The Unity of the Spirit In the Bond of Peace
Jesus prayed that unity would bless His disciples and His church throughout the centuries when he said: "Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, . . that the world may believe that thou didst send me." (Jn. 17:20)
When the church in Corinth became plagued with strife and confusion, the Apostle Paul wrote, saying: "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" (I Cor. 1:10). He also exhorted the brethren at Ephesus thusly: "I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:1-3).
This prayer of Jesus and pleading of Paul reminds us of the statement of the Psalmist, who wrote: "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" (Ps. 133:1).
With these inspired words fresh in our minds, surely no faithful Christian can view lightly any development in the church which tends toward division. Indeed, it should cause every member of the Lord's body - especially elders, preachers and teachers - to strain every fibre to maintain "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Needless division among the people of God has been Satan's most effective weapon against them down through the ages, with the result that numberless souls have been eternally lost. What a reckoning awaits many in the judgment!
But, however the urgency of peace, it cannot be sought and maintained at the expense of the truth. Surely nothing could be more deplorable in the sight of God than His people united in a course of error and sin! The unity for which Jesus prayed and Paul pleaded must be sought and maintained upon the basis of God's revealed will - the teaching of the Holy Spirit - untouched and untarnished by the ways and the wisdom of men. James, the inspired writer declared that, "the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable" (James 3:17), despite the efforts of some to reverse this order.
Pertinent to the subject of unity are these words, also written by the Apostle Paul: "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them" (Rom. 16:17).
With reference to these verses, brother R. L. Whiteside commented: "'Contrary to the doctrine which ye learned' covers a wide field, such as mechanical music in worship, the organization of societies to do the work of the church (Italics mine: GJP), and various schemes to raise money. The man who causes division in the Lord's church by the introduction of things not taught is an enemy of Christ, even though he may not think so." (Commentary on Romans, p. 297)
Upon these same verses we quote the following comment from David Lipscomb in a commentary on Romans, Gospel Advocate Edition: "No greater evil, according to the Scriptures, could befall the churches than the division arising from the introduction of teachings, and practices not required by God. The fundamental truth of the Bible is that God alone has the right to direct and guide the faith and service of his children. Everything added to the work or worship of God by man is a usurpation in the sight of God, and ought to be resisted. . . . Everyone who adds to the appointments of God causes divisions contrary to the word of God." (pp. 275, 276)
Now, no one is suggesting that Paul, Whiteside or Lipscomb favored division in the church, but we do believe that all of them were pointing out that certain situations leave no other alternative. This is particularly true when brethren adopt an attitude which disregards the simple truth that faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). This has been basically the line of battle between truth and error - the church and denominationalism - down through the ages. It is our view that this is our problem now. So long as brethren defend certain practices with the question: Where does the Bible forbid them instead of giving the chapter-and-verse that authorizes them, we fear that our troubles will deepen.
Neither will it suffice to becloud the real issue by affirming that nothing is involved other than means or methods, when it is crystal clear that the issue involves whether or not the church, within its simple organization is sufficient to carry out the tasks that the Lord has laid upon her. Nor will it help to simply brand those who demand clear-cut Bible authority for matters, as "antis" and characterize them as having "sold out to the devil," or threaten them with yellow quarantine-tags. Nothing that suggests or demands a compromising of one's convictions or suppression of his conscience can ever establish real and lasting unity.
It is the studied conviction of this writer that the only effective solution of our troubles is a developing upon the part of all concerned of a deeper and more fervent love for God, His word, and the children of God. Pride, haughtiness and hatred has possibly invaded the hearts of man, more than they themselves realize. A prolonged period of self -searching upon the part of preachers, teachers, elders, editors, writers, etc., might well prove the salvation of all. At least nothing would be lost in such an attempt.
Genuine love for God is reflected in one joyful compliance with all of the commandments of God (I John 5:3). He will neither add to it nor diminish it (Deut. 4:2). He will respect both its expressions and its silences, simply abiding in "the teaching of Christ" (2 John 9), and refusing to go "beyond the things which are written" (I Cor. 4:6, ASV).
And when we sincerely love the children of God, we will constantly live with their interests and well-being in mind. That which many claim to be liberty or expedience will not be pursued without regard for the convictions and conscience of others. All responsible citizens of the Kingdom will "follow after things which make for peace, and things whereby we may edify one another," remembering that even the "strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak," and seek not only to please themselves. "Let's each one of us please his neighbor for that which is good, unto edifying." Read Romans 14:1 through 15:3.
God forbid that a single one of us will become party to open division in the body of Christ until we have exhausted every possibility for the preservation of unity.
Truth Magazine IV:7, pp. 22-23