The Cultural Ties That Bind, the Sacramental Ones That Don’t
Wes White reports that Perimeter PCA in Atlanta has just hired Chip Sweney as “Next Gen and Community Transformation Pastor.” Concerning his vision for Perimeter to work for cultural transformation alongside non-PCA churches, Sweney writes:
“Jesus desires that all who believe in Him be one, just as the Father, Son, and Spirit are one. A primary reason for unity is that the body may be a witness to the world and the world may believe in Him. When we, as God’s church, are unified as one we send a powerful message that we share transcendent values. This does not take anything away from the necessity of denominations or certainly the distinctives of the PCA. Our theology is extremely important to us, and it should always be. But working together with other denominations does not take anything away from our theology. In fact, our experience is that other churches over the years have been drawn to our theology as they have seen the impact of it in and through Perimeter Church.”
According to the NT, unity is expressed sacramentally. Paul writes: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:27-28), and, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread (I Cor. 10:16-17).”
My guess is that the majority of the “other churches” that Perimeter will be working with are the kind that would re-baptize Sweney’s kids if they started attending there in their teenage years, and if some of those “other churches” are of a certain Lutheran variety they would refuse the bread and the cup to Perimeter’s pastoral staff. So much for biblical unity.
We can talk all we want about how much Jesus desires unity in his Body, but as long as denominationalism exists, such talk is hollow. If, as Sweney says, denominations are necessary, and if those denominations differ on core issues, then whatever camaraderie may exist, it falls short of unity as described by the NT.
Speaking of disunity, how is it that “transcendent values” are displayed in a powerful and witnessing-to-the-world-that-Jesus-came-from-the-Father kind of way when, as is likely the case, the churches that share these values cannot agree on what exactly Jesus came to accomplish? Some of these churches may think that Christ came to obey and suffer in our stead, while others probably think of him more as a life-coach or positive role model for us to follow. Could it be that the transcendent values that are shared are not theological at all, but cultural? If so, how does sharing a particular culture-war ideology witness to the world anything about the Son of God at all?