Agape and Unity


So I was in ethics class on Tuesday, discussing the instruments of unity in the Anglican Church. Looking at it from the outside in, I began to have some questions that probably would not have occurred to me from within.

The majority of the discussion focussed around the instruments of unity themselves (the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primate, the Anglican Consultative council, and the Lambeth conferences), and how they function (whether monarchically, meaning fully top down authority, or concilliatorily, kinda bottom up authority).

This seems exceedingly complex for my tiny fundamentalist brain. My understanding is that unity between Christians was insofar as we are in Christ. Christ claimed that this “being in” Christ was dependent upon how we remain in His love, and so as a result, I think that Christian unity is to be found insofar as we remain in Christ’s love, first to God, and secondly to one another.

Thus Christian unity is properly termed Agapatistic.

Proviso: Love is not what you’ve heard it is.

The problem is that my culture comes up with some seriously messed up ideas about what love is. When people say it, they’re often referring to an emotional feeling of goodwill, or maybe the act of not offending people, or of giving respect for people. Indeed, some of these can be part of love, but they aren’t necessary to love. Love is that thing described in 1 Corinthians 13 that God gives you.

This means that unity with believers is a gift of God, not something we produce. We should seek it, and act upon whatever modicum of it that we’re given, but it doesn’t come by mutual admiration, or being friendly. respect and friendliness are results of love, not their birthplace. Love is hard work, but it doesn’t come from hard work, it comes from God.

So when I say that my concept of unity is through love, I am not simply appealing to a “can we all get along” mentality.

I can see a few implications of this for ecclesiology.

In the first place, as unity is granted through Christ, and being in Christ’s love, Schism in the Church is not so much ill advised as impossible. Now, there are two ways schism can seem to happen, but neither are properly schism. In the first place, you can be deluded and believe that you are not part of the Church when you are. This is rare, as such a delusion often stems from the far more scary possibility. You can be separated from the Church really, because you are not in Christ. This can happen whilst doing all sorts of nice “churchy” stuff. The question is more, do you love the brother whom you have seen (because if you don’t, you can’t say you love Christ whom you have not seen). In essence, you are separate from the Church because you are lost in sin.

The second implication is that there is no hierarchy that we can call coextensive with the Church militant here on earth. Parts of many different structures are in the church, and parts of many different structures are not in the Church. An excommunication or discipline by any single institution does not make a person actually unsaved, though it does mean that discipline is being exercised. Indeed, believers will begin to back away from those who are away from the actual Church of their own volition if they remain in Christ, and will move away from Christ if they follow an unbeliever. Pastors and people with Spiritual discernment should be listened to on this, but they don’t get to exact discipline, they simply act as God calls them to.

This point needs more expansion, and I’m tired. If anybody is reading and interested, let me know, and I’ll keep going *yawn* g’night all!

Author: Stephen Dawe

Steve is a part-time vocational elder Calvary Baptist Church, St. John's as well as a full-time student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, in the Religious Studies Department.

3 thoughts on “Agape and Unity”

  1. I seized upon your comment about love in our culture, Steve, and it’s got me wondering about the various forms of damage such an incomplete or misunderstood sense of the thing could do. This’ll be twice today that I’ve come across areas of context about love, and it’s got me wondering about the inability of the West to understand or to enact love.

  2. In thinking about charity…

    Do you think there is virtue in a man who (figuratively) bridles his tongue in the way that he expresses himself (or, should we say, represents Almighty God) by his words and visual expression?

    “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (1 James 1.26).

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