (Justin Taylor has a great summary if you have not been reading.)
Yesterday, Ligon Duncan wrote on the T4G blog:
“The unity of T4G is not a unity in spite of doctrinal differences, in which we gain unity by downplaying doctrine, minimizing ecclesial differences and going with a lowest common denominator. Our unity is instead a unity of respect for the truth and for truth-in-practice, that sees in each other such a dogged commitment to God’s word in both faith and practice that we want to be together promoting biblical Christianity, even (and especially) in the way we handle the points of principle on which we seriously disagree.”
My point is not to offer my own opinion in the matter of baptism but to draw your attention to the brilliant ecumenism on display that upholds theological differences and provides a platform for genuine Christians to unite around the Cross. All while leaving the door open to publicly call other Christians to account for their theology and practice.
Coming together for the Gospel does not mean Mohler will restrain from calling Duncan out on baptism, nor will it mean Mahaney will refrain from challenging Dever on his cessationist theology. Sometimes this “calling out” will take more serious form and sometimes will be at points of humor (like at the T4G conference in ’06 Mahaney suggested Dever – known for his overview sermons – preached 1 Corinthians in one sermon so he could skip chapters 12 and 14).
So where do men and women with serious theological disagreements find unity? Around a biblically faithful and well-defended message of the Cross. Only the Cross is high enough and profound enough to draw Christians together and hold them together as they disagree over other important distinctions.
This is brilliant ecumenism.
Audio excerpt from the first panel discussion at T4G’06. © 2006 Together for the Gospel.