At the start of the new semester I am struck by the plethora of divisions within the Christian Church. Whilst in some areas we need to make clear stands, as for example against Roman Catholic doctrines, or the heretical views being espoused by Steve Chalke, too often Christians are not merely maintaining doctrinal, ecclesiastic distinctions, but actively engaging in trench warfare, seeking to prove themselves more Reformed, more Calvinist, more true to scripture than anyone else. Weblogs from churches and Christian leaders are full of attacks on different leaders for what are often secondary matters. The command of John 13:35 seems to have been forgotten, and in the rush to prove the soundness of our credentials, I fear that many churches, whether denominationally based or independent who could, and indeed should work together are too busy separating on matters where scripture allows difference. We would all do well to remember that orthodoxy in doctrine can still lead to rejection by our saviour (Rev. 2:1-7; Matt. 25:31-46). Paul also points us away from worldly division (1 Cor.11:19), and whilst the context was the communion feasts, the wider principle applies that divisions should only be promoted to avoid subverting the gospel.
One of the great strengths of working at WEST is that although firmly committed to the Reformed doctrines, both staff and students are drawn from a range of of perspectives under that umbrella, and through the discussions arising from our differences we sharpen one-another as we debate those matters that might rightly be deemed secondary. Cromwell’s appeal to the General assembly of the Church of Scotland (August 3, 1650), “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken”, seems to me to be an appropriate attitude to hold on such secondary issues. As we start the new semester I look forward to being challenged, rebuked, exhorted and encouraged by brethren from traditions different from my own, but all equally debtors to the amazing grace we receive through the Son of God by which we are become, “… a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (1 Pt. 2:9, NAS).