(Continued from Part One, Two, and Three. Full essay here.)
If the atonement theory I propose has theological and exegetical merit, then the church is obligated to respond to the truths therein by bringing these unifying atonement realities to bear on the here and now.
A divided and divisive church denies in praxis the gospel it proclaims.
In recognition of God’s uniqueness, we must cast down our idols and worship him alone. As the Shema urges, complete and total devotion is the only appropriate response to the one true God.
Although physical idols may not be as universally common today as they once were, invisible idols are as prevalent as ever, especially within the context of Western materialism, where money, possessions, influence, and power are the modern-day Baal. Is the church, especially the affluent segments of the North American church, willing to eschew these idols in order to worship the one true God with heart, soul, and strength?
“We believe in biblical separation from all forms of ecclesiastical apostasy.”
In demonstration of God’s simplicity, we must seek unity with ourselves, each other, all of creation, and God himself. In doing so, we must reject false unities in favor of true ones.
Although the redemptive mode of God’s unity in the presence of sin seems to give distance an appropriate place within the life of the church, we must be extremely careful when presuming to exercise this righteous act of separation ourselves, for the idolatrous desires of our own hearts tend toward a false, absolutized unity which demonizes otherness. The fundamentalist doctrine of “biblical separation” is too often claimed when the real problem is not heresy, but diversity – which is not a problem at all given the inherent otherness within the Trinity.
Furthermore, God exercised redemptive separation for the sake of achieving true unity through Christ, not to keep himself pure and unstained from a creation he wanted nothing to do with.
Ecumenism and catholicity are to be embraced, not feared.
In other words, if God did not completely separate himself from a truly sinful creation so that he might one day have robust unity with it once more, what right do we have to separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters in Christ for what often amounts to legitimate differences of opinion in secondary matters of doctrine and praxis?
In light of God’s oneness and his redemptive, unifying mission, we must watch out for and avoid the most dangerous heretics: those who cause divisions in opposition to the unifying missio Dei (cf. Rom 16:17). That is, Christians should only separate from one another for the gravest divisive offences in doctrine and praxis. Even then, this separation should only be partial and temporary.
If sin is divisive schism and the saving work of Christ is that of at-one-ment with God, each other, and creation, then claiming the pursuit of righteousness and doctrinal purity at the expense of unity is a shameful undoing of the work of God in the Messiah to reconcile all things to himself.
Instead, we must seek to be one as God is One, heeding the exhortations of the apostle Paul to
“live worthily of the calling with which [we] have been called,with all humility and gentleness,with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. [For] there is one body and one Spirit, just as [we] too were called to the one hope of [our] calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-6).
We must prefer true, robust unity to false, forced homogeneity.
Nevertheless, this pursuit of robust unity is rarely easy. Volf rightly notes: “As God does not abandon the godless to their evil but gives the divine self for them in order to receive them into divine communion through atonement, so also should we – whoever our enemies and whoever we may be.”
That is, our demonstrations of oneness should not only prompt us to encourage it where it already occurs, but to engage areas of division and strife as ambassadors for unity and reconciliation, reaching out to both victims and aggressors when it comes to schism and discord. We are called to show humility, gentleness, and patience to even the most divisive and argumentative types of people, extending the oneness of God to the darkest, divided corners of his creation.
It is theologically and exegetically legitimate to view the atonement as the act in which the One God fulfills his creative purposes by bringing his incomparable uniqueness and undivided simplicity to bear on our sinful, divisive condition through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah in order to save a people to robust unity with himself, each other, and the entire creation.
If our proclamation, our gospel, be true, then the global church of Jesus Christ has the responsibility and privilege of bringing these unifying atonement realities to bear on the here and now, honoring God’s uniqueness and demonstrating his simplicity in fulfillment of his redemptive mission.
Then, and only then, will the high priestly prayer of the One who faced exile in our stead be answered: “[I pray] that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).
My brothers and sisters, may the God of incomparable and undivided oneness give you unity with one another in accordance with Jesus the Messiah, so that together you may with one voice glorify God and carry forth his redemptive mission throughout creation. Amen.