The topic of Church unity has been an interest of mine for a long time, but lately it's been on my mind more than usual.  I've had several interesting discussions about the topic recently, and have read some articles which have motivated me to think about it in more depth.  I'd like to use this post (and a future one) as a sort of blitzkrieg way to get some of these thoughts down on "paper," and share them for the purpose of stimulating further discussion.  As is often the case on this site, I will caution you that I am by no means an expert on this subject, and could definitely benefit from much deeper study here.  For now, take these thoughts with a large handful of salt, and consider them carefully.  I welcome any and all responses, especially those which might enhance this dialogue, because I consider this a very important issue.

Why Should Christians Care About Church Unity?

My first point will be a way of sharing the perspective by which I am approaching this topic.  While Church history is an area of interest to me, my primary motivation for thinking about this is the inspired words of scripture.  In the Gospel of John, chapter 17, verses 20-23, Jesus prays to the Father that those who believe in him, on account of the testimony of his disciples, would be unifed:

“I am not praying only on their behalf, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their testimony, that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one – I in them and you in me – that they may be completely one, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me. [1]
This seems to me to show the importance that Jesus placed on Church unity; he obviously finds it important enough to pray to the Father about, and pray for it out loud in front of his disciples at that. The reason he seems to give for desiring unity is that a unified Church would be a better witness to the world than a divided one.  And Jesus isn't the only one in scripture who is concerned with unity.  In Paul's first epistle to the Corinthian church, he pleads with the brothers and sisters there to become more unified:

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree together, to end your divisions, and to be united by the same mind and purpose. For members of Chloe’s household have made it clear to me, my brothers and sisters, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each of you is saying, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” or “I am with Cephas,” or “I am with Christ.” Is Christ divided? Paul wasn’t crucified for you, was he? Or were you in fact baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name! (I also baptized the household of Stephanus. Otherwise, I do not remember whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – and not with clever speech, so that the cross of Christ would not become useless. [2]
You can see by his language that there is a sense of urgency.  Apparently he has learned through Chloe's household of the division that exists in Corinth, and has written, at least in part, to rebuke the church for such division.  

I care about Church unity because it is clear to me through scripture that God cares about Church unity.  Jesus prayed out loud to the Father that future believers would be unified, and Paul rebukes the church in Corinth for their lack of unity.  But what exactly is meant by unity?  What would a unified Church look like?

What Does Church Unity Not Look Like?

I have heard it argued that the Church is already unified in the sense meant in the scripture I have referenced above, and in a way consistent with other tangentially related scripture.  Christians are unified, they have told me, through our shared belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  There's truth in that point; but is that the only sort of unity that Jesus and Paul were talking about in the above referenced verses?  I don't think it is.  My reason is that it doesn't fit the context of Jesus' prayer; that definition of unity would make Jesus' prayer tautologous.  The subject of Jesus' prayer is "those who believe in [him] on account of [the disciples'] testimony."  But if being unified is simply a matter of having a shared belief in Jesus, then the prayer amounts to Jesus praying to the Father that those who believe in him, would believe in him.  Similarly, this concept of unity does not fit the context of Paul's words in Corinthians.  He is speaking to the church of believers in Corinth, urging them to be unified.  But if they are already believers, then unity must mean something more than sharing belief in Christ.[3]

So if Jesus and Paul meant unity to mean something beyond a simple shared belief in Jesus, what exactly would Church unity look like?  Before I attempt to answer that question (Spoiler Alert: I don't completely know. Although I do have some ideas.), let's look at two ways that the unified Church will probably not look like.

Regarding this topic, it seems that there is a spectrum upon which most opinions lie.  On one end of the spectrum is a very superficial unity.  Christians will be unified if they can just forget all about current denominations, ignore doctrinal differences, and sit around a campfire singing Kumbaya
(Side Note: Why do people that are getting along always have to sing Kumbaya? It's a terrible song. Can't we find a better song to sing together, like, oh, something by Taylor Swift? It could be very edifying if we were to encourage our brothers and sisters to shake it off.  The dust from their feet, that is.)

This sort of superficial "unity" fails to take two important things into account.  First, it fails to take into account that some theological differences are extremely important and have a significant potential to affect the life and health of the Church (of course, determining which doctrines fall in this category is a hard thing to do and something many disagree on).  Second, it fails to take into account Church history.  Over 500 years [4] of historical wounds have taken their toll on the Church. There have been wars, murders, massacres, slander and vitriol thrown around, and many more events that have left quite a bit more than a bad taste in many peoples' mouths.  To tell these different traditions to simply forget their differences and get along would be like telling a husband and wife who had separated because of serious issues (physical or verbal abuse, infidelity, etc) to reunite and live together like none of those issues had happened.  It's not realistic, and it's certainly not healthy.  If a husband and wife were to attempt to reunite under such circumstances, it would likely require years of counseling, if not much more extreme measures.  If we are to attempt to reunite different traditions in the Church, we must be prepared for a long hard road ahead.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who think that Church unity can only happen when every theological detail is reconciled. Of course, this is usually coupled with a belief that these Christians are the correct ones and Church unity will be achieved when everyone else believes exactly as they do.  Likewise, I think that this is unrealistic.  What two Christians (even in the same church) agree on everything?  Obviously agreement on absolutely everything is probably more extreme than most Christians consider necessary, but there are definitely many who come close.  It seems that these are the same Christians who cannot distinguish a difference in the priority of doctrine.[5]  All doctrines are equally important to them, and a difference of opinion on any of them is grounds for splitting and forming a new church (or perhaps excommunicating a minority from within a church).  Along with being unrealistic, this attitude is borderline sinful.  What other than pride would motivate a Christian to think that he or she has everything, even the most minor details, exactly correct?  This seems to be what Paul was rebuking the Corinthian church for in his epistle.  They were dividing on the minutia.

Summary Thus Far

Christians should care about Church unity because Jesus and Paul cared about Church unity. One of the reasons for desiring Church unity is that a unified Church is a better witness to the world than a fragmented one.  Once we accept this as a starting point, we are left asking what exactly Church unity looks like. I maintain that it is not a superficial assent to ignore all our differences and simply say we are united. On the other hand, Church unity will not come about through agreement on every minor theological detail. It will be somewhere in between these two extremes. Exactly where it lies in this spectrum will be discussed in my next post, as well as a brief overview of what strides are currently being made (and have been made) toward this end.

1. John 17:20-23 (NET)
2. 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 (NET)
3. I can see how some people, perhaps those who consider themselves Reformed, might happily accept this interpretation, vacuous as it seems at face value.  Jesus' words could be taken as an appeal to the Father to give to him those who the Father has already chosen.  In that sense, while future believers are already chosen by the Father, they have not yet been given to the Son (they do not yet consciously believe).  So Jesus could be seen as praying that this aspect of the Father's will be fulfilled.  While there are other verses that could lend credence to this concept, this seems like an unnecessary assumption to bring to this particular verse.  We would have no reason to come to this conclusion, unless we come to the text with an a priori assumption that the Church is currently unified in the sense that Jesus meant.  And if Paul and Jesus mean the same thing by unity in those verses that I referenced, unity cannot possibly be meant in this minimalist way.  This is because Paul's rebuke to the Corinthian believers takes place years after Jesus' prayer, years after his death and resurrection, and years after the Church is established at Pentacost!
4. We could go back much further if we include the schism between the Eastern and Western churches in the eleventh century AD.  I think this is an important and relevant event, even though many tend to think of this issue solely as one between Protestants and Catholics.
5.  Daniel Wallace has written a very good article about the doctrine of inerrancy which adequately discusses the need for a priority of doctrines:

I once had a mentor remark that we should, at some point in our spiritual development, form a theology of every part of life. A theology of thinking, a theology of work, a theology of eating, a theology of fellowship. You get the idea. If we are to give our lives fully to God, we are to base our thoughts and actions in every aspect of life on our Christian faith and our ideas about God. We are not to be compartmentalists, in which our faith occupies just one part of our lives. Rather, it should inform - nay, reform - every facet of our being.

To this end, one question we should ask ourselves is, "As Christians, what role do art, entertainment, and leisure have in our lives?" This has been an important question for those who fear God throughout history. But it seems especially significant today. I haven't done any great study on the free time of humanity throughout history, but I suspect we enjoy more of it now than in any other point in history. And because it occupies so much of our time and thought, we had better have a clear understanding of how it should be used to glorify God and edify his people.

I think you'll agree that in many ways our culture's obsession with leisure and entertainment has done some serious damage, and the church has not been spared. There are many instances in which some form of entertainment or way of life has entered into the church without much thought given to it, almost as if it entered through some form of osmosis. The walls of the church ought not be so permeable. Instead we should be vigilant about what makes its way into our lives, lest temptation and sin find yet another foothold. At the same time, we should not shut out all entertainment from our lives. I believe it can be beneficial, and that good entertainment can bring us towards God in a way that simply putting our nose to the grindstone every day can't.

Before we continue, I should mention two things. the first is that I won't spend any time discussing the definitions of art, entertainment, and leisure. The semantic issues don't interesting me, and I trust you have somewhat of an understanding of what the words "art," "entertainment," and "leisure" mean. There are some who may paint one of these in a positive light and another in a negative light in order to make a point, but I'm fine with lumping them all together for the sake of simplicity. Secondly - and this should be pretty obvious - this blog post certainly won't be the final answer on the subject. I'm sure many books could be written on the subject of our theology of entertainment. I only want to get us thinking about it, and to realize the importance of thinking about it.

Now, to answer the question "what role do art, entertainment, and leisure have in our lives?" we first have to answer a few other questions. What is the purpose of entertainment? Is it of any profit? Should we instead just work, study, and serve all day every day?

Entertainment in part gives us a break from the rigors of life. Long work days and many responsibilities are often draining. The right entertainment can also be immensely edifying. On more than one occasion, after a particularly amazing classical music concert, I have heard another Christian remark that such amazing music so wonderfully played in some hard-to-put-your-finger-on-it  way gives one a glimpse or vision of heaven, in a way that much of current worship music fails to.

As Christians, we can sometimes feel guilty about entertainment, and that need not be the case. We need rest. Even God took the time to rest after creation, and Jesus had times of rest as well. And entertainment can be a form of rest. Furthermore, entertainment has the ability to fill us with joy and laughter, and even bring us closer to God. Good entertainment doesn't avoid the deep questions. Instead it demands deep introspection. It should drive us towards greater godliness, to deeper relationships, to excellence in all that we do.

Entertainment is not a vacation from being a follower of Christ. I think that has been the downfall of many a Christian. The definite principles that guide how we live as Christians at work, in the marketplace of ideas, as friends and family, as the body of Christ, are all still in play. So what are those principles? Here are a few:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. [Philippians 4:8 ESV]
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. [I Corinthians 10:31 ESV]
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. [Romans 12:2 ESV]
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 
But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
    “Awake, O sleeper,        and arise from the dead,    and Christ will shine on you.”
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. [Ephesians 5:1-17 ESV]
No doubt you're familiar with these passages. And there are others that come to mind as well (the second half of 1 Peter 1, pretty much all of I Corinthians 10). I really like the list in Philippians 4:8. There is so much in art and entertainment that is lovely and excellent and commendable and noble. Even if it does not give praise to God in so many words, it nonetheless can give him praise through all those great qualities. I think it falls under common grace.

While it isn't my favorite series, I really enjoyed reading the Harry Potter books. In them, you find many noble characters with many kind qualities. You find sinister characters that may succeed in doing evil, but ultimately find a just end. There are many good lessons to be learned in the books. And there are a few gems like this: "Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy."[1] As Christianity Today put it, the books are a modern-day book of virtues with a per-pubescent funny bone.

And do any of us not love great music? There is so much music I find inspiring, encouraging, comforting, thrilling, intriguing...the list could go on seemingly forever. I am convinced that any great peace of music is in some way a reflection of our Creator. He came up with the whole idea of sound waves, after all.

Yes, I even think there are great movies. I think all of us have had the experience of leaving the movie theater wanting to be a better person because of the movie just saw. Now, often those movies will have a message of hope that falls short. Nonetheless, as Christians, we can still be inspired by such movies, for we know the real source of all hope and joy and love, and we are aware that those movies fall short but are pointing towards that which the movie cannot see yet we can.

Obviously most entertainment was not made with the motivation of glorifying God. It may still reflect some of his qualities, but that was not the reason it was made. But for us as Christians, our primary motive in creating and enjoying entertainment is to glorify God, as Paul explains in I Corinthians 10:31. Does it have to explicitly praise him? Of course not. That doesn't even make sense on the face of it. We're also to glorify God by the way we eat; but how do you say "praise God!" while chewing steak without spewing it everywhere? Similarly, our praise of God in entertainment comes by the way we go about it. But feel free to explicitly glorify God through entertainment as well! Bach was amazing at doing both. He set the gospels to some breathtaking music, and he wrote a prolific amount of instrumental music that remains among the best ever written. When listening through Robert Greenberg's Great Courses series on classical music, I was amazed to hear him say that Bach's faith and artistry were so intertwined as to be almost indistinguishable. This is coming from someone who is, as far as I know, not a believer. Talk about an amazing witness!

In short, there is a tremendous amount in entertainment that is worth pursuing. That being said, with the principles in Romans 12:2 and Ephesians 5 in mind, there is a lot we should avoid. And Paul puts those things in no uncertain terms. I don't think I need to elaborate. But it's not just what sort of things we do to entertainment ourselves that is important, it's the purpose of our seeking that entertainment and the amount of time we spend with that entertainment.

If we're seeking some form of entertainment in order to shirk a responsibility we have, even if that entertainment is entirely wholesome, we do disservice to our calling. Our motive in seeking entertainment is important. The amount of time we spend is also important. Netflix binge-ing is almost worn as a badge of honor these days. But sinking an entire weekend just to watch an entire season of a show isn't a terribly good use of time.

Now everything I have said up to this point is fairly clear. Avoid sinful entertainment, pursue praiseworthy entertainment. And for most situations, these principles clearly divide the beneficial from the harmful. But invariably we run into situations in which it isn't entirely clear whether some piece of entertainment is permissible. Say some film has a very solid central message about truth or loyalty, but is pretty heavy-handed with its depiction of violence. Should we subject ourselves to that violence for the sake of the central message of the movie or not? That is not an easy question. And this I think is where a lot of Christians trip up.

Thankfully, the Bible itself provides an example to follow. In it, there is adultery, incest, murder, torture, persecution, lying, thievery, slander, and a ton of other really awful stuff. It doesn't avoid these issues. But it also never, ever praises them. They are there as a warning. They are also there so we can see how God is sovereign over everything, and can work through even the most tragic events towards his good.

And there are yet more principles in the Bible we can turn to, when it comes to what we see as morally grey areas. Consider this passage:
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. [I Corinthians 6:12]
Paul here exposes a common mistake when a Christian finds freedom from the law through Christ. This freedom does not give us license to throw away prudence, discernment, and wisdom. We are still to obey, not as a means of attaining salvation, but because we are saved through Christ.

Here's a fairly all-encompassing passage:
For whatever does not proceed from faith is a sin. [Romans 14:23]
I suspect that deep down, with some entertainment we muzzle the Holy Spirit - perhaps not consciously - by justifying or rationalizing the entertainment. "Yes, this show does have a fair amount of sexual content. Well really there's a ton. But the plot is so good. And there are several characters that are very noble." I've noticed in such a situation, the Christian sometimes takes on a air of spiritual maturity. "Perhaps for these weaker Christians this may be harmful, or to the more simple-minded Christians it may be objectionable, but I in my maturity will certainly not be ensnared by whatever evil I find in this entertainment." That is a good clue that we've gotten off track. There comes a point where we need to realize that we are trying to justify something that isn't justifiable.

I hope you're not getting the idea we should avoid entertainment that has any negativity in it. To teach any moral lesson, we have to show the consequences of wrong-doing. For example, I think you could make a case that a torture scene in a movie is not inappropriate. As long as that scene doesn't glory in torture. If we see a character persevering in the face of such adversity, I think we can find real inspiration in that. One of my favorite films is The Scarlet and the Black. It depicts the life of Hugh O'Flaherty - and Irish-born Roman Catholic priest - during the Nazi occupation of Rome. He and others rescued thousands of Jews and POWs from the clutches of the Nazis, and they faced intimidation, assassination attempts, blackmail, and even torture and death as a result. It is a simply gripping film.

I have two more thoughts before finishing up. Invariably we will run into situations in which one Christian will be perfectly fine with a piece of entertainment, while another will object. Even after really thinking through all these issues in arriving at a theology of entertainment, we will have disagreement. My recommendation is to yield to the person who has an objection, even if you disagree. Better that than to cause a sister or brother to stumble, or to create unnecessary division.

