Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Seeking Unity with James White

Today I started watching the Brown and White debate on essentially Calvinism -- predestination, sovereignty, and human responsibility.  After watching Brown's first twenty plus minute opening statement, I began watching White's opening, and toward the very beginning (at 25:30), White said the following about unity with Brown:

We have to seek unity and the only way to seek unity is not by some ecclesiastical decree, but instead to go to the Word of God.

Since both Brown and White, according to White, see the Bible as their only infallible authority, they also must seek unity.  White says the very true, 'we seek unity only by the Word of God.'  In essence, White isn't in unity with Brown, and so he must seek unity with him through God's Word.  The people who seek unity will do it through the Word of God.

I'm not in unity with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1).  If I want to be in unity with an unbeliever, I evangelize him, using God's Word.  If he receives the Word of God, I can be in unity with him.  If it is a professing believer, and we are divided, we become unified through the Word of God.  I seek to be unified with unbelievers through evangelizing unbelievers with the Bible, the Bible again being the cause of unity.

I totally, absolutely agree with what White said about unity.  I commend him for it.  I want it.   I support it.

What White said about unity is not really practiced in evangelicalism and fundamentalism.  I don't see it.  It was a surprise when I heard him say it.  I don't remember another evangelical saying it.  I was thinking, "He must not know what he's saying."  And, "This somehow slipped out here, because he can't mean this."

What am I saying?

Evangelicalism and fundamentalism say we already have unity.  We don't have to seek it.  It is a spiritual unity. It comes from God.  He gives the unity.  They would use John 17 among other passages to make this point.  They say unity comes from believing the gospel.  If you believe it, you have it, because you're one in Christ.  They would say that what White is talking about is, uniformity or unanimity, which are not the same.  You don't have to agree on doctrine, in other words, to have unity.  You have it spiritually through the gospel.  This is being gospel centered, or core-centered, and not boundary driven.  Got me?

In other words, if you are seeking unity, you are minimizing doctrine in evangelicalism and fundamentalism, and you are ignoring differences.  You don't cause unity by talking about doctrine.  You cause it by ranking doctrines, and dividing doctrines and practices into essentials and non-essentials.  Evangelicals and fundamentalists would call what White is talking about, "uniformity" or "unanimity."

In a sense, based on the typical evangelical or fundamentalist unity, White had unity before the debate, and the debate could only be a cause for disunity.  He's got his belief, I've got my belief, and arguing is just going to be a cause for disunity.  If you bring up the Bible about doctrine, you're the one causing disunity.  That's how it reads in evangelicalism and fundamentalism.

If White needs to seek unity with Brown by getting him to agree in doctrine, then unity is unanimity and uniformity, and White is blowing that particular evangelical emphasis or point.  White is saying that he and Brown don't already have unity.  I happen to agree with White on this view.  You don't have unity when you disagree in doctrine.  You might both be saved and both be in the family of God and the kingdom of God, but you don't have unity.

Paul told the Corinthians that there should be no schism in the body (1 Cor 12:26).  None.   A schism and unity are mutually exclusive.  It's true that we are commanded to have unity.  If there is not doctrinal and practical, that is, biblical agreement, then there is schism.  That can't be allowed in the church.  That can't happen in the church, if the church is all believers.  It can occur in an assembly, what the body of Christ, the church, actually is.  A church can have total agreement and that is unity.  Unity can occur in a church, which is only local.  A church does that by maximizing doctrine and practice, utilizing preaching, teaching, the office of the pastor, church discipline, the Lord's Table, etc.  Got it?

White is presenting a unity that disagrees with almost everything that I hear in evangelicalism and fundamentalism.  The Bible must have slipped out.  It is what the Bible teaches.  He is saying he doesn't have unity with Brown.  Almost everyone in evangelicalism and fundamentalism say that we get unity by ranking doctrines and emphasizing the essentials and coming together on a certain minimum.  The Bible doesn't teach that about unity, but it is in fact how evangelicals and fundamentalists function.

So, White thinks we get unity from going to the Bible.  Truth is the basis of unity.  So we would be unified about the doctrine of preservation of Scripture by what the Bible teaches, right?  And the Bible teaches and Christians have believed that every Word of Scripture is perfectly preserved for every generation of Christians.  They have believed that.  If the Bible is the source of unity, then you have to believe that.

White doesn't believe that.  The Bible in this instance is trumped by science for him.  What this says is that White, according to his own definition, is the schismatic.  He is the heretic.  He is the cause of disunity.  He doesn't wish to "seek unity by going to Scripture" as he himself says that is done or is accomplished.  If we are seeking unity, and we must, I agree, as Christians, that is, we should walk in the light as He is in the light, then we look to what the Bible says about preservation of Scripture.  It says we have certainty about all the Words.  We know God preserved them all for our availability.  I seek for unity with James White.  I must, as he said.  I am the true seeker of unity, wishing for something that would agree with the Word of God and not be undermined by science (falsely so-called).

Unity and division have a perfect symmetry.  Jesus said He came to divide.  He also came to unify.  How can you do both?  You divide using the Word of God.  You unify using the Word of God.  The Bible is what brings us together and the Bible is what separates.  That's what Jesus was saying when He said that the Word of God sanctifies.  The person who is attempting to bring people together, uses the Bible.  He's also dividing, because if someone won't believe what Scripture teaches, the Scripture is what caused the division.  Ignoring of Scripture for so-called science is schismatic.

James White wants unity on salvation by opening up his Bible to tell us what it says about salvation.  About a minute later, he says, "Let's open our Bibles."  Great.  On the doctrine of preservation, he says, 'Keep your Bible closed."  You can't have unity with a closed Bible.  You've got to open it and then believe it.

A thought experiment.  I don't think it's actually one, because I think it's real, but let's think here.  When Brown and White were finished, were either of them taking the other's position?  No.  I haven't heard that.  I think they ended like they began.  I don't think it was a waste, but they didn't persuade each other.  So according to White, they are not in unity still.  They are not in unity because they don't have the same doctrine.  So what do they have?  They have schism.  And Paul said that was not tolerable in the body.  Are they tolerating it?  Do they fellowship?  Do they allow it?  Think about it.

I sit here yearning for unity from an open Bible.  Shouldn't or wouldn't all true Christians be the same?


See an exegesis or exposition on biblical unity in The Pure Church.  Get it and read it now (here or here).


bhardecker said...

Pastor B.
I picked up a copy of "A Pure Church" and have read most of it. I really appreciate the work that you and the other men of God have poured into the book (WOT Conference archived sermons, Q&A, and all). We are living in a day and age when people are much more concerned with the separation of gravy and jello-salad than they are truth and error. Keep up the good work!

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Billy,

Thanks. Every pastor and every church member should have it and read it. Come on pastors. Order the book. Even if you aren't "with me," I read some of your stuff. Read this.

Dave Barnhart said...

Is there an e-version coming or already available? I'd order it if so. I've already got way too many books on my shelves (including Thou Shalt Keep Them). I just don't have the room for any more.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Dave,

I'm sure an e-version will come at some point, but I'd like us to shrink our stack a little more first. Thanks.