Bryan Cross has critiqued my post on church unity here. I must say it is refreshing to see some use of logic in a debate. Fancy that. As opposed to all the name-calling, and whining about tone that has occurred on this blog recently, someone is actually trying to deal with the heart of the issues. So, thanks Bryan, for a vigorous, healthy, and logical debate. All right, let’s get to it.
Consider Lane’s arguments. Here is the first: 1) If there are believers in just about every Christian denomination, then there is Christian unity. 2) There are believers in just about every Christian denomination. 3) Therefore, there is Christian unity. Not only is the apodosis of (1) a non sequitur, but (1) makes disunity impossible, and implies that the unity of the Church is unaffected by schism.
I don’t think that Bryan has gotten my argument correct. Admittedly, I could have inserted a few more statements to flesh out premise 1. Let’s take Bryan’s own position. The picture on his blog shows the patriarch of Constantinople holding hands with the Pope. I would assume that means that Bryan would say that the Eastern Orthodox Church has believers in it, just as the Roman Catholic Church does. If this is so, then is there not an underlying unity that connects the believers in the EOC with believers in the RCC? After all, Bryan would presumably not advocate union between the RCC and Buddhism. Why not? Because there is no basis for organizational unity without a corresponding, prior, theological unity. So, what I am saying in premise 1 is that there is theological unity among all believers, no matter in what denomination they participate. If Bryan does not grant premise 1, then he cannot premise that there are any believers in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and thus, there would be no reason for the RCC and the EOC to join. Christian unity cannot be merely external and organizational. There is a deeper, underlying Spiritual unity among all believers. This is precisely what Ephesians 4 is saying. Furthermore, premise 1 in no way implies that the church is unaffected by schism, since, in order for that claim to be true, I would have had to say that Christian unity has no implications at all for external organizations, something which the rest of the post clearly kaboshes.
His next argument is: 4) Ephesians 4:1-6 refers to the “unity of the Spirit”. 5) Nowhere in this passage is it implied that it has to be an organizational unity. 6) Therefore Christian unity is a (S)spiritual [not organizational] unity. Notice the explicit equivocation in (6) between Spiritual (i.e. Spirit-wrought), and spiritual (i.e. not organizational). The move from (4) to “Spirit-wrought” in (6) would be fine. But the move from (4) and (5) to “spiritual” [and not organizational], is a non sequitur on account of an equivocation between ‘Spirit’ and ‘spiritual’, and because the move from (5) to “spiritual” [and not organizational] in (6) is an argument from silence.
The difficulty with Bryan’s assessment of my argument here is that I am also using the term “Spiritual” to mean non-organizational. Therefore the equivocation between “Spiritual” and “spiritual” is irrelevant to the validity of the argument, since both imply non-physical as I have understood the terms. Bryan also does not tell us why the move from 5 to 6 is an argument from silence. What is silent, precisely? Bryan does not deny, interestingly, that move from 4 to 6 would be fine if the meaning “Spiritual” were retained. I am glad to hear that, since it means that he accepts my argument about Ephesians 4 not necessarily implying organizational unity.
7) Paul does not say [in this passage] that there should be Christian unity. (8) Paul says [in this passage] that there is unity. 9) Therefore, if this passage applies at all today, then the unity is in no way, shape, or form organizational. 10) This passage applies today. 11) Therefore, Christian unity is in no way, shape, or form organizational. (9) is a non sequitur; it does not follow from (7) and (8).
I wish Bryan had given us a little more here, for he does not demonstrate how line 9 does not follow lines 7-8, but merely asserts it. Assertion is not proof or disproof unless one is God (Bryan is not claiming to be God!). But let me respond to his assertion anyway. We have a difficulty in the text. The difficulty is this: there are believers in almost every Christian denomination today; however, Paul’s letter was not written in our day and age. We must seek to see how Paul’s message applies today. The difficulty is this: Paul’s letter is silent on the question of denominations, since no denominations existed then. Paul’s letter cannot easily be forced into saying denominations are bad or good, since the situation simply didn’t exist. What I mean in this argument is that Paul asserts that all believers actually have Christian unity. I think that is Paul’s message. If that is true, and there are believers in almost every denomination, then it must follow that the unity of which Paul speaks (if it applies today at all) must not be an organizational unity primarily, but rather a (S)spiritual unity. And again, as I stressed in my original post, organizational unity is a good thing, when it can be a unity around the truth, and it is something for which we should strive as much as we are able. However, lack of organizational unity simply does not mean that there are no other forms of unity among all Christians.
Going on to comment 19 of that post, where I respond to Jonathan Bonomo:
12) The denominations around today are all part of the body of Christ. 13) If visible unity were necessary, then the denominations around today would not be part of the body of Christ. 14) Therefore visible unity is not necessary. (13) is a non sequitur, because it assumes that parthood is all or nothing.
Unfortunately, Bryan got my argument badly garbled here. First of all, I did not claim that the denominations around today are all part of the body of Christ. I claim that there are Christians in almost every denomination that calls itself Christian. Those are not the same claims. I do claim number 13, which Bryan has not even remotely answered. Bryan’s position seems to require visible unity as the sine qua non of being oart of the body of Christ. As I tried to show earlier in this post, if that were true, then he would have to disenfranchise most Christian denominations as not being part of the body of Christ at all. And as I pointed out earlier in this post as well, not even Bryan believes that. The subtitle of his blog is “a blog dedicated to the reunion of all Christians.” That claim, of necessity, forces Bryan to admit that there are Christians in many denominations. If there are, then are not those churches that consist of Christians part of the body of Christ? Does he claim that the Eastern Orthodox Church is a true church? They claim the same apostolic succession that the RCC does. What makes their claim false? If there is only one true church, and the RCC and EOC have not joined yet, then Bryan is forced to conclude that the EOC is not a true church.
15) Every particular church is part of the body of Christ. 16) Every particular church would still be a separate body, even if they were all in the same denomination. 17) Therefore, the “one body” of Eph 4 must refer to a spiritual (not organizational) unity. This argument is a non sequitur as well, because it assumes that being [geographically] separate bodies is incompatible with being one visible body by way of hierarchical organization.
This rebuttal doesn’t work either. My argument doesn’t assume what he thinks it assumes. I am asking the question: what is the nature of the oneness of the church? Bryan and I both agree that oneness exists. I argue that it is a primarily (S)spiritual unity with organizational implications (I have never denied the visible aspects of church unity, contrary to Bryan’s charges of Gnosticism). Bryan seems to deny utterly any non-physical aspects to Christian unity. Bryan would, right now, claim that the two churches I pastor in rural North Dakota are not part of the body of Christ in any way, shape, or form, since they are not visibly united to the Church of Rome. It is ironic, isn’t it? Bryan wants Christian unity that is visible. He will never get that with my two churches, for instance, so long as the Roman Catholic Church has distorted the Word and Sacraments. So, he will intolerantly claim that my two churches are not true churches, not part of the body of Christ. On the other hand, I claim (S)spiritual unity with all true Christian believers, Roman Catholic believers included. Who is the more tolerant here? Who is more concerned about Christian unity? Bryan has too narrowly defined Christian unity.