Readers of Juicy Ecumenism will remember a series of critical pieces on InterVarsity’s recent Urbana conference over the past weeks. Perhaps you even thought, “Those bloggers at The IRD only know how to criticize; isn’t there anything that will satisfy them?” So we wanted to write about the uplifting sessions of Urbana 18 that encouraged the body of Christ to embrace unity in our diversity—something which we hope will happen more in the future.
René Breuel acted as the official “expositor” for Urbana 18, explaining a number of texts across the conference (he has four sessions posted online). A native of Sao Paolo, Brazil, Breuel graduated from seminary in Canada and now pastors a church he planted in Rome, Italy. He represents the international character of the Urbana conference and the church of Christ, especially as seen in the Book of Revelation.
When Breuel preached, he read the passage of Scripture and then explained what it meant, word-by-word, phrase-by-phrase, verse-by-verse. When necessary, he drew on other parts of Revelation or elsewhere in Scripture for interpretive help. That is, he used the Bible to interpret the Bible. Additionally, he incorporated historical context to illuminate passages which made references outside the Bible. Occasionally, he applied the Scripture to either politics or missions, but every application flowed naturally from his discussion of the text. It never seemed like he was imposing a predetermined message onto the passage he was teaching. Rather, he faithfully interpreted the passage he was given. Breuel modeled good expository preaching. I sometimes disagreed with his interpretation (I take many parts of Revelation to be more literal than he), but even where I disagreed I never found fault with his method.
For Urbana to effectively unite Christians across all barriers—ethnic, national, linguistic, political, economic, etc.—it has to stick to the Bible. Paul tells fractured churches in Galatia, “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.” The key is Christ Jesus; there is no other commonality that will bind together Christians from every background.
Ideological liberals might respond that our common humanity also unites us. But while this may bring humans together in extraordinary circumstances—like in the wake of tragedy—Christians know our innate sinful desires usually override “common humanity.” Immediately after The Fall, Adam was blaming Eve; Cain murdered his brother, Abel, in the next chapter.
When a Christian conference invites speakers who espouse radical political positions, affirm unorthodox doctrine, or flatly contradict the Bible, it divides the body of Christ rather than unifying it.
Speakers at Urbana 18 embraced radical political positions, like condemning the existence of nations, prisons, and global trade, denouncing capitalism, oil drilling, and so-called “wage slavery,” and equating American democracy with power-hungry empires bent on global conquest. They insisted that any opposing position was immoral and sinful. The Scriptural basis for such positions is flimsy to non-existent, so Christians sincerely following the Word of God could reach a different opinion. Whether from the right or left, such moral totalitarianism breaks fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ who may think differently about politics.
To be fair, some political positions espoused by the speakers do have substantial Biblical support, such as caring for immigrants and prisoners, fighting human trafficking, and promoting racial equality. However, noticeably lacking was a defense of marriage as defined by God, promotion of sexual purity, or criticism for abortion-on-demand—other policy positions with Biblical support. Their tendency to pick-and-choose only left-wing political positions, regardless of whether it had Biblical support, left certian conference speakers open to this criticism: it seems like their politics determine their religious convictions, and not the other way around.
The same speakers also proclaimed bizarre doctrines, such as confusing justice with grace, mocking God’s holiness, affirming salvation-for-all, and omitting the notion that “the wages of sin is death” from the Gospel. In a few instances, speakers even insisted that the Bible means the opposite of what it says. For example, one speaker insisted that when believers are told to “come out of” Babylon, the angel meant that Babylon should come out of believers. Another speaker opined that God constantly asks believers if they want to see his face, when God clearly states, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” The same speaker compared God’s magnificent throne room with a filthy alley.
I expect non-believers to trample upon God’s truth and blaspheme his holy name, but I don’t expect to see that coming from Christians. Faith in the everlasting Word of God is the foundation of Christian unity. In contrast to some of the Urbana 18 speakers, René Breuel’s careful, Biblical exposition was like a breath of fresh air. Even amidst our differences, he and I can fellowship together as Christians because we share a common faith in, and commitment to, God’s Word.
When Paul exhorts the church in Philippi to cease its infighting, this is what he says:
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.