At What Cost Unity?
- Sheldon Clowdus
On the one side is Together 4 the Gospel and its constituents who uphold the traditional view of justification. That is that, as followers of Christ, we are justified before God because and only because Jesus, having fulfilled every aspect of the law in His life, died in our place on the cross. He absorbed the just wrath of God that was due us and, in its place, we have been credited with His righteousness.
On the other side is N.T. Wright and other proponents of the New Perspective on Paul. Their belief is that both the Roman Catholic church and the Reformers, such as Martin Luther, have completely misunderstand the apostle Paul's writings when it comes to the doctrine of justification. Their belief is that justification is not above how one is saved, it is about knowing who has been included in God's family. Consider the following quote from N.T. Wright himself:
The doctrine of justification . . . is not merely a doctrine in which Catholic and Protestant might just be able to agree on, as a result of hard ecumenical endeavour. It is itself the ecumenical doctrine, the doctrine that rebukes all our petty and often culture-bound church groupings, and which declares that all who believe in Jesus belong together in the one family. . . . The doctrine of justification is in fact the greatecumenical doctrine" (What St. Paul Really Said [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997], 158)
So, according to Wright, justification is not so much a doctrine of soteriology but one of ecumincalism or ecclesiology. The point of justification moves away from sinners being saved from deserved condemnation and towards declaring "that all who believe in Jesus belong together in the one family".
Having set the background, let us now consider Wright's statement made at the Wheaton College conference when asked about the schism between those upholding his view and those upholding the traditional view of justification. When asked about the schism, his response was, "Nothing justifies schism." Is Wright correct, or are there times when a schism is justified?
Scripture seems pretty clear on this issue. Paul himself in his calls to the church to be unified calls for that unity to be based on "the same mind and the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10 and Philippians 2:2). Paul understood that unity must be based first and foremost on the truth of the gospel. Where there in not agreement on the gospel, there cannot be unity. Unity can not and must not come at the cost of the gospel.
In essence, Wright has decided that unity is more important than truth. He has reinterpreted one of the main tenants of the gospel message to fit his own agenda and his own ideas of what are and should be important. Paul said anyone preaching a different gospel than the one he preached should be accursed (Galatians 1:8-9). Wright is very much in danger of crossing a line better left uncrossed.
You can read another (and most likely better) write up of this topic at the Pyromaniacs blog.