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.

Agape’

Royce

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Why can’t you be exactly like me so we can have unity?


There are ongoing discussions in the blogisphere, in joint meetings, in Christian periodicals, and in individual congregations about “Unity”. What is “Unity” and on what basis can Christians have unity with other Christians? Is Christian unity based on theology or ideology? Are we to be unified based on central historic biblical truths or are we to be unified based on what we do “at church” or how we do it?

Church folk born of the rich heritage of the Restoration Movement, churches of Christ and Disciples/Christian churches, have had meetings specifically to address the lack of unity between the two groups who split many years ago primarily over the use of musical instruments to accompany singing in worship services.

Interestingly, both groups are almost identical twins except for how they choose to worship God. Both groups preach Christ’s sacrificial death, His burial, and His resurrection. Both preach water baptism for the remission of sins. Both groups tend toward the Amillennial view of eschatology, and both groups are largely Armenian, or “free will”. Both groups believe a person can loose their salvation, and then curiously be “restored” without the essential baptism for the remission of sins. Both celebrate the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s day and share a multiple eldership form of church government.

On the church of Christ side of the equation, there are factions and splits that are so numerous it is difficult to keep track of them. There are “One cuppers”, who will use only one common cup in serving the Lord’s Supper. There are “Non Sunday School” groups, groups against any sort of support for orphanages or missions out of the church purse (anti’s) , etc, etc. To my knowledge all of these smaller factions are solidly in the “a cappella” churches compared to the few “Liberal” churches that use instruments in worship.

On what basis is it possible for such diversity of belief and practice to achieve true unity?

First, what is biblical unity? Psalm 133:1 says “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” Surely if people in civic organizations like the Lions Club or a bowling league can get along why is it that people who claim to be “only Christians” can’t get along with each other? You would think that people who have a mandate to love their enemies could get along rather well with brothers and sisters in Christ. Sadly, they don’t.

Other than the one I have mentioned in Psalm 133, the two passages in Ephesians about unity are the ones most of us are most familiar with. In Ephesians 4:3 when the word “unity” is used it is “the unity of the Spirit” and later in chapter 4 the word is used again and this time it is “the unity of the faith”, it is the same “unity” described in different ways. Of course there are many places in the Bible that show us clearly that we are to live in unity, or be together, or as “one”. Psalm 133:1; John 10:16; John 17:11; John 17:21-23; Romans 12:4; and Romans 12:5 all teach the same truth. The John 17 passages are from the high priestly prayer of Jesus when he prayed for “those who will believe because of their (the disciples) witness”. That includes each of us who are believers. Perhaps part of the question about the problems of “unity” among Restorationists is that Jesus was only praying for the saved. I am not implying that none of the Restoration Movement church folks are saved. What I am saying is that perhaps some aren’t.

The oneness that Jesus prayed for and the “unity” discussed in the two Ephesians passages are the same result and the only basis for true biblical unity.

Ephesians 4:1-3 “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.

Ephesians 4:11-16 “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

These two passages clearly show what the problems really are between the “a cappella” churches and the instrumental churches, the “one cuppers” and the multi cuppers, the Sunday school and the non-Sunday school, the ones who have a praise team and those who don’t, and on and on ad nauseam.

Consider:

1. The “Unity of the Spirit” exists and we are to “keep” it. How? By walking worthy of our calling as God’s people, treating each other “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love. I have seen precious little “lowliness”, “gentleness”, “longsuffering”, and “bearing with one another in love” in the unity discussions have you? In fact, far too often the opposite is true, thus we can’t get along with each other. Carnal Christians, whose motives are fleshly, are going to fight.


2. The reason God has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers is to build us up until we all come to “the unity of the faith” and of the knowledge of the Son of God and that we become mature so that we are like Christ. We must have each other! There is not an option. Verse 16, “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

There is no doubt that if you and I are walking with the Lord we are going to be able to get along with each other and LIKE doing it.

The “Unity” problem exists for two main reasons. Well meaning people are trying to create a counterfeit unity, based not on our common faith in Christ but on our common, or uncommon, acts of worship and service. The former requires only that we walk in the Spirit and love each other. The later requires all sorts of conformity, selfish demands, changing of traditions, pseudo repentance, and catering to huge egos.

