…on Christian unity..What is your litmus test?

Oh yea, you probably have one or likely more. I do too, so I’m not trying to step on your toes, I’m trying to sort out some truth on the subject, so consider the following thoughts.

In my adopted tribe, I often hear (or read) discussions about who XYZ church will “fellowship” and who they will not and why. The litmus test varies, but it’s usually instrumental music in worship or no, it’s about baptism, how it’s done and what is said when it’s done, and for what purpose, and a garden variety of other things.

Take heart Cambellites, it isn’t just us. In other groups the Reformed leaning brothers will not associate with the free will brothers, the KJV only people do not consider the NIV people Christians, the pre-trib folks are certain they are more holy than the post-trib people and on and on ad naseaum.

Ready for a shocker? What if God isn’t as concerned about all that stuff as we are? What if He wants us to act in loving, sacrificial ways toward one another?

1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good,  3For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written,”The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 4For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Romans 15:1-9

I suppose all of us would rather not be around some others who wear the name “Christian” and consider those rejects “weak” don’t we? I mean, after all, if they were strong in the faith they would believe and do everything right, like us! Wow, have we missed the mark!

The Purpose of unity: The glory of God

There is no higher purpose than the glory of God. Denominational purity, the ancient pattern for the Lord’s church, the praise of men, defending the faith once for all delivered to the saints… Everything pales in comparison to God’s glory. Every good He accomplishes is for his own glory, even our common salvation has that end.

We are charged (and empowered) to live in such harmony, that each life is lived with a single goal, so that the goal of what we do and the result of what we do are the same, God gets glory!

that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ

The Path to unity: The good of others

It sounds as if Paul is describing Jesus doesn’t it?

 bear with the failings of the weak
not to please ourselves
Let each of us please his neighbor,
for his good

What? It’s not about ME? Are you kidding? It’s not even about my church tradition and doctrine? It’s about God and others?…oh my, have we missed the mark a country mile!

The Plan for unity: Welcome others as Christ has welcomed you

Your Bible might say “accept one another”, or “receive one another”, but “welcome” is perhaps the best translation. It’s different to grudgingly allow someone to enter your home, like a magazine sales person, or to receive someone because of some outside pressure, like an anniversary party. It is quite another to “welcome” someone in. You want them there, you are glad they are there, and you intend to show them gracious hospitality. That is the idea in this passage.

 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you

Each of us were welcomed by Christ when we didn’t deserve to be welcomed. We were welcomed while we were enemies for goodness sake! We did not have all the answers, we didn’t have any answers really. Our doctrine was not flawless. Our worship was not pure and perfect according to the NT pattern. But…we were “welcomed” by Christ who loved us..first. We were welcomed…”for the glory of God”.

But they clap and jump up and down when they worship we protest. A voice asks softly “How were you welcomed?” They are just flat wrong about baptism and I…. “How were you welcomed?” The’re Calvinists and everyone knows they are wrong and dangerous! I know my Bible and I know my rights…. “How were you welcomed?”

My toes are sore. Those who are living under the banner of Jesus Christ, I must accept, must welcome, thinking of their good, not mine, for God’s glory, not my ego. This is the standard of fellowship. It’s harder than drawing a line in the dirt and choosing sides. For you see, someone who is not really a Christian can do that. No, this is far more difficult. It requires a selfless love for others and a heart that wants to glorify God. This way is the way of Christ who welcomed you and me.

It’s a great big family! Let’s love them and glorify God.


The Secret of Christian Unity

You are probably asking, “What! Another article on unity? Why?” Yes, because I think most of the articles, blog posts, and even books miss the core meaning of Christian unity.

Parts of Ephesians 4 are usually quoted where Paul instructed the Ephesian believers to “maintain” the unity of the Spirit in verse 4 and in verse 13 he spoke of the goal of Christian ministry being to “attain” unity.

I think this definition of the English word is very accurate, and in the context of this brief study.

“Unity is defined as the state of being undivided or unbroken completeness or totality with nothing wanting. It is the smallest whole numeral representation. It has the quality of being united into one. Unity can denote a combining of all the parts, elements and individuals into an effective whole.” (Wikipedia)

I appreciate most this statement, “It is the smallest whole numeral representation”. That would be the word “one” used to describe the many.

So then how you worship, what church you attend, or even your conclusions on a particular Bible doctrine are not causes, or even clues of Christian unity. Many of us have a list of beliefs and practices that others must comply with before we can unify with them. That is not “unity”, that is “uniformity”. Saying the same things and doing the same things doesn’t even come close to making  believers “one”.

A careful and thoughtful reading of Jesus’ prayer for his own in John 17 shines the light on true Christian unity as well as any place in the Bible. Hear his words…

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20–24)

Here it is! Just as the Father and the Son are “one” those of us who have Christ are “one”. Unity begins and has its source in our individual relationships with Jesus Christ. If you are not one with God, through Christ, you can’t have unity with another Christian. It is this supernatural love relationship that results in “unity”, not the observable expressions of our faith like which church we attend, how we worship, what we approve or disapprove, etc., etc.

Every true Christian is one with God the Father, one with Jesus, and because of that infinite oneness, one with every other person who is in Christ. This is why Jesus would say these astonishing words about God’s love for us.

“…and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23b)

When I first understood what Jesus had said in his great prayer I could hardly take it in. God loves me like he loves Jesus! God loves you dear believer with the same unpolluted divine love he has for his Son the Lord Jesus Christ. Wow! That is the bedrock of Christian unity. “God so loved the world…” It is that God-love that brings us together and binds us and creates the lowest number to describe God and his people, “One!”

Unity is a love gift, it is the ultimate expression of God’s matchless grace. God was in Christ who with one hand holding on to God the Father and with the other hand holding on to wicked, ungodly sinners he brought the two together making them “one”. We have been “reconciled”, “set right” with God by the doing and dying of our Lord Jesus Christ. All of this happened outside of us without our schemes and abilities.

So you see, you don’t have the latitude to decide who you will have fellowship with, who you will love. Any place on earth where you find a person who is rightly related to Jesus, who is at peace with God, you by family relationship are united to that person.

If  you are in the family of God, rejoice and give thanks for God’s amazing grace. If you are not in the family, come on in. You will be welcome at the table.