The Brexit Secretary, David Davis MP, has offered the House of Commons a vote on the Brexit deal (should one ever appear) on the basis that ‘you can take it or leave it’.
If Parliament doesn’t approve it, we leave any way: it’s ‘my deal or no deal’; Brexit my way or no way. There are some within the Christian churches who treat Christian unity in that way too: we can be united on my terms or not at all.
I’ve been given sight of a proposed revision to a local ‘churches together’ document that does just that. Whereas before it was open enough to encourage churches and congregations to join, the new leadership want to tighten things up in a way that is clearly meant to exclude. The new leadership are not even able to see the irony in drawing up a document intended to exclude that is called ‘The Basis of our Unity’. It’s unity my way or no way.
There is no theological or biblical basis for this. Understandings of the Christian faith are irreducibly diverse. There simply has never been a time when all Christians have agreed in the same way about even basic matters such as the meaning of the death of Jesus (the proliferation of ‘atonement’ theories in the Gospels alone is enough to show this). Reductionist Christians simply refuse to accept and understand the diverse riches contained in Scripture and elevate one tradition of reading them into the position of God – a single interpretation of the Bible becomes their golden calf. My version of the Christian faith or there’s no unity.
And it does no good when those who don’t agree with the ‘pure interpretation’ that’s offered if they accept it anyway in order to appease the false god of ‘unity my way or not at all’. Christians have always come to Christ in the context of division between Christians who understand things differently. Christians have always borne witness to the love of God in Christ through acts of kindness, through working for social justice, through preaching the Gospel of God’s love in Christ, through trying to ensure that all people can have the abundant life Jesus promised, in the context of division.
Being ‘one in Christ’ has never been about simply believing the same things, it’s always been about loving one another in Christ in spite of our differences, whether we are Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, gay or straight, fundamentalist or liberal.
I don’t believe some of the things that the leaders of this particular group of Christians say we must believe in order to belong; or at least, I believe them in a different way. While it may be that Christians need to believe seven impossible things before breakfast every day, my impossible things – such as love your enemies, do justice, love mercy, bless those who persecute you, that the Holy Spirit will guide us further along the way of truth, that peace is possible in our hearts, homes and in our world – may not be your impossible things. Peter and Paul could not have disagreed more about some pretty basic things, but both proclaimed, in their different ways, that love is the meaning of the cross, that Christ unites us more than our inadequate understandings divide us, that God will judge and the eternal destiny of anyone is not up to you or me (though I’m pretty sure that eternal destiny is not what the Christian faith is about anyway…).
The properly theological basis of our unity is not about a form of words: ‘Jesus remember me’ is more than enough. The theological basis of our unity is that we – all of us – are being made new in Christ by the continual renewal of our minds, by the opening of our hearts and hands in acts of love and mercy, by being open to the work and guidance of God’s Spirit in the world and in our lives, and even, sometimes in the church.