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Exploring the Outer Banks of Christian unity

by Perry Engle

The general consensus was that my wife’s family reunion at the Outer Banks in North Carolina this past summer was one of the best vacations we’ve ever had. I mean, what’s not to like about early morning runs to Light House Bagels, bobbing in the warm Atlantic Gulfstream, riding jet skis far out into the sound, and enjoying late evening Just Dance contests with cousins?

But for me there was something else about the seven families and 29 people who lived together for an entire week. It was the overwhelming sense that, for all of our differences as an extended family (and there are plenty), none of them really mattered as we came together for the first time in many years to celebrate our commonality as kin.

There were many things we could have discussed and even argued about: the size of government, home schooling vs. public schooling, creationism, immigration, the Emerging Church (whatever that is) and Rob Bell. You know the drill—all of the things we tend to fight about and divide over as Christians. We really could have gotten into it, but we didn’t. Why? Because we valued our time together as a family over the need to promote our own agendas and be right on every issue.

Reflecting back, unity wasn’t a given at our family reunion; it was a decision we made individually and corporately to focus on the higher good of being together. Similarly, unity within the Church is not just a state of being; it is a choice. It is a willful act of focusing on what connects us as Christians rather than what divides us. It is submitting ourselves to the heart-prayer of Jesus that we might be “brought to complete unity” as a witness to an unbelieving world ( John 17:20–23).

As our BIC Church family becomes more diverse, we need to refocus on those things that unite us as brothers and sisters in Christ. Together, we affirm the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, as well as our own Articles of Faith and Doctrine, which contain those elements that join us together as a people of God: our acceptance of the Bible as God’s word, our confession of Jesus as Lord, our belief in Christ’s bodily resurrection, our conviction that salvation is by grace alone, and our understanding that the Holy Spirit leads to a transformed life. These beliefs are at the heart of what it means to be followers of Jesus.

Near our vacation’s end, when it was my time to barbeque, I turned away from the grill for a moment, only to return to a wall of flames that had reduced my California burgers to smoked beef jerky. It was a reminder of how quickly a seemingly controlled blaze can turn into an all-consuming inferno.

Nothing destroys Christian unity more quickly than a dogmatic insistence on Christian uniformity. Our response to one another as sisters and brothers in Christ can either be a warming flame or a destructive fire.

Authentic Christian community results in a sweetness and humility that are both transparent and welcoming to others. It’s like a family reunion where a group of diverse people from different walks of life gather to celebrate those things that join them together rather than argue over all those things that tear them apart.

This article originally appeared in the fall 2011 issue of In Part magazine.
Perry Engle

Perry Engle is still awaiting his Grilling for Dummies handbook from Amazon. He attempts to be less inflammatory in his role as bishop of the Midwest and Pacific Conferences of the BIC Church in North America. He and his wife, Marta (who, for obvious reasons, does all of the cooking), live with their family in Ontario, Calif.

More "Parting Words"

Fear and Peace

When the sky is falling, to whom do we turn?

Imagining a Church full of grace and truth

Lessons from conversations on homosexuality, the Gospel, and the BIC Church

Praying for rain in la-la land

Followers of Jesus need to take seriously the stewarding of the resources entrusted to us by God

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Comments

Dan Posted on December 4, 2011

With most of this I agree however there are two danger points. Bishop Engle includes Rod Bell and then Creation as two possible division points. They should be. Both Bell and evolution are un-Biblical heresies. There comes a point when truth must triumph over unity. Paul confronted Peter when he began to add the law to faith. Second, unity is not either totally affirming or destructive. There is a middle ground. Sometimes affirmation is done at the cost of loving truth. Unity is important but never at the cost of Gospel truth.

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