| |

But what about unity?

Is agreeing to disagree really the best option when it comes to important topics?

Sponsored Content: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the editorial perspective of Christian Courier.

Perhaps the biggest concern I hear about Synod 2022 is how decisions on sexual ethics will affect unity in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC).

“Personally, Lora, I agree with the Biblical definition of chastity but I’m uneasy with lines in the sand. Far better for us to agree to disagree.”

“Shouldn’t the church err on the side of everyone at the table?”

“Jesus prayed we’d be one. Our greatest need is to stay together. Unity first.”

I understand these appeals. There was a time I spoke them.

Unity is a beautiful Biblical goal. One we naturally desire. Since I was a small fry at Mr. Roger’s feet, I’ve wanted to reside in such peace-making waters. I love encouraging people, “going along to get along.” My homing instinct is trained toward the comforting waters of warmth.

But scripture is not that. There is a mountain-heights, bracing-cold quality to the waters of scripture. The more I study it, the more I do so on my knees, because every passage runs against the current of my own heart and calls me to repent.

Even repenting of the desire for unity at all costs.

Unbiblical unity

Scripture shows unity can be idolatrous, as in the case of the people of Babel. Scripture shows unity can be an excuse for cowardice, as in the case of King Zedekiah. Scripture repeatedly warns against a unity that blesses what God has not blessed.

Unity in Jesus’ church does not hang from our good intentions and warm feelings. Our unity must be grounded in bedrock truth, in the apostles’ doctrine. If core truth (and shared obedience to it) is relativized, then our unity is no longer unity of the Spirit at all. It is a counterfeit coexistence, a unity of letterheads and yearbooks, not the rooted, fibrous, mutually-beholden, mutually-accountable reality Scripture describes. More organisation than organism.

Here are three examples of how unity, if pursued for its own sake, will backfire and prove destructive, no matter how well-intentioned we may be.

1. The global church

As we’ve seen in other denominations, a unity that compromises on matters of sexual ethics will mean disunity with the ethnic and global church (not to mention the historic church too.)

Different ethnic communities from within the Reformed tradition have spoken. The CRCNA’s Latino Consejo and Korean Council voiced their support for a confessional sexual ethic. Navajo and Zuni believers did as well, which Classis Red Mesa adopted as an overture to Synod 2022. Chinese congregations in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto have expressed opposition to the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s decision to approve two definitions of marriage and are looking for an affiliation that holds to the convictions CRC Synod 2022 upheld.

The global church laments (even rebukes) the church in the West on these matters. If the CRC wants to honour diversity among us, and our mission partners around the world, then we should see the decisions of Synod 2022 as an alignment with their wisdom and voices.

2. The Lessons Learned

We aren’t the first denomination in this spot, asking these questions. Other denominations have blazed this trail before us, all of them with the same good intentions we have. They pursued a “third-way” course, looking to accommodate two views on sexual ethics and yet stay united institutionally. Has it worked?

Look at our older sister, the Reformed Church of America, splintering into the Alliance of Reformed Churches. Or the recent break in the Anglican Church. Or the Canadian Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Evangelical Lutherans, the Brethrens, the Mennonites. Even a stalwart like the United Methodist church, with unity as their one non-negotiable and a tortuous 50 year history to prove it, just this last year threw in the towel, admitting they too couldn’t make a third way happen.

There must be something about sexual ethics that a church body cannot “agree to disagree” on. Does not the experience of these other denominations call us to humility? Why do we think we can make a middle way work when it hasn’t worked – and is not working – for anyone else?

3. The Harm to people

Finally, the longer the church tries to hold two irreconcilable positions, the more individuals (who deserve clarity) get hurt. One position says, “God’s love means mortify – find your identity only in Jesus.” The other position says, “God’s love means embrace and celebrate your creationally diverse identity.”

Each position believes the other position does actual people actual harm.

Each position finds the other position in need of critical and immediate correction.

Each position will experience the culture continuing to sharpen its convictions in more intense, and oppositional, ways.

Each position, though, has an integrity to it.

What lacks integrity is to say both these positions can be held simultaneously. The centre position – while incredibly attractive and natural for peace-loving people to hold – is fundamentally contradictory and therefore will be impossible to endure.

The middle position will be increasingly offensive to the other two positions because it hurts people. For this reason, the centre position may be the least loving. It looks to care more about an organisational status quo than it cares for beloved image-bearers.

Hard truth

A friend and I disagree with each other over Synod 2022 but we absolutely agree on this: “Clear is kind.” My friend said it well.

This is hard to swallow for peace-making, unity-loving people like myself, who cherish loved ones with differing convictions. I lose sleep and tears regularly over this. But as hard as it is for “middle way” people to admit, we must realise that every decision, including the centre one (the unity-seeking one), will come with unavoidable and serious consequences.

The Lord of the Church, abounding in love and faithfulness, can make the same abound in his people. Jesus can help us honour each other, even while we courageously acknowledge the painful truth: that one church cannot call the same individual to both mortify and celebrate.

As one pastor noted, “sometimes the best way to preserve unity is to admit we don’t have it.”


Similar Posts


  1. Unity results when we concentrate on what we hold in common and is shattered when we highlight our differences. The late George Grant said it best, “Love is respect for otherness.” The attempt to remove all differences leads to loveless uniformity, not unity. The author confuses uniformity with unity.

  2. Hi Nick,

    When God says in Hebrews 12:6 “For whom the Lord loves He chastens” is he respecting our otherness? Love is so much deeper and more meaningful than the formulation that Grant posits.

    We don’t achieve unity by ignoring our differences, and not all differences are simply benign differences or differences to be celebrated. When the CRC admonished followers of kinism and caused them to leave the CRC where we being unloving by not respecting the otherness of kinists? Surely you must have protested that we were breaking our unity and confusing unity with uniformity. If not, then you must be admitting that not all differences are simply variations to be celebrated.

    Lora here is not arguing to “remove all differences” – far from it. In accusing her of that you have erected a straw man that is quite easily dispatched. I happen to know Lora personally and can assure you that while we share a deep sense of unity, we are anything but uniform.

    I wonder if you would be willing to engage with the actual content of the three areas that Lora highlights and the hard truth that she concludes with. Do you think that the global church and our brothers and sisters of varying and diverse ethnic backgrounds have it all wrong and should follow the lead of the western, largely white church in dispatching centuries of church teaching? Do you think that the CRC is likely to succeed where so many other churches have failed? Do you agree that both sides argue that the other is causing great harm, and allowing each other to continue in causing harm is anything but loving?

  3. Thank-you pastor Copley for your lucid and respectful words! As with any momentous issue, we have a choice to make. The greatest love we can show our church community and the world we live in is that love is not first of all unity but obedience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *