Any of my readers who are married may know the painfully slow process of working out who to invite to the wedding. If we invite this X, then we have to invite several other people from the same circle of friends, and so on. Of course, the most angst and emotion comes from discerning which family members to invite. Do we invite great uncle Fred who I haven't seen in ten years? Yes? No? My parents had a nasty habit of doing this - which was a rather drawn out process because they kept changing their mind every few weeks.
But it is an important issue - who do we invite to our wedding celebration? And I would suggest that it is an important issue in the bible as well. Who would God invite to his feast? OR if you say it more theologically, who is part of the covenant family (and how can you tell)? It is an issue that we see Israel's prophets wrestling with (cf. Habakkuk, Isaiah 1-12). It is an issue that the early church struggled with (cf. Acts 15, Galatians, Romans, Ephesians, etc.).
This is still an issue that the church in the 21st century is still grappling with. The lack of resolution to the current (and ever-continuing) crisis in the Anglican Communion can be traced back to a failure to tackle this crucial issue.
Crucial? It is only the doctrine which, to paraphrase Luther, the Church stands or falls. Luther's quote has been troubling me for some months. It is often thrown around to support the idea that Justification by Faith (JBF) is the Christian gospel. I don't agree with that anymore. Which is say that I would want to refine the statement and say that JBF is the major implication of the gospel, taking the gospel to mean that Jesus Christ is Lord.
However, I realized last week on the train (which is were I do all my thinking) that JBF is the doctrine by which the church really does stand or fall because is the great ecumenical doctrine. It is JBF that determines the character of the church - what it is to look like. It is JBF that says "If you're saved by grace, then you need to church by grace too" (cf. Romans 15.7) If you get JBF wrong, then your church may indeed just fall over.
If this is true, then church unity is not something to be thrown away lightly. We are united together through the faithfulness of Christ. We are united together in Jesus, who loved us so much that he died for each and every one of us. Upon this does the church stand or fall.
There is more to come...