PAPER NO. 22
THE UNITY OF THE FAITH
That the World May Believe
Part I: What is the Unity of the Faith?
The unity of the faith is about the basic beliefs of the Christian Faith; about what is foundational; about God and man and good and evil (Ephesians 4:13).
- It is not about what is fundamental for initial conversion; it is about what is foundational for maturity in Christ (Hebrews 6:1). Foundation is for fullness and what is maximal includes what is minimal.
- It is not about the unity of the Spirit (in professing one Lord, one faith, one baptism), which already exists and is to be preserved in the bond of peace, but about the fullness of Christ to be attained (Ephesians 4:3, 13).
- It is not about ecclesiastical unity (church government), which comes naturally if there is unity of the faith.
- It is not about what is less basic (the outward before the inward—in piety, law or sacrament); if we agree on what is more basic we can (will) agree on what is less basic.
- It is about basic beliefs that are clear from general revelation (Philosophical Foundation), from Scripture (Theological Foundation) and from Church history (Historical Foundation).
The unity called for is:
- The unity in the Trinity: that they may be one as we are one; that they may be one in us that the world may believe (John 17:21, 15:7). (All diversity originates in God who is one.)
- The unity in Christ himself: is Christ divided (in his function as prophet, priest and king)? (vs. I am of Paul or Apollos or Cephas) (1 Corinthians 1:12-13).
- The unity in the Truth, attained by the work of the Holy Spirit through the pastor-teachers in Church history (John 16:13; Acts 15; Ephesians 4:11-13).
- The unity in the good, in the meaning and purpose of life, in man’s chief end, which is to glorify God (John 17:1-4).
Part II: Is Unity of the Faith Necessary and Urgent?
The necessity for unity depends on one’s view of the good.
- In the popular view of knowledge by direct experience, the fullness of blessing is received only in heaven after death. Or, only Christ by his return and direct rule can remove evil on earth. In this view unity of the faith is not necessary for attaining the good.
- In the view that knowledge of God is by understanding God’s self-revelation in creation and history, the fullness of blessing is received only by Christ ruling through the Church to complete the work of dominion given to man in the Garden of Eden. In this view unity of the faith is necessary for the good.
Is the unity of the faith urgent?
- Without foundation (understanding basic things, beginning with the meaning and purpose of life) we do not thrive. We do not go on to maturity, fruitfulness, unity and fullness. We remain infants rather than become teachers (Hebrews 5:12; John 15:8, 16).
- Without foundation we have meaninglessness (increasing loss of meaning), and consequently boredom (with transgression) and guilt.
- Without foundation the family breaks down. By divisions and apostasy the Church ceases to be pillar and ground of the Truth (it is taken captive, not taking thoughts captive). It is not salt and light (it is the tail, not the head). The culture without God, in education, in economics and in politics decays and collapses.
- The cup appears to be nearly full. Not being salt and light, we will be cast out and trampled under foot. If this is so, then unity is urgent.
Part III: What Proposals are there for Progress Toward Unity?
Proposals begin with five areas of basic agreement and seek to become more conscious and consistent. By taking a step-by-step approach to unity of the faith, the origin of differences can thereby be identified and addressed.
Man’s chief end: the good—eternal life—the knowledge of God (see Paper No. 4)
- Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever (SCQ 1).
- We are to glorify God in all that by which he makes himself known, in all his works of creation and providence (SCQ 101, WCF 4.1 and 5.1).
- Eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3).
- The good is grounded in human nature and never changes. The knowledge of God is the goal of the work of dominion, given to man in the beginning (Genesis 1:26-28).
- The work of dominion now extends over sin; it moves from the Garden of Eden to the City of God (Revelation 21–22).
- The work of dominion will be completed as signified by the Sabbath (Genesis 2:1-3).
- Christ, through the Church, will rule to complete the work of dominion so that the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9).
Common Ground: the necessary conditions for thought and discourse (see Paper No. 2)
- It begins with the self-evident: we are thinking beings and reason in itself is the laws of thought.
