October 20, 2017

John Dagg: On Love For and Appreciation of Other Christians

I’m stealing this from Tim Brister, but it’s such a great quote for this web site, that I had to have it in the archive.

John L. Dagg was one of the first systematic theologians that Baptists produced. His Manual of Theology is a pastoral work that all Baptists should own. At the end, in a section on The Duty of Baptists, this quote sets him apart from so many in our tradition, and expresses my heart.

“It is our duty to promote the spiritual unity of the universal church, by the exercise of brotherly love to all who bear the image of Christ…We yield everything which is not required by the word of God; but in what this word requires, we have no compromise to make. We rejoice to see, in many who do not take our views of divine truth, bright evidence of love to Christ and his cause. We love them for Christ’s sake; and we expect to unite with them in his praise through eternal ages. We are one with them in spirit, though we cannot conform to their usages in any particular in which they deviate from the Bible. The more abundantly we love them, the more carefully we strive to walk before them in strict obedience to the commands of our common Lord. And if they sometimes misunderstand our motives, and misjudge our actions, it is our consolation that our divine Master approves; and that they also will approve, when we shall hereafter meet them in his presence.”

– John J. Dagg, Manual of Church Order (Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1990; originally published 1858), 303-04.

Comments

  1. I’m not too impressed by this. In fact, I would guess that nearly all of the “so many in our tradition” that you lament would agree entirely with Dagg here. The only thing he concedes is that he will see the others in heaven one day, and on that day they will understand his schism.

    I would like to ask Dagg:
    1. How can you promote “spiritual unity” without a physical unity of some kind? Sounds like he has a gnostic concept of unity… or is it just gibberish? The “Together for the Gospel” unity consists of at least that annual conference. It is a very real and physical conference.

    2. I would also like to ask him where the word of God requires him to separate over the issue of baptism?

  2. The easy part is writing about unity. Living it is another matter. I addressed this issue in my blog “Truth is a Rainbow.”

    As an Assemblies of God minister who was also a monk in a Catholic-based monastic community, I had to do quite a bit of soul searching during my time at the Little Portion, reconciling what I have always believed and practiced with those things I was seeing practiced at the community. Our Christian principles were the same, but the practices of those principles were different. My conclusion, therefore, (and you may disagree – just be agreeable when you do so) was this: The Spirit of truth guides us into those truths that pertain to the principles of salvation. Everything else is icing on the religious cake.

    To answer Chris, the physical unity came because we we chose to focus on Jesus and our similarities, not on different traditions and practices. I spoke many times in Catholic churches, sometimes for three days in a row, and never found a reason to talk about our differences because I couldn’t exhaust the topic of our common Jesus.

    At one time, I saw “truth” as if it were the period at the end of this sentence; complete, precise, and unalterably the same across the board. And naturally, my truth and the Spirit of truth were one and the same! However, after living at the Little Portion, I began to see truth more like a rainbow and less like a period. There were different colors and gradations to truth, especially when that “truth” did not have anything to do with our salvation.

  3. Flatrocker says:

    While we experience the discernment of truth in “different colors and gradations”, ultimately truth by definition is exclusionary and it does become the “period at the end of the sentence”.

    Be cautious from where we draw our theological interpretations. The issue is when we are exposed to partial truths we are, by consequence also exposed to partial falsehoods. This has been our discernment challenge since day one – to embrace the truth and reject the falsehood….Aaah but to only know the sweet difference. Now there’s a prayer worth praying!

    The problem with partial truths is they are just so darn alluring – just take a peek at Dan Brown’s checkbook. And besides partial truths like to masquarade as new truths. And new truths allow us to masquarade as the creator.

  4. Memphis Aggie says:

    Easily said, rarely done.

  5. Patrick Lynch says:

    “And if they sometimes misunderstand our motives, and misjudge our actions, it is our consolation that our divine Master approves; and that they also will approve, when we shall hereafter meet them in his presence.”

    I think a lot of Fundamentalist nonsense gets written off without prejudice as merely the protestations of “misunderstanding” people who’ve been “loved” by Baptists (and through them, by God) and found it not to their liking. Believer beware.

