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Unity In The Church

Unity In The Church

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When we lose our unity in the church, it’s because something has become more important to us than Jesus. And in any church with sinners — which, of course, is every church — conflict will exist, and achieving resolution is difficult.

Theologian Sinclair Ferguson said:

The gospel is a message of reconciliation and peace with God. How can non-Christians be convinced that Christ reconciles us to God if we are not reconciled to each other?

This quote may sound odd to our ears. Most churches today would rather protect personal preference over corporate, spiritual unity and community under Christ.

But our gracious God is more concerned about the unity of the church than her programs, size or parking lot. And healthy churches are known, in part, by what they teach and hold to — their holiness vertically to the Lord and horizontally to one another, and their spiritual unity in Christ.

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Paul addresses the problem of division in the local church in his first letter to the Corinthians. The church in Corinth had been founded just a few years earlier. Members of the church were accustomed to picking and following their favorite church leader in Corinth, a city renowned for its public speakers.

The problem was one of destructive divisiveness. As Paul heard about the nature of these quarrels from his friends, his concern grew. Paul wrote:

My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.” (1:11-12).

Paul thus began with the command:

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1:10).

Unity in the church is not something we can ever take for granted. We’re called to do both: Contend earnestly for the faith and truth, and be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-6). “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him” (1 Cor. 3:17). Guard the unity of your church. It isn’t yours.

Paul then gives us at least six reasons for the church to seek to be united. As we follow the Lord’s lead, may these be true of us. And may we spend time on our knees praying before God for these in our church, families and ministries.

1. Gospel-centered unity showcases Christ.

Paul asks, “Is Christ divided?” (1:13). Divisions in the church suggested that Christ is divided, and such suggestions lie about Christ. “Accept one another, as Christ accepted you” (Romans 15:7).

Our unity displays Christ. Withdrawal denies Christ. Members of the church are to be united to display the truth about Christ.

There is only one Christ, and the message that Christ has brought us is the important thing, not the preacher who preached it. Nor should we have a wrong attachment to preachers. Rather, preachers should point toward Christ, and we should love the ministers of Christ for the Christ they serve.

2 Gospel-centered unity elevates the cross.

Paul writes, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1:17).

Division on the basis of worldly appetites promotes the messenger (pastor/preacher) and obscures the cross. Unity of mind and rule is a fruit of a mature congregation. Disunity and different standards is a fruit of immaturity.

3. Gospel-centered unity conveys humbleness (1:26-27).  

Unity In The Church

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The kind of divisions that the members in Corinth were expressing should have been ruled out by their own history. The Gospel of Christ demolishes this world’s estimates of what is valuable and shows that a status-oriented culture is false.

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May we regularly work to humble ourselves by comparing what we deserve (wrath) with what we are given (grace). When things are going well in your life, too, this should be a ground for humility, as it is based fundamentally on God and His love, and not what you deserve.

4. Gospel-centered unity demonstrates spiritual maturity (3:1-4).  

Division is a sign of spiritual immaturity. These Christians had every opportunity to grow in Christ, yet they continued to live by the secular norms of their society. Gospel-centered unity is evidence of spiritual maturity among Christians.

5. Gospel-centered unity reflects submission to God (3:21-23). 

God directs the various pastors and workmen He employs, and His church is founded on Christ alone. God owns the church, and God will destroy anyone who destroys His temple.

Gospel-centered unity acknowledges that the church belongs to God, not men, and reflects the churches’ submissions to God’s authority.

6. Gospel-centered unity comes from treasuring God’s promises.  

Division is unnecessary. If you are in Christ, all things are yours. Petty divisions demonstrate a misunderstanding of God’s great promise. And remember: Face-to-face conversations — better than phone calls, certainly not emails — are the way to preserve or repair unity.

As we continue to celebrate what God has done, is doing, and embrace what lies ahead at your church, think of the riches that we have in Christ. Be joyful and expectant in prayer! Devote yourself to exploring the richness of the salvation that Christ has given you in the Gospel, the daily blessings that you have, and the riches that God has promised to you.

Are you seeking true, biblical unity in your church? Mediate daily of the undeserved blessings and promises that you have been given because of Christ alone, and the divisions in Christ’s church that Satan wants to bring in times of blessings will disappear.

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3 comments

  1. It’s very hard to have across the board unity when the Gospels themselves often contradict each other. Was their a census? Did Herod execute the innocent? Did Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt or did they just return to Nazareth? Was their a virgin birth – two Gospels say yes, two don’t acknowledge it. Was Jesus betrayed two days before that Friday or the day before – John says one thing, the Synoptics say another. The list goes on.

    Also, as you quote a lot of Paul, the Gospels didn’t even exist in Paul’s time. So Paul’s Gospel is different than what would become the Gospel as later Christians knew/know. It would be curious to know exactly what Paul based his Gospel on being he wasn’t one of the twelve, wasn’t an eyewitness and didn’t immediately meet up with the original members – he waits three years. Yet, his version of Christianity mostly prevailed.