- Reason as the laws of thought is most basic; it is the test for meaning and it is self-attesting.
- We should be committed to reason. Integrity is a concern for consistency (logically and existentially).
- Rational Presuppositionalism (RP): thinking is presuppositional—we think of the less basic in light of the more basic; if we agree on the more basic we can agree on the less basic. RP tests basic beliefs for meaning.
- The Principle of Clarity (PC): some things are clear; the basic things are clear; the basic things about God and man and good and evil are clear to reason. PC is opposed to both skepticism and fideism, which end in nihilism.
- Clarity makes unbelief inexcusable. One has to neglect, avoid, resist or deny one’s reason to avoid what is clear.
- Understanding PC is necessary in order to understand sin and spiritual death. If there is no sin and death, there is no need for Christ and him crucified.
The Moral Law is clear, comprehensive and critical (see Paper No. 9 and No. 10)
- The moral law is clear: it is grounded in human nature and also given in Scripture as the Decalogue (Romans 2:14-15; Deuteronomy 30:11-14). The moral law is universal (for all men) and perpetual (for all time).
- The moral law is comprehensive: it is total (for all choices) and spiritual (for all levels) and is summed up in the commandment to love. Love is not higher than the moral law, but is expressed in obeying God’s law.
- The moral law is critical: its consequence leads to life (the knowledge of God in the Kingdom of God) or spiritual death (personal and cultural). It reveals the meaning of autonomy, idolatry, hypocrisy and hope.
- The moral law given in human nature is neither arbitrary (merely posited by divine command) nor foreign to human nature (heteronomy).
- The moral law is teleological, aimed at the good; it is not deontological, aimed at virtue (the means to the good) or consequential, aimed at happiness (the effect of possessing what is the good).
- The moral law aimed at the good is corporate, cumulative and communal, for oneself as well as for others; it is personal as well as cultural. It achieves the good through the Kingdom of God, the City of God.
- The moral law is over all institutions; no institution is total (over any other). Sanctions differ according to the form and function of each institution. Civil sanctions apply only to crime, which is but one distinct aspect of moral evil.
Foundation in Scripture: Creation–Fall–Redemption (see Paper No. 13, No. 14 and No. 15)
- Foundation consists of the elementary truths of the faith; it is milk, not meat. Foundation is necessary for a lasting culture (the City of God) (Hebrews 5:12-14; 11:10; Revelation 21:14, 19-20).
- Foundation is necessary for maturity, fruitfulness, unity and fullness. It is possible not to have the foundation in place or not to build on the foundation (Hebrews 6:1; Matthew 7:24-27; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
- Theological Foundation from Scripture is found in Genesis 1–3: creation, fall and redemption.
- The account of Creation reveals: God’s purpose for creating man in the image of God; the good and the means to the good through the work of dominion; the Sabbath hope that the good will be attained.
- The account of the Fall reveals: the covenant of creation; clarity and inexcusability in temptation and sin; spiritual death in meaninglessness, self-deception and self-justification.
- The account of Redemption reveals: God’s call to repentance in the curse and the promise; vicarious atonement; justification and sanctification.
- Christ in the place of Adam will undo, as the Lamb of God, what Adam did. And he will do, as King, what Adam failed to do—exercise dominion through his people.
Historic Christianity (see Paper No. 16)
- Historic Christianity is the work of the Holy Spirit leading the Church into all Truth (John 16:13).
- This work is through the pastor–teachers, in response to challenges, after much discussion, coming to agreement (Acts 15).
- Agreements are summed up in Creeds and delivered to the churches for the unity of the faith (Acts 15–16).
- What began in Jerusalem, continued in the Apostles’ Creed, Nicea, Carthage, Chalcedon and Orange.
- The Reformation built on the previous councils.
- The Westminster Confession built on the earlier creeds of the Reformation.
- The work of the Holy Spirit leading the Church into all Truth is continuing until the end of history.