  6. I am very impressed with this. The Baptists have a long history of tolerance and belief in freedom of religion. Roger Williams had so many good ideas, and not only spoke them but put them into practice.
    Chris lee, spiritual unity can certainly be promoted without an ecumenical service.We are told, ““God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
    I can not join in a worship service that I feel , as led by my own lights [hopefully Spirit led interpretation of Scripture], is doing something that is wrong. I can respect what others do, I can love them as they do it, but I can not join in.
    How would I worship with my spirit in rebellion? How could I worship with my mind in turmoil? Could I listen to a praise band play “Sympathy for the Devil” and ‘rock out’ to God? Not going to happen.
    I have had visitors from the Catholic universities come by to hear a sermon [they have a class that requires visiting 5 differing denominations]. Should I be insulted when they chose not to come to the Lord’s Table with us? No, I respect their belief. I might loose respect for them as Catholics.
    There is a short list of things that knock me out of the worship box and make me sit in silent protest till I can hit the door, or just hit the door. Here are a few, they are mine I do not judge those who have others, Speaking in Tongues, slaying in spirit, long non-biblical sermon illustrations,
    hyperdulia, brainless choruses that repeat ad nausium . I have more. No disrespect, but that not the way I roll. I need worship, I need full hearted worship. Some can’t worship without the things I can’t live with. That is what Dagg is saying. Sounds really good to me.

  7. Ky boy but not now says:

    “The issue is when we are exposed to partial truths we are, by consequence also exposed to partial falsehoods.”

    I’ll offer up a different take. Sometimes the full truth isn’t known. And the problems occur when different people extrapolate differently and claim their extrapolation is a part of the truth.

  8. Some of our own Orthodox are upset that the Orthodox are in the World Council of Churches and cooperate with other groups. In fact, the WCC is so bad that several of our jurisdictions have nearly withdrawn more than once. In the USA, the Antiochians have withdrawn from the National Council of Churches (NCC).

    Nevertheless, there keeps being the feeling within us that not only must we be a witness to Truth within these groups, but that, also, we are called to somehow express God’s desire for unity, even when we cannot–in good conscience–unite with “them.” It is a difficult dance to maintain, the dance of faithfulness to the received Truth and the dance of a desire for the unity of those who call upon His name.

  9. Ky boy,
    Thus we reside in the “colors and gradations” of partial truths as we prayerfully discern the actual one and only one truth.

    Ultimately, this discernment challenge of truth is our life’s quest. Ultimately, we must embrace what is neccessary for our salvation while we gracefully allow for the cultural “exclamation points” that each of our faith communities joyfully bring to the feast.

    And I’ll amend the earlier statement that truth is the period at the end of the sentence – it is not the period but the exclamation point.

  10. Flatrocker,

    What is the truth about a rainbow? Is it how a tiny child sees it, and enjoys it, or how an optical physicist understands it (and may not see its beauty any more), or how an artist sees it?

    All of these things are partial truths, yet none contain falsehood.

    I tend to see a lot about Christ, God and the Church in this way.

  11. Wow Michael. It looks like you may get hassled more for this one than for the fasting one.

    I think what Dagg writes here is great and apart from adding the phrase “what I believe the scripture says” to his stements about standing firm in the Word, I would say that this is how I hope to interact with other believers myself.

    Chris Lee –

    As far as physical unity goes, you can have as much as conscience allows. Maybe you would never go to a mass or a charimatic worship service or whatever, but can we not serve together in areas where we do agree even if they are only huimanitarian efforts? Can we not pray together as individuals?

    Why do we have to think of unity along institutional lines or think it only happens around a time of worship or conferences? Real unity requires more actual interaction with each other than either of those situations typically provides.

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    “And if they sometimes misunderstand our motives, and misjudge our actions, it is our consolation that our divine Master approves; and that they also will approve, when we shall hereafter meet them in his presence.”

    Don’t know, guys. That sentence rubs me as having an unsaid additional “and then they’ll realize We Were Right and They Were Wrong all along.”

