Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 15, 1949
NUMBER 19, PAGE 1,7b

The One Thing Lacking

Cled E. Wallace

The official organs of the prominent religious denominations of the United States are discussing unity as never before. The more liberally minded appear to be ready for an organic union of all believers in something, and leave all matters of doctrine for the individual to settle for himself and be discreetly silent about. Others are more insistent on maintaining certain "fundamentals" and since these cannot likely be agreed on, insistence will bring on more debate and if they are not diluted by compromise more division will result.

The evils of division are generally recognized. An Anglican scholar in "The Living Church" opens up in this key:

"No single problem has more engaged the attention of Christian leaders during the past quarter century than the reunion of a divided Christendom. And surely it requires no demonstration to assert that the divisions amongst those who profess and call themselves Christians are a disgrace and a scandal Nor does it need proving when we say that our Lord Jesus Christ suffers crucifixion as his mystical Body the Church is riven by our prejudice and our pride. Any Christian soul should feel anguish as he considers the spectacle of Christians so at odds with one another in their very striving to serve the fellowship which their Lord brought into being to continue his work in the world."

He is for unity but he thinks it "can be obtained at too cheap a price". He is not willing for it to be purchased "by the simple abandonment of conviction, rather than by the hard and painful reconciliation of differences in a unity which will be so deep and rich that it will adequately reflect the many-colored grace of God in Christ". Now, this brings us to the main point. The church as it is revealed in the New Testament certainly and "adequately reflected the many-colored grace of God in Christ". Unity, then, ought to be a rather simple matter. The clear road to all of "many-colored grace of God in Christ" would be for all to give a close study to "the simplicity that is in Christ" found in the New Testament. Strangely this approach is not being featured by the writers of many words on this important subject. "The Living Church" for example is "A weekly record of the news, the work and the thought of the Episcopal Church". The Anglican writer of the article under review does not even suggest that the New Testament should be the basis of the unity he thinks desirable. His language is unscriptural. He makes it very clear that he is not willing to surrender the order, sacraments or traditions of the Episcopal Church. So Episcopalian unity is what he really favors. Presbyterians would enjoy Presbyterian unity, Baptists would enjoy Baptist unity and on and on for the rest of them. But this is not the unity of believers in Christ such as we read about in the New Testament. Episcopal tradition with its sacraments and priesthood, and all that are peculiar to Baptists, Presbyterians and other sectarian bodies are foreign to the New Testament. They are simply not taught therein. The simple fact is that believers were then Christians without party names, creeds and the like "order". They had divine order but it followed "the apostles' doctrine and fellowship". In the discussions I am reading in various periodicals about unity the apostles' doctrine is seldom, and usually never, referred to. The impression I get is that with the majority of modern writers on the subject, Peter, Paul, and John can be ignored as authority. Really, what would they know of the modern problems of this complicated age? They are not railed at, they are just ignored. The nearest our Anglican doctor can approach is the observation that:

"Yet for some of us, one of the essential 'structures' of historic Christianity in its ministerial articulation, given to us through the centuries in a continuous tradition rooted in apostolic times and the means whereby the unity of the Church is sacramentally established".

He presumably thinks that kind of talk can contribute something to the unity so much desired. It, like most of the other contributions, is an apology for departure from the ancient order ordained by Christ and taught by the apostles.

This "ministerial articulation" is not as innocent as it sounds. It means that the clergy speaks with authority and the laity listen and obey. The main trouble with the whole modern unity movement is that there is too much "ministerial articulation" in it. It is assumed that if the clergy can arrive at one language and one speech, they can build a city and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven and make them a name. It is expected that the laity will applaud and glorify this scheme. The "one language and one speech" which is depended on to accomplish this modern miracle and remove "a disgrace and a scandal" in "a divided Christendom" is not the apostles' doctrine nor according to the "sound speech" of the New Testament.

The Anglican point of view which must have recognition in any universal unity scheme is stated in these words:

"Once again, the notion of the 'priesthood of all believers' is a sound primitive and Catholic doctrine. But when it is taken, as it is by so many of our `separated brethren', to mean 'every man his own priest', it becomes individualistic to a degree that destroys the balancing Christian truth—which is that we Christians are all priests only because we share in the priesthood of Christ in his priestly body the Church, a social and not an individualistic doctrine. Frequently I have felt that the way in which the sound New Testament teaching was stressed made an idea of a 'ministerial priesthood' in Moberly's great phrase, a sheer impossibility."

In other words, the "ministerial priesthood" speaks for Christ and exercises authority in his church, while ordinary sheep in the church share that priesthood by following the real priests. This is the essence of religious hierarchy. My idea of "a sheer impossibility" is for somebody to try to prove this doctrine by the New Testament.

"Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by his blood; and he made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto his God and Father." (Rev. 1:5). "Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ". (I Pet. 2:5) "But ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession. . " (Verse 9) The "priesthood of all believers" is a sound primitive doctrine but the hierarchical idea of a ministerial priesthood" is just a "notion", a tradition which makes void the law of God. The true believer is justified, sanctified, is a citizen of the kingdom of God and is perfectly qualified through grace to offer up spiritual sacrifices unto God without the intervention of a special order of priesthood with assumed divine prerogatives.

The Anglican writer observes that "it has taken hundreds of years to arrive at our state of schism" and "it is likely that it will take a long time to reach" a state that is free from it. And he quotes the Prayer Book. The one thing lacking in about all the talk about unity is respect for the full and unqualified authority of the New Testament in religious matters. As long as men quote the Prayer Book and rely on traditions and walk by human opinions rather than the word of God, there can be no unity pleasing to God. Divisions and schisms were caused in the first place by the introduction of things into the faith and practice of the church not taught in the scriptures. The way back, long or short, is to go back, right straight back to the New Testament. "Our prejudice and our pride" will make "a sheer impossibility" of the way back.