Tota Scriptura and Unity

Richard Van Laar December 9, 2006

The unity of the church of Christ is an integral part of the church. This unity within the body of Christ is the work of Christ. Man may never claim to have worked unity within the body of Christ, but Christ may use men for the purpose of bringing about unity. The unity that the body of Christ experiences is also an aid in the church's struggle. Without unity among faithful confessing believers the devil and the world can isolate and attack with little difficulty. If one were ever to conclude that he could stand alone, he would be swept away.

With that having been said, one might quickly point out, "But your website is going against all the unity efforts that we as Canadian and American Reformed Churches are trying to establish with these other churches." It is important to correct such misconceptions. This website does not oppose unity! Rather, we believe that unity is a fruit of remaining faithful and obedient. Unity is a fruit of maintaining the truth as church. The focus should be, "How are we to be unified?"

The people behind have occasionally been accused of being shortsighted when it comes to seeing the work of Christ in other churches and therefore accused of opposing unity. However, these critics have never been able to adequately explain: "How are we to recognize the work of Christ in these other churches?" In the light of our scriptural duty to 'test the spirits' this important question needs an answer. If we reflect on what has been established at Synod 2001 and Synod 2004 we are led to the conclusion that while unity appears to be established on a confessional basis, the actual reality is that the principle of the "core of the gospel" prevails. When the confessions and/or practices of these churches contradict what the Bible demands, then unity with them must be based on some core standard. This is another way of accepting and practicing an unscriptural pluriformity. (for a good article on pluriformity, check here).

It is important to note that we as Canadian and American Reformed Churches never held to such a standard in the past. The problem with unifying on the basis of a reduced standard is that we are effectively erasing many years of church history. We may not accept unity that involves a compromise of the truths that we have held and continue to hold: a compromise of what we confess in the Belgic Confession about the visible Church, or a weakening of the principles of church discipline as outlined in the Heidelberg Catechism. We also may not compromise the Biblically based principles of our Church Order in Article 61 as they relate to the treatment of guests at the Lord's Supper.

Wherever unity is established on the basis of a less-than-confessional standard, the reformational standard of tota scriptura (all of scripture) is undermined. We therefore isolate parts of scripture that fit into an ecumenical unity while avoiding other parts of scripture out of fear that it may divide, or be of less importance. As a result we cannot expect to have true unity, for at some point we will end up in conflict.

We must pay careful attention to what we have accepted when we proceed with embracing unity when the divergences that exist between our churches have not been properly addressed. We can use the analogy of marriage. When one seeks a spouse, we understand that we must seek one within the church, one who is of the same mind in faith based on our confessions. We do not seek a spouse on the basis that they believe a simple core-gospel-belief in God and Jesus as their savior. We understand that if we don't establish our relationship on confessional unity, we will see problems arise in the future. This analogy applies to the church as well. If we do not fulfill our responsibility to be united by the entire gospel, as we have confessed it, then we can only expect problems to arise in the future.

We as churches must ask ourselves, "Where are we going?" and "What type of unity are we really trying to establish?"

A good example of the problems described above can be found in the appeals of Grand Rapids to General Synod 1998 regarding the FCS (available here). These appeals bring to light some fundamental questions regarding the confessional views of the church and their practice of the Lord's Supper. Subsequent synods have basically ignored these points and continued with ecclesiastical fellowship with the FCS. Again, "What kind of unity are we trying to achieve?" When we as churches are unable to take these issues seriously, then what kind of unity do we even have among ourselves?

When we do not establish unity on the basis of the entire Gospel, Tota Scriptura, then we cannot have true unity. Christ will not allow such false unity to exist; Christ preserves His church, and in the end He will by His power see that the church is truly unified. Then the church in glory will experience true and holy unity with Christ her bridegroom.

How great, then, is our responsibility here and now to make sure that our efforts at unity are based only on the entire Word of God. TOTA SCRIPTURA.