    It is no wonder that so many versions of the Christian faith emerged within the first three centuries and that so many sects of the faith exist today. I hear people talk about finding a good scripture based church to attend and yet, one’s scripture based church is another’s corrupt one.

    I don’t believe you can have a ‘correct’ Christian faith, rather you try to live within the spirit that Jesus preached and emulated because there is no clear cut historical Jesus we can look back upon. Everything we know about Jesus comes from oral tradition that circulated for decades before it finally came to be written down.

  2. Brien,

    Thanks for writing and I appreciate your feedback. Let me give some feedback.

    As Christians, we believe in the innerancy of the Bible. Inerrancy means the word of God always stands over us and we never stand over the word of God. When we reject inerrancy we put ourselves in judgment over God’s word. We claim the right to determine which parts of God’s revelation can be trusted and which cannot.

    When we deny the complete trustworthiness of the Scriptures—in its genuine claims with regard to history, its teachings on the material world, its miracles, in the tiniest jots and tittles of all that it affirms—then we are forced to accept one of two conclusions. Either the Scripture is not all from God or God is not always dependable. To make either statement is to affirm what is sub-Christian. These conclusions do not express a proper submission to the Father, do not work for our joy in Christ, and do not bring honor to the Spirit who carried along the men to speak the prophetic word and author God’s holy book.

    Yes, there are hard parts of the Bible. We look at more difficult parts through the lens of the clearer verses.

    Defending the doctrine of inerrancy may seem like a fool’s errand to some and a divisive shibboleth to others, but, in truth, the doctrine strikes at the vitals of our faith. To deny, disregard, edit, alter, reject, or rule out anything in God’s word is to commit the sin of unbelief. “Let God be true though everyone were a liar” must be our rallying cry (Rom. 3:4).

    Finding a half-way house where some things in the Bible are true and other things (as we have judged them) are not, is an impossibility. This kind of compromised Christianity, besides flying in the face of the Bible’s own self-understanding, does not satisfy the soul or present to the lost the sort of God they need to meet. How are we to believe in a God who can do the unimaginable and forgive our trespasses, conquer our sins, and give us hope in a dark world if we cannot believe that this God created the world out of nothing, gave the virgin a child, and raised his Son on third day?

    Christians of every tradition, until fairly recently have assumed the complete trustworthiness and comprehensive truthfulness of Scripture. Holding to the highest view of inspiration was not the invention of any tradition, theologian, or school. It was simply part of what it meant to be a Christian.

    As for specific questions you have, please feel free to e-mail me. I will be glad to discuss some of your questions above.

    Until then, please feel free to check out a good friend of mine’s website: http://www.Carm.org. There you will find many quick, in-depth, and biblically-faithful answers to your questions.

    Thank you!

    In Christ,

    Darin

  3. Darin,

    Thanks for the retort.

    You are correct in that most Christians up until about 200 years ago assumed the complete trustworthiness of the Bible. Much of that is because archeology and biology didn’t take a great leap forward until around that same time. That of course then brought about a greater study of ancient sociology and such.

    Back in the early 80’s I contemplated becoming a minister. Our family were an every Sunday family as well as choir, youth group, Sunday School, every pot luck dinner and fund raiser going, etc… I took great joy in reading the Bible, fascinated by both the message and the history. It was when I began to delve into the history of not only the Bible but of other ancient cultures that I soon realized that the Bible’s telling of history seemed to exist inside its own bubble compared to the history recorded around it. Yes, many events the Bible records happened, if not in a conflated way but also, there are many scratch your head sections that we can leave for discussion at another time.

    You ask to accept the inerrancy of the Bible but that becomes difficult when one must weigh the physical, and real evidence. Am I suppose to dismiss reality?

    I did not grow up in a church that promoted the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. What I have come to accept is that the Bible is a great telling of a small and struggling people who believed in one God, the true God. They recorded their stories, lessons, and history as best they could. I look at it as inspired by God, and that it conveys the spirit of God in the best way it could at the time it was written.

    If I was to accept inerrancy, then there are many customs in the Bible that would break the laws of today, offend the ethics of our modern age and quite frankly, are prejudiced, oppressive and unfair to many, especially women. Should justice be wrought through stoning or enslavement be rendered according to how the Bible tells it? We’ve adapted, Christianity has adapted, humankind has matured.

    And, where you believe that if I doubt an ounce of what is within the Scriptures that I lower its value somehow – I do not see how that conclusion makes sense – at least not for me. Rather, I feel I can delve into scripture and gleam so much more from it as its messages and lessons mold to my maturity and experiences in Life. Various parables Jesus teaches have different meanings to me now than they did when I was in my twenties. The teachings are malleable, which I think is wonderful.

    Personally, I do not really rely much on Paul. Yes, he was the great messenger of Christianity and if it wasn’t for his zeal, there may not be a Christianity as we know it. I consult the teachings of Jesus and strive to live within the spirit of the grace he taught.

    Again – wonderful that you responded and I hope you’ve enjoyed the discourse as much as I have.

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