Unity of the Church

“Pray I for these… that they all may be one.”

John 17:20,21

“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body…”

1 Cor. 12:12

“I’m first a Christian, next a Catholic, then a Calvinist, fourth a Paedo-baptist, and fifth a Presbyterian.  I cannot reverse this order.”

John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan

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Subsection

On the Pressing Urgency of Church Unity

Against Separatism

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Order of Contents

Articles
Books
Historical
Quotes
On Legitimate Toleration in a Church

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Articles

1600’s

Burroughs, Jeremiah – ‘What We Are to Bear with in Others’

Bunyan, John – ‘An Exhortation to Peace & Unity’

Flavel, John – ‘Gospel Unity Recommended to the Churches of Christ’

Henry, Matthew – ‘A Brief Inquiry into the True Nature of Schism: or, A Persuasive to Christian Love & Charity’

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1800’s

Smyth, Thomas – ch. 1, section IV, ‘Of the church catholic’ & section VIII, ‘Of the duty of different churches’  in An Ecclesiastical Catechism of the Presbyterian Church…  (NY: 1843)

Buchanan, James – ‘Sectarian Exclusiveness’  16 pp.  On the “Tracts for the Times”   (1843), p. 44 ff.  In the context of the mid-1800’s Oxford Tractarian Movement

Candlish, Robert – ‘The Importance of Adhering to Sound Scriptural Standards, & Aiming at Union on that Basis’  (1843), p. 124, 11 pp.  from the larger work by various authors,  Commemoration of the Bicentenary of the Westminster Assembly of Divines: held at Edinburgh, 1843, Containing the Addresses and Conversations,  Buy  158 pp.

Miller, Samuel – ‘Church Attachment & Sectarianism’  6 pp.  from The Presbyterian Magazine, Jan., 1854

“It is indeed, not only a misfortune, but a sin, that the Church of Christ which ought to be one in name, and in profession, as well as in fact, is divided into so many different denominations,” Miller rightly states.  Let us not be sectarians and forget that we are part of the One Body of Christ on earth.  This is a very balanced treatment.

Baird, Samuel J. – ‘On Harmonizing Differences Among Christians’  ed. Andrew Myers  from Baird, The Church of Christ: Its Constitution & Order  (1864), sections 272-274

Hodge, Charles – ‘The Reunion of the Old & New-School Presbyterian Churches’  (1867)  37 pp.

Dabney, Robert – ‘What is Christian Union?’   from the Central Presbyterian, May 11 & 18  (1870) 

The principles upon which Christians churches should unite and remain separate.

Foster, James Mitchell – ‘The Unity of the Church’  in The Reformed Presbyterian & Covenanter (Sept. 1879), pp. 285-87

Warfield, B.B. – ‘True Church Unity: What It Is’

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Books

Hodge, Charles – Letters to Presbyterians, on the Present Crisis in the Presbyterian Church in the United States  (1833)  340 pp.

M’Crie, Thomas

Statement of the Difference… Particularly on the Power of Civil Magistrates Respecting Religion, National Reformation, National Churches & National Covenants  (1807)

This book details out M’Crie’s understanding of unity in the church’s constitution.  The General Associate Synod having changed their constitution, M’Crie and others left in order to constitute a new presbytery upon the old, unchanged constitution.  

The Unity of the Church: Her Divisions & their Removal, Two Discourses  Buy  (1821)  174 pp.

This is the go-to classic and best work on Church unity available.  M’Crie looks to and waits upon the Lord to fulfill His scriptural promises that His church should be one.  We are to depend upon God pouring out His Spirit in bringing men to fuller light and convictions of scriptural truth upon which to unite, rather than retreating from the scriptural truth brought to light by previous generations.  

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Historical

Walker, James – ch. 4, ‘The Doctrine of the Visible Church’  starting on p. 95, 30 pp. from his Theology & Theologians of Scotland: Chiefly of the Seventeenth & Eighteenth Centuries  (1888)

This is an excellent survey of the doctrine of the unity of the church from 1600’s Scotland.

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Quotes

John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan

“Seas and continents separate in space, but the church of Christ is one in Him.”

“The Plymouth Brethren assert there should be no sects, because there is no visible church; nevertheless, they add one.”

“It would be well for Christendom if all the members of Christ’s catholic church would endeavor to preserve the unity of the Spirit, and think oftener of the many and major points in which they agree than the few and minor ones in which they differ.”

“When we all reach yonder country, we shall wonder what foolish bairns [children] we have been.”

“That is a fine saying of Sack of Bonn [Germany] in his history of the Scottish Church: ‘In Scotland there are no sects, only parties.’ That is a fine testimony from a foreigner.”

“I rejoice in being a member of a Free Church [of Scotland], but I rejoice still more in being a member of the catholic church of the Lord Jesus.”

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B.F. Westcott

Lessons from Work, pp. 84–85

“The student of Christian doctrine, because he strives after exactness of phrase, because he is conscious of the inadequacy of any one human formula to exhaust the truth, will be filled with sympathy for every genuine endeavour towards the embodiment of right opinion.

Partial views attract and exist in virtue of the fragment of truth—be it great or small—which they include; and it is the work of the theologian to seize this no less than to detect the first spring of error.

It is easier and, in one sense, it is more impressive to make a peremptory and exclusive statement, and to refuse to allow any place beside it to divergent expositions; but this show of clearness and power is dearly purchased at the cost of the ennobling conviction that the whole truth is far greater than our individual minds.

He who believes that every judgement on the highest matters different from his own is simply a heresy must have a mean idea of the faith; and while the qualifications, the reserve, the lingering sympathies of the real student make him in many cases a poor controversialist, it may be said that a mere controversialist cannot be a real theologian.”

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On Legitimate Toleration in a Church

Quote

James Durham

A Treatise Concerning Scandal  (Naphtali Press, 1990), pt. 4, ch. 1, ‘How Heresy, Schism & Division Differ’

“1. That the [term] division which is intended here [in this chapter] is not every contest and alienation of mind, and difference of practice incident to men, but that which is proper to the church concerning church affairs, and so is to be distinguished from civil debates and contentions.

We would advert also that there may be church differences that fall not under the charge of scandal, as when in some things men of conscience are of different judgments, yet carry it without any offense or breach of charity, or when in some practices there is diversity with forbearance, as was in Polycarp’s days, and the time of Irenaeus (about Easter matters)…”

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“Softness of heart in the sense of bygone sin would silence many things among us, that all disputings, writings and printings will not be able to do. Pray for this to the land, as the most effectual mean and way of curing our divisions, and of uniting us in the Lord. It joins Israel and Judah together, whose breach was much greater and of far longer continuance than ours.”

Alexander Shields
An Enquiry into Church-Communion, 1706

“That there should be no schism in the body…”

1 Cor. 12:25

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Related Pages

Against Separation

Social Covenanting