One last piece of advice: when in doubt, flee. Better to embarrass yourself in front of friends - believers or unbelievers - or waste money on a ticket than to risk poisoning your soul.

Much of this is pretty difficult to think about. Memories that now bring regret have flitted through my mind while writing it. And I find all this as difficult to follow as anyone. This post has barely scratched the surface of the subject. Even now there are verses and words of great Christians that I'd like to write about, but this post is already immense. I hope nonetheless it provides you with a good start in forming a theology of entertainment.


1. Technically that quote is from the movie. The rendering in the book is a bit different, and was in a context I didn't feel like spending a lot of time explaining [spoiler: Cedric Diggory dies].
I was reflecting on the Interaction Problem today and had a few thoughts about it.  The problem is an objection against Cartesian Mind/Body Dualism, and goes roughly something like this: we can think of no possible mechanism for how an immaterial soul can interact with a material body.  If we can't come up with a mechanism, then it is likely that no such mechanism exists.  If no such mechanism exists, then an immaterial mind could not interact with a material body.  But the mind does interact with the body.  Therefore the mind must not be immaterial, and Cartesian Dualism is false.

Ignoring the potential issue with the Noseeum inference made in the argument (I don't see X, therefore X probably does not exist), another issue came to mind.  The whole argument revolves around the idea that it seems counter-intuitive that an immaterial substance (such as the Cartesian mind) could interact with a material substance (such as the body).  Perhaps even worse than counter-intuitive, it just seems strange. [1]

Let's also disregard the fact that counter-intuitiveness, and strangeness, are not good defeaters for an argument unrelated to those concepts (there are arguments from the Cartesian Dualist for why an immaterial soul must exist).  I still don't think the problem is as cutting as those who advance it would like to think.  Why? Well, when you think about it, it's really just as strange that material substances can interact with other material substances.  What is the mechanism for that type of interaction? Why think that such an interaction can take place?

But wait, you might say. We know that material substances interact with each other because we observe such interactions all the times in science (Or, you know, by just being aware of the world that we live in. But it's obviously more effective to shout "science" when objecting to something)!

Well, I might respond by saying that if Cartesian Dualism is true, then we regularly observe material and immaterial substances interacting together all the time, too.  Perhaps I'm just begging the question here, because we would have to assume that those type of interactions can take place in order to posit that Cartesian Dualism is true.  But if I am, then so are those who believe in material/material interactions.

This is because if we accept a broadly Humean metaphysics (a type of empiricism which most opponents of Cartesian Dualism seem to accept, implicitly or explicitly), then when we do science, we are not observing causal interactions at all.  Hume argued that we are really just observing the constant conjunction of events.  Humans have, Hume argued, a psychological tendency to infer from such constant conjunctions that a causal interaction has indeed taken place.  But let's be clear: if Hume is right, then we do not in fact observe the interaction of material substances.  Rather we infer such an interaction. So we have not directly observed such mechanisms for material/material interactions.  Given this lack of observation, these types of interactions appear just as strange as those being objected to!

Let's wind this up by summarizing what I am intending to show.  No, actually let's start by summarizing what I am not trying to show. I am not trying to show that Hume was right about causation, nor that Cartesian Dualism is true. I happen to dispute both of those theses personally (though I dispute the former much more strongly than the latter, and my view on the latter is closer to Cartesian Dualism than it is to modern Physicalism). What this post does show is that most people who put forth this objection prove too much and therefore have reason to discard it.


A possible objection to this post (brought to my attention by Steve) is that we do know the mechanisms for material/material interaction. These mechanisms are the fundamental forces, or the physical laws.  But I don't think this solves the problem. First, there is widespread disagreement over the actual nature of these concepts.  Are they prescriptive, or are they simply descriptive?  Do these laws or forces actually compel materials to interact with each other in certain ways (which seems, again, very strange), or are they simply names and descriptions we have given to certain behavior that we perceive. And that leads me to my second point: regardless of whether these fundamental laws or forces are descriptive or prescriptive, have we actually observed them? Or are we inferring them from the constant conjunction of events that we do observe? I submit that we have not observed them, and these concepts (though they sound more eloquent) fall to the same argument that Hume put forth from the start.

1.  The term I have most often seen in philosophical literature in this context is "queer."  Due to the charged nature with which this word has come to be perceived, I have chosen to use the word "strange" instead.
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