  13. Flatrocker says:

    Anna A,
    Your examples equate perception to truth. Until we truly see a rainbow in the fullness of God’s creation (as a child, as a scientist and as an artist simultaneously) we perceive it in the particular stage we are in at that point in our lives.

    As we change, does the intrinsic properties that make a rainbow “a rainbow” change or does our growing understanding change in the way we experience its God given glory?

    This does not diminish nor exalt the perceptions of the child, the scientist or the artist. All of these examples are worthy but none perceives the fullness of a created rainbow in its total. As with us all, each of our perceptions are filtered through our life’s experiences and filters put a layer of separation from the Truth.

    Our challenge is to maintain the innocence of the child, the understanding of the scientist and the beauty of the artist throughout our lives – all the while being open to the awesome surprise He has in store for us around every bend in the road.

    I think that’s what they call life.

  14. Interesting that the discussion seems to be following Dagg’s statement. It starts out good enough, with a call to unity, then it descends into the “yeah buts” – qualifying every statement and justifying differences in the name of truth.

    To me, it would have been more impactful to have stopped with the first sentence.

    I agree with the Headless Unicorn Guy. I see this same sort of “you’ll-get-yours” smugness applied to unbelievers, as if being right was more important than anything else.

    “The more abundantly we love them, the more carefully we strive to walk before them in strict obedience to the commands of our common Lord.” If I were going to be impressed or influenced by those who “walk in obedience”, I’d probably be a Mormon or Muslim.

  15. It’s definitely a step in the right direction even if the statement lacks the humility to recognize and admit that “their usages in any particular in which they deviate from the Bible” is exactly the kind of thing “they” would say about the Baptists.

    How can there be any meaningful dialogue between Christian denominations as long as we cling to our own views and interpretations as the only “truly biblical” ones?

  16. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    I agree with the Headless Unicorn Guy. I see this same sort of “you’ll-get-yours” smugness applied to unbelievers, as if being right was more important than anything else. — Ed

    Just I’ve had far too many run-ins with that type of personality — “I Am Always Right, You Are Always Wrong, and when you realize that and Agree Completely With Me, we won’t have a problem, Will You?” — to the point I’m hypersensitized to it. Or to anything that could resemble it.

    How can there be any meaningful dialogue between Christian denominations as long as we cling to our own views and interpretations as the only “truly biblical” ones? — Josh

    You know the ultimate end state of that attitude? Millions of One True Ways/One True Churches/God’s Only Remnants, each with only one member, constantly issuing ex cathedra anathema after ex cathedra anathema to all the others. And I’ve been through some “splinter churches” that come close.

  17. Well, I’m heartened that a 19th century Baptist didn’t think we were automatically going to Hell just because 🙂

    And what he says about “And if they sometimes misunderstand our motives, and misjudge our actions, it is our consolation that our divine Master approves; and that they also will approve, when we shall hereafter meet them in his presence.” is something *all* of us on whatever side of the denominational fence should bear in mind when dealing with one another.

  18. i dont think i know any baptists like that.

  19. The fact that this statement elicits so much negative reaction, proves its point.

    And if they sometimes misunderstand our motives, and misjudge our actions, it is our consolation that our divine Master approves; and that they also will approve, when we shall hereafter meet them in his presence.”

    The assumptions by those who are offended is that this is a “I was right and you were wrong mentality” and what I saw in this was not that at all. If we understand and regard those who name the name of Christ as Savior and Lord have the same motive, which is to glorify Him (however imperfectly we do it) and that the actions we take are also done to glorify Him (again imperfectly), then when we all stand before the Master we will understand that in all of our attempts to bring glory to God through Jesus Christ, he accepts us regardless of our level of understanding or “correctness.” Look at Romans 14:3-8. Better yet, look at Mark 9:38-41.
    I don’t see a snarky one-upsmanship in that statement. I see a humility of one who is convinced of His relationship with God and knows that he answers to God when it is all said and done.

  20. I love and support Chris always!