In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis describes "grey town" as a place that is constantly expanding at its outskirts as people perpetually try to get farther away from each other, unable to get along with each other, and wanting to be lord of their own domain. That desire for autonomy continually divides and separates the citizens of 'grey town' from each other. I think it plays a similar role here on earth, even among Christians.
Responding to Catholic claims that we cannot have unity without a "uniform teaching authority", Michael Spencer writes:
I agree with your basic contention that we need the boundaries of unity and authority in order to talk about the "Christian faith." Millions of people reading their favorite verses to one another won't produce unity. If Protestantism has demonstrated anything, it's that.
But what kind of unity? Many of us believe that a kind of "creedal minimalism" brings the necessary unity to Christianity. The Nicene and Apostles' Creeds provide this minimum coverage, and the leadership of local churches (or geographic/denominational structures) use it for the purposes of mission, definition and discipline.
In other words, we don't believe that the infallible teaching authority of a completely hierarchical church defining every detail of Christian faith and mining tradition for further dogma is the necessary expression of unity. All the unity we need is available through the processes of a fallible church.
Earlier this year I presented some problems with the notion of a 'mere Christianity'. (Yes, here we have Lewis vs. Lewis.) If the "fallible church" to which Michael refers is the 'invisible Church', then how the invisible Church is supposed to provide the means for unity is never spelled out by anyone. Michael agrees that if Protestantism has demonstrated anything, it is that millions of people reading the Bible are not going to come to unity by doing so. But if Protestantism has demonstrated that, then hasn't it also demonstrated the failure of the "invisible Church" to unify Christians? Yet if by "fallible Church" Michael is referring to some set of embodied human persons, then what is it, exactly, that makes persons to be members of that set, and how does Michael know this, and who gets to determine the sufficient conditions for membership in this set, and why do they and not other people get to determine these conditions? There is no circumventing the authority problem, behind which lies the fundamental reason for our present disunity. We are either submitting to God-ordained authority, or submitting to a pseudo-authority whom we mistakenly think to be a God-ordained authority, or we are taking authority to ourselves, even in the very act of constructing the conditions upon which all Christians should be unified.
"But I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad." (1 Kings 22:8)
The fundamental problem with heresy is not the content of belief, but the basis of that belief. The content problem [i.e. having false beliefs] is derivative and per accidens. That's why persons born into heresies are not ipso facto guilty of heresy. Gnosticism misconstrues the fundamental problem with heresy as merely propositional. Hence the gnostic life consists in an unending series of theology readings aimed at honing one's orthodoxy (whether toward maximized specificity or specified minimization). But the beginning of wisdom is not a proposition per se; it is a disposition of the will toward God. (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10) If the devil were entirely orthodox in what he believed, but had come to believe these orthodox truths not through faith and trust in God, but through his own prideful efforts, would he be less estranged from God than he is now? With respect to the basis of the content of the faith, the 'mere Christianity' mentality is no different from any other form of Protestantism. The individual remains the final arbiter of what should be believed, and in this way the notion of a 'mere Christianity' remains intrinsically disposed to perpetual fragmentation. If the ecclesial authority says that more (or less) needs to be believed than we think needs to be believed, then we simply reject that authority, move farther out, and find authorities saying pretty much what we think, more or less, needs to be believed. Unity by 'mere Christianity' is still "unity, my way". But it is precisely the "my way" that is the root cause of disunity.
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires." (2 Timothy 4:3)
The resolution of the divisions between Christians does not consist in finding a lowest-common denominator or minimal content of Christianity around which we can all agree. That is because the fundamental source of the disunity between Christians is not the intellect; it is the will. Though lack of knowledge is a factor in perpetuating divison, lack of knowledge is not the ultimate source of our divisions. The fundamental cause of the disunity between the devil and God is the devil's will; it is his sin of pride. And likewise pride was the fundamental cause of the division between Adam and God. The antidote to our present disunity is the exact opposite of pride; it is humility. And this involves submitting to Christ by submitting to the shepherd He has placed over His flock (St. John 10:16). It has never ceased to be true that "He who listens to you listens to Me; he who rejects you rejects Me". (St. Luke 10:16) It wasn't some magical effect of having seen Christ that made this true of the Apostles; it was authorization to speak on behalf of Christ, the same authorization later given by the Apostles to their episcopal successors to speak on their behalf. Apart from submission to the authority had by apostolic succession, the only remaining option is the disunity of "millions of people reading their favorite verses to one another". We can either dip in the muddy Jordan seven times with Naaman and be healed, or we can go back to the rivers of Damascus and wash in a manner of our own choosing. The former is the only way to true unity. The latter is the multifarious way of sinful man, the way of perpetual division and ever-widening separation found in "grey town". Milton's Satan says "Better to reign in hell, than serve in heav'n", and this self-exalting disorientation of the will is intrinsically related to Sartre's "hell is other people"; it is precisely this that keeps extending the limits of 'grey town'.
"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God." (1 John 4:7)
By contrast, love turns us back around, toward unity, away from pride, away from self-exaltation, and away from division. Love does not sacrifice truth; it labors to share truth with one's neighbor, and listens to receive truth from one's neighbor, in order to be truly one with one's neighbor. That's why love is catholic, and not provincial or sectarian; love seeks to evangelize the whole world, and it listens humbly to the whole world. Love is the perfection of truth, the adequatio of person to person. And humility is bound up in love, as demonstrated in Christ's humbling of Himself in love. Love therefore is what brings us back from the outskirts of grey town, to our knees in humility before Christ and His Body, so that we may be incorporated into this one Body, with one faith, having the same Spirit, and under one hierarchy. Love draws us to dance together.