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Winter 2009 | Volume 32, Number 1 | Features

Reconciliation and the Church

Toward a “Heavenly Unity”?

Heavenly Unity

“Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is his only Son.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

If there was anything upon which the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis preferred not to dwell, it was the divisions that existed in the Christian Church. He chose instead to devote his writing and speaking to the subject of “Mere Christianity” — the truths held in common by nearly all believers everywhere.

In the world today, more than 2 billion people are united in identifying themselves as Christians and professing belief in such fundamentals as one God; his only son, Jesus; the Holy Trinity; and the Bible. But they are also divided into hundreds of denominations, differing to one degree or another on doctrine and other issues.

Some argue that this diversity is a strength, giving Christianity its many different “textures” and “flavors.” Others consider today’s multiple denominations as broken in fellowship from the early Church. Many see the division of the Church as sin in the face of Christ’s prayer that “all might be one.”

In a discussion of the biblical concept of reconciliation, unity in the Church is perhaps the thorniest subject of all — because it touches on the very heart of what Christians believe, how they function as a faith community, and the credibility of their witness to the world.

A reluctant Lewis did address the division between his own Protestant Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church in one brief essay, “Christian Reunion.” In its conclusion, he writes to Christians of all denominations:

“[W]hen two people differ in doctrine, logic proclaims that though both might be in error, it is impossible for both to be right. And error always to some extent disables.

“When, therefore, we find a certain heavenly unity existing between really devout persons of differing creeds — a mutual understanding and even a power of mutual edification which each may lack towards a lukewarm member of his own denomination — we must ascribe this to the work of Christ who, in the erroneous one, sterilizes his errors and inhibits the evil consequences they would naturally have … and opens the eyes of the other party to all the truths mingled in his friend’s errors, which are, of course, likely to be truths he particularly needs.”

Lewis, as he so often does, re-orients his reader’s thinking toward a unity bestowed from heaven, where differences among believers are not resolved, but transformed — through the blood of Christ.

By Jennifer Johnson Gilnett

The Question of Unity

Given the myriad differences of traditions and beliefs within the Christian Church, do you think that unity is desirable or even possible? If so, what would it look like?

Read four points of view:

Frank Anthony Spina Frank Anthony Spina
SPU professor of Old Testament and biblical theology
Randy Rowland Randy Rowland
Church-planter and pastor of Sanctuary
Thomas Howard Thomas Howard
Retired English professor, scholar, and acclaimed author
Eugene Peterson Eugene Peterson
Former Presbyterian minister, and award-winning author

iTunesUiTunes U

Hear SPU Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology Frank Anthony Spina's 2008 Weter Lecture, "Multiplying Division: A Figural Reading of the Story of the Levite's Concubine (Judges 19–21)."

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