Endeavoring to Keep the Unity of the Spirit
Roy E. Cogdill
Unity is primarily a congregational problem. What the Bible teaches on unity is principally applicable to the local church. Unity in the local church is an individual obligation. It grows out of the obligations that rest mutually on those who are fellow members of the local church.
We are interested in the obligation to restore unity where it has been disturbed and to preserve unity where it exists. Every member of a local church shares with every other member the obligation to contribute to its unity. This obligation is emphasized by the Holy Spirit in Eph. 4:3, "Endeavoring (giving diligence-ASV) to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." This is a matter in which all must be diligent. Constant attention and effort is required to preserve unity. The devil is always alert to every opportunity to create disturbance, alienate and set at variance those who should be united in the service of Christ. We cannot be too careful to avoid it. The advancement and progress of the Kingdom of Christ and the salvation of souls in addition to our own is involved. Faithfulness in doing the will of God requires it.
In the first letter to the Corinthian Church, Paul spent the first four chapters dealing with a divided condition in that church. The Corinthians were full of false pride and haughtiness. They had grown into a large congregation and were probably boasting of their great program of work. They gloried in the great numbers in attendance, the many additions they were having, their fine building, their wealth, and many other outward signs of their strength as a church. Paul called this attitude "carnality" (1 Cor. 3:1-3)-a fleshly and worldly disposition and rebuked them for their glorying in these outward things rather than being ashamed and mourning for the sad state of the Lord's Church because of their division and sinfulness otherwise (1 Cor. 4:6-13. 5:2).
There is much evidence of such an attitude today among churches of Christ everywhere. We take great pride in our rate of growth and write great swelling words to the various publicity mediums in our country about how rapidly we are growing and have grown. We boast about the great institutions we are building and the great programs of work that are being carried out, expanding them out of all truthfulness and proportion by our imaginations. We raise from the churches staggering sums of money for about everything under the sun, whether it is a part of the mission that God has given His Church or not (all the way from sending great evangelistic parties, including a good percentage of female "missionaries," all over the world, to sending cows to Korea and a veterinarian to take care of them.
One of the modern fads among the big promoters and braggards among us is to take a world tour at the expense of the churches. You can raise money for anything except the simple truth of the Gospel). Thus we are "puffed up" and boast and blow until we convince ourselves that we are "on the march" and really doing "greater things for God" than even He ever planned. When we should rather be "ashamed and mourn" for the division and sin that characterizes us everywhere.
Congregations are dividing over what a lot of brethren are contending are "mere matters of method," "opinion" and "human expediency," yet we go right ahead introducing them, contending for them, and pushing them to the disruption of the peace of local churches. Our schemes and promotions have become such idols in our hearts that we cannot regard our obligation to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
We need to learn all over again, if we have ever known them, the requirements laid down by the Spirit through Paul to these Corinthians for restoring the unity which they were destroying in their "carnality." Read carefully again 1 Cor. 1:10, "Now I beseech you, brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment."
1. Speak the same thing. This would eliminate the preaching of opinions, private judgments, human wisdom, "Questionings and disputes of words," "fables," "striving about words to no profit," "vain babbling," "excellency of speech, or of wisdom (our own)," and would cause us in "weakness and fear and in much trembling" to be satisfied with preaching "Jesus Christ and him crucified." There is no possibility of unity where this is not done.
2. That there be no divisions among you. Division is not justifiable at any cost save truth and righteousness. We cannot condone sin or compromise with error for the sake of avoiding division. This would purchase peace with men at the expense of peace with God and that is too great a price to pay. But nothing else, including, personal feelings, pride, regard for men, our own preferences, wisdom or judgment, will justify division. Truth and righteousness must be upheld at any cost. (Read Matt. 10:34-39).
3. Be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment. This involves the right attitude toward each other. It will not allow parties, cliques, or clans to arise in the congregation. It forbids "respect of persons" (James 2:1-13). It requires generosity of heart, humility of soul, meekness in disposition and enough love for the souls of the brethren to make us willing to always be interested in their spiritual welfare.
These are simple rules but they involve much.
Truth Magazine, XX:26, p. 6