Friday, June 16, 2017

Unity in the Church

In Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul says, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  In an effort to show their tolerance and love for others, many churches have focused on building unity among various doctrinal groups.  A church in Farmington, New Mexico will allow anyone who claims to be a Christian to join as a member of whatever group they choose, whether Baptist, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, or some other group, with no concern for their differing beliefs.   Various other groups do not even limit themselves to those who claim to be Christians, accepting Moslems, Buddhists, etc., in the belief that understanding and unity is the most important thing. 

In I Corinthians 11:17-22, Paul condemns such practices.  “Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse.  For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.  For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.

When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper.  For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.  What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.” 

The conflicts or heresies between the different groups prove that some have no real love for God or they would obey him.  Joining together and overlooking those differences weaken the church, leaving people confused about what is needed to serve God, often leading to more conflict over what practices will be used in the church.  It would actually be better for them to go back to their own home church than to try to try to unify despite the differences. 

Acts 15:1-2 describes the first major conflict in the early church.  “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.  When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.”   The teachers from Judea were teaching that grace through faith was not enough to save a person, one also had to keep the Law. 

In Galatians 2:4-5 Paul said that these teachers were pretending to be Christians in an effort to gain control of the churches and change their beliefs.  “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. “  The apostles and elders refused to allow them to bring such doctrine into the church even temporarily. 

In Titus 1:7-11, Paul is specific that bishops or pastors and church leaders need to be sound in their doctrine so that they can deal with the various attempts by false teachers to pervert the gospel and lead people away from the truth.  “For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.  For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake.”

 Unity ought to be the byproduct of sound doctrine, not the primary goal.  Good, sound biblical teaching will eliminate the doctrinal disagreements, as people begin to understand what God has said.  To ignore or treat those differences as unimportant implies we really don’t care about God and are only concerned with the emotional high we get from being part of a group.  It is really no different than taking part in a rock concert, a political rally, or some protest movement, and really has nothing to do with God or the Holy Spirit.  

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