End thoughts on unity (part 4)

Note: This article is part of a series which refers to the PDF transcript of a Network teaching. The parenthesized numbers or ranges refer to lines in it. Some of the words I quote might be different from the PDF. This is because the transcript differed from what I heard Sándor say in the audio recording. This is part 4 in the series. See also part 1, part 2, and part 3.

The first three parts of this series focused on the problems of the Network’s doctrine of unity. But what do we do about it? I offer some correctives in the following sections.

Know personal boundaries

This applies anywhere, but especially if you feel committed to staying in the Network. You need to know what boundaries are inappropriate for your leaders to cross and to not allow them. For example, does your leader have suggestions about who might be a good person to date? Great! Consider and follow as you will. Is your leader making it seem like God’s will with Holy Spirit language, or coercing you in some other way? Not so great.

I do believe Sándor is right, to an extent, to call out an obsession on individualism (269–278). However, the Network has repeatedly intruded into individual lives that goes far beyond any needed correction to individualism. “Don’t think about what your own interest is” (1040) is a clear distortion of Philippians 2:4. The concept of “oneness” can be taken too far. We are one body, but consisting of many members (1 Corinthians 12:12–30).

If you’re staying in the Network, then you should give weight to the words of your leaders and take them seriously. This includes questioning your own motives honestly. But if you and your leaders can’t draw a clear line from the Bible to what they’re saying, and using Hebrews 13:17 is not a clear line, then you should take it as advice, not a command.

If you’re a leader, know the proper boundaries of your leadership. Hebrews 13 doesn’t grant you authority to demand compliance to whatever you think is important. Taking the idea of oneness too far or the wrong way will result in you trying to mold people into the image of yourself, rather than Christ. People ought to imitate you only insofar as you imitate Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1) and no more.

Adopt a catholic perspective

The Nicene Creed, which I believe is on every Network church website, confesses belief “in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” If you are a Christian, you are a part of this catholic (universal) church, which is worldwide and spanning millennia. The Network, being decades old, is a fraction of a drop in the bucket that is the communion of saints. If you seek wisdom, then you should understand the limitations of only seeking it in the Network, this generation, century, or continent. If you are part of the one body, you shouldn’t identify yourself so strongly with one church to the exclusion of others. No church or denomination has an exclusive claim to the Holy Spirit. Charles Spurgeon once said, “It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.” In “The Catholicity of Christianity and the Church”, Herman Bavinck wrote:

This catholicity of the church, as the Scriptures portray it for us and the early churches exemplify it for us is breathtaking in its beauty. Whoever becomes enclosed in the narrow circle of a small church or conventicle, does not know it and has never experienced its power and comfort. Such a person shortchanges the love of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the fellowship of the Spirit and incurs a loss of spiritual treasures that cannot be made good by meditation and devotion. Such a person will have an impoverished soul. By contrast, whoever is able to see beyond this to the countless multitudes who have been purchased by the blood of Christ from every nation and people and age, whoever experiences the powerful strengthening of faith, the wondrous comfort in times of suffering to know that unity with the whole church militant that has been gathered out of the whole human race from the beginning to the end of the world, such a person can never be narrow-minded and narrow-hearted.

Don’t limit your friends or your sources of knowledge and wisdom to the Network. Don’t adopt a feeling of superiority and take up the complaint that healthy churches are hard to find. Of course, we may hold a particular love for our church, just as we may for our families. But don’t let that be to the exclusion of all others.

Commit to deeply studying and knowing your Bible

Network teaching tends to deprioritize Bible study. It’s encouraged as an individual activity, but not taught. Small groups are about Bible discussion or Bible application. The church is more reliant on the interpretation of its leaders. This is fine to some degree, especially in normal cases where pastors have formal training and dedicate a large chunk of their time to studying their Bibles. But combining a general lack of education with an overemphasis on how clear Scripture can result in naive and bad interpretation of Scripture. The doctrine of the perspicuity (or clarity) of Scripture doesn’t mean that all of Scripture is equally clear. The Westminster Confession of Faith says this in section 1.7:

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

Not everything that seems obvious (or is made to seem obvious) is actually true. I urge everyone, but especially those who remain in the Network, to learn how to study the Bible for themselves. Knowable Word is a good starting resource. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth and How to Read the Bible Book by Book by Fee and Stuart are also good. Scripture doesn’t just need to be applied in community. It also needs to be read and interpreted in community. See the riches of the Bible for yourself, rather than rely on the interpretation of Network leaders, who are mostly untrained and often don’t dedicate enough time to sermon preparation.

Repent and seek forgiveness

The first of Martin Luther’s famous 95 theses is, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matthew 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” We should not be afraid to admit wrong and repent; it is an integral part of the Christian life. Have you trespassed on others’ personal boundaries in seeking unity? Have you broken unity to those who have resisted? Have you looked down on other churches or their members for no real reason? Have you discouraged people from seeking to know God through study of his Word? All of these things and more should lead to repentance. “Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.” (thesis 3) Seek forgiveness from those you have wronged and reconcile where you can. Maybe you also feel wronged, but does your repentance rely on that of others? Especially if you are a leader, you should take the lead in this godly behavior.

Final thought

As we mature, we know God more fully and deeply through his Word. We take on the mind of Christ. We join with the whole communion of saints in true unity to the Head, glorifying God with one voice. We do need to strive for unity, just not the Network’s version of it. Commenting on 1 Peter 3:8, R. C. Sproul wrote this:

Bringing our minds into conformity with the mind of Christ by submitting to the Word of God is a lifelong enterprise. The Word of God gives us the perspective of God, and that perspective is radically different from the perspective of the world. Because we want to share the perspective of God, and because our thinking is being formed by that, this should lead us to a very important like-mindedness as we share our common faith in the truth of God. The like-mindedness that is to mark the communion of the saints is so precious that we need to guard it carefully.

Christians ought not to believe something just because their pastor says it. As members of a church, as part of a flock, God requires that you give honor to the pastor and take his words seriously. God has set him as the shepherd over a particular flock. However, he is an under-shepherd, not the Great Shepherd. The pastor does not speak with the authority or infallibility of Christ. Like-mindedness has to come by submission to God’s Word, not to the preacher’s word, but like-mindedness is something we should cultivate and guard jealously in the church, lest we allow petty matters to destroy the unity of the body of Christ. (p. 99, 1–2 Peter, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary)