A couple years back, while at a big leadership conference for church leaders, I was listening to a statistician discussing the state of the church in Canada. He explained that he believes Roman Catholics and Protestants need to come together if we’re going to find any success in turning Canadians back toward Christ. After all, he said, the more discussions he had with Catholics, mainline Protestants and Evangelicals, the more he found we had in common (which, basically amounted to “all of them pray and take their faith seriously”).
Sitting in this session, I was kind of annoyed, and more than a little depressed. I mean, seriously? This is the best advice that could be offered to church leaders wanting to impact their communities? Hook up your carts to the United Church and Mainline Presbyterianism (both of which are haemorrhaging members) and bury the hatchet with the Roman church?
Sadly, this is the same advice that’s been given to Evangelicals for decades—dating back to the 1940s and earlier. J.I. Packer addresses how we should respond to this sort of thinking well in his 1958 release, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God. He writes:
Christian bodies of all sorts are constantly urged to come together, sink their differences and present a united front to the forces of secularism and Communism. It is taken for granted that the differences in question are small and trifling—unsightly little cracks on the surface of an otherwise solid wall. But this assumption is false. Not all the cracks are mere superficial disfigurements; some of them are the outward signs of lack of structural integration. The wall is cracked because it is not all built on the same foundation. The more one probes the differences between Roman and Protestant, Liberal and Evangelical, the deeper they prove to be; beneath the cracks on the surface lie fissures which run down to the very foundations, broadening as they go. Nothing is gained just by trying to cement up the cracks; that only encourages the collapse of the entire wall. Sham unity is not worth working for, and real unity, that fellowship of love in the truth which Christ prayed that His disciples might enjoy, will come only as those sections of the wall which rest on unsound foundations are dismantled and rebuilt. Till this happens, the question of [biblical] authority must remain central in discussion between the dissident groups; and the best service one can do to the divided Church of Christ is to keep it there. (45)