Why under heaven should I worry if you raise your hands in worship when you worship across town from me, 200 miles from me, or across the isle from me? Why should I become exercised and call you “liberal” if you have six song leaders and I only have one? I’m sure you get my point. The disagreements have nothing to do with theology, doctrine, or salvation, but are the fruit of immature men who are fearful of their precious identities. When “the way we have always done it” is challenged the person himself is threatened because that is his identity or who he is.

Most of this infighting is born of fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of what someone might think, and fear of being wrong.

There will be no true biblical unity within Restoration Movement camps as long as we are only concerned about ourselves. I say this to the discredit of the majority on both sides. The test of “fellowship” should be on the truth about Christ and faith in Him, not based on a variety of less weighty issues as varied as the people who espouse them.

I have purposed in my heart to love every person who declares his faith in Christ and claims to be my brother. God sees the heart, I don’t. I doubt that I will be in serious jeopardy at the judgment seat of Christ because I have been kind, gentile, and otherwise loving to a person who claims Christ as Lord as I do. I promise you this; I am willing to take that chance.

Grace and Peace

Royce Ogle

Christian Unity?


Last evening I was reading some articles on the web and came across one by one of our “traditional” brothers whose subject was the danger of “Denominationalism”. His thesis is that denominations and denominational churches are unscriptural because they violate passages in the Bible that call for the unity of believers. How can denominational churches claim unity when their very existence is based on their differences? Up to this point the author was making a logical case. Then he disengaged his brain and exposed either his ignorance, (he is a bright, well educated man) or his bias.

After excoriating all denominational churches, and as a result all their people, he then made the case that the churchs of Christ alone are the undenominaitonal churches and are thus the only biblical ones. Any casual observer must admit that churches of Christ have their share of divisions. Here I will only consider the fractions of the churches of Christ, not the Restoration Movement churches as a whole which is a greater problem for anyone who subscribes to the notion that only the church of Christ has unity as discussed in the Bible.

Hmmm, church of Christ unity. In the very same paper by the very same author, there was a piece thrashing North Richland Hills church of Christ for having musical instruments in their worship services. Not only did the author disagree, not only does he not intend to fellowship with such people, he declares that they are not even saved. Some unity huh?

Lets see just how unified the beloved coC is. Institutional vs. non-institutional, once cuppers vs. multiple cuppers, Sunday school vs. non Sunday school, paid preacher, vs. mutual edification, just to name a few. I think you get my point. Then there are those who flagrantly lift their hands in worship, clap along in time with songs, sing during the Lord’s Supper, have a kitchen in the church, have women actually speak in an assembly, consider others outside of churches of Christ Christians, etc., etc.

Christian unity? I believe the denominational churches might have more unity than the coC. I have never heard a Baptist pastor brand a Methodist unsaved because they have different ideas about church government. I have never heard a Calvinist write off those in the “free will” camp as lost because they don’t agree with him on all 5 points of Calvinism. I admit that there is a sprinkling of those whose particular pet doctrine or myth defines in their mind who is saved and unsaved, but largely most denominations work fairly well together. Not so for our beloved churches of Christ.

I am glad to report that things are changing. There is a grace awakening happening across the Restoration Movement churches in spite of the viscous attacks of the most strict traditionalists and zealots. There will always be those few of every stripe who demand that everyone agree with them on every point or be damned to hell.

The sad truth is not obvious to most people but it is true none the less. Without exception those folks who believe someone else is lost because of what they either do or do not do on a given Lord’s day are also wrong on the doctrine of salvation. They put man in the drivers seat with God at his disposal in opposition to the biblical position of God being in control. Every person I have ever had communications with who teaches either a works based salvation or a supposed mixture of works and grace, to the last one, vehemently denies what he clearly teaches. Only one time in my 40 years of being a Christian have I had anyone admit that he believed we are saved by works.

There is only one unifying point that should bond believers of all brands, our common faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. All of the other practices and beliefs that divide God’s people pale in comparison to what we believe about Jesus Christ the son of God. We must first agree about who He is and what He has accomplished for sinners, and then how we receive the gracious gift He offers, which is eternal life. (Romans 6:23)

His peace,
Royce