What Makes a Unified Church, Part 2

Mar 12, 2018

What Makes A Unified Church, Part 2

Core, Convictions, and Commitments

By: George Robertson

 

In a previous post, I talked about the three major components of a unified church. Especially regarding truth and purpose, it’s important to make a few distinctions between what we referred to as “essentials” and “non-essentials.”

 
You might think of it like a target with three concentric circles. The middle, of course, is the bullseye, representing the core of what the church believes. The second circle represents the convictions individuals hold with regards to interpretation of scripture or certain practices of the church (i.e. baptism). Finally, the third circle represents personal commitments we each have.

Core

To be a unified church, there are core virtues or beliefs we must be committed to, namely truth, purpose, and love. The doors of participation to this church are as wide as the gospel itself. The prerequisite for membership is faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Convictions

Convictions are non-essential beliefs. While unnecessary for membership, the officers of our church are required to subscribe to them. Your officers go through strenuous training and testing to ensure they understand and commit themselves to the convictions of this church found in such places as the Westminster Confession of Faith and EPC Book of Order.

 

Commitments

Commitments include items such as political beliefs, preferences in worship style, etc. These are not required to be agreed upon by even the officers of the church.

 

At any time, we may find our sin causes us to place our convictions or commitments at the core of the church, causing us to preclude ourselves or others from the fellowship. Our common core value of love, however, means we do not allow differences in convictions or commitments to cause division. Instead, in love for Christ and each other, we graciously sacrifice personal preferences in the knowledge that others may be deeply ministered to by a conviction or a worship style we do not necessarily prefer.

 

Charles Simeon, pastor of Trinity Church Cambridge for 54 years, once had this exchange with John Wesley:

 

Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?

 

Yes, I do indeed.

 

And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

 

Yes, solely through Christ.

 

But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

 

No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

 

Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?

 

No.

 

What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother's arms?

 

Yes, altogether.

 

And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

 

Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

 

Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things where in we agree.[1]

 

As long as we see Christ in a brother or sister, nothing else can preclude our unity with them. Christ is our leader in this – he who left all the comforts and privileges of Heaven to come live, suffer, and die among sinful people so we might know the joy of being reconciled to Christ and one another. Let us, in this reality, strive for unity so we might be a true place of refuge, bringing glory to God by proclaiming his gospel in word and deed in our city and the world.

 

 

[1] Hugh Evan Hopkins, Charles Simeon of Cambridge (Sevenoaks, Kent, U.K.: Hodder & Stoughton, 1977), 174-175.