September 22, 2017

Unity in the Church

By Irvin Himmel

". . . I would rather be the man that walked out and injected the sword into the body of Christ on the cross than to be responsible for having injected into the spiritual body of Christ that which has torn it asunder." These words were spoken by N.B. Hardeman in 1922. He was referring to the division resulting from the introduction of mechanical music in the worship (Hardeman's Tabernacle Sermons, Vol. 1, p. 269).

Obviously, some disciples do not think that it is such a serious thing to invent injections that tear the spiritual body asunder. Since Hardeman spoke those words in 1922, many new practices have been injected. The tearing asunder has continued.

Unity Is Desirable

Before the establishment of the church, Jesus announced, ". . . And there shall be one fold, and one shepherd" (John 10:16). The Master does not desire that some sheep find shelter in one sectarian setup, others in another denominational detachment, and additional ones in a different partisan pen, while the remainder roam the wild hills of hidden heresy.

Just a few hours before going to the cross, Jesus prayed while with the apostles, "Neither pray I for these alone," said the Lord, "but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one is us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17:20, 21).

To the Corinthians, Paul wrote, "Now I beseech you, brethren, by 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 perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Cor. 1:10). It is possible for Christians to be of one mind, speaking the same thing.

The saints at Ephesus were urged to walk in a manner worthy of their calling, "endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:1-3). The unity of the Spirit cannot be maintained without earnest endeavor.

Contrasting Examples

The church at Jerusalem exemplified remarkable oneness. The disciples in that city were "together," "had all things common," and continued daily "with one accord" (Acts 2:44-46). They were "of one heart and of one soul" (Acts 4:32). When a murmuring arose because certain widows were neglected in the daily ministration, the problem was solved quickly under apostolic supervision. The recommendation of the apostles "pleased the whole multitude" because the authority of the apostles was respected. Today, many congregations are plagued with discord and dissension due to lack of respect for apostolic authority.

In contrast to the church at Jerusalem, God's people at Corinth were torn with strife. They had a factional spirit. They were saying, "I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ" (1 Cor. 1:12). Paul charged that their envying, strife, and divisions furnished evidence of carnality. This brand of carnality often overshadows true spirituality among Christians.

The Corinthian brethren were going to law with each other before unbelievers (1 Cor. 6:6). They had differences over whether or not it is right to eat meat offered in sacrifice to idols (1 Cor. 8). They were abusing the Lord's supper, making it a feast for satisfying bodily hunger (1 Cor. 11:18-34). They needed to learn that there should be "no schism in the body"; all members should have "the same care one for another" (1 Cor. 12:25).

Requirements for Unity

How can we attain the kind of oneness for which Jesus prayed? On what basis can we be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment? The following are some of the essentials for the unity revealed by the Spirit:

1. We must stand on God's platform. Paul outlined the seven planks in this platform in Eph. 4:4-6. (1) There is one body. That body is the church (Eph. 1:22, 23; Col. 1:18). It is not a denomination or a mystical union of man-made religions. (2) There is one Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives life and direction through God's word. (3) There is one hope. The desire and expectation produced by the gospel is eternal life (Tit. 1:2). (4) There is one Lord. Jesus is both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). He is the head of the church. There is no human head. (5) There is one faith. That is the faith for which Christians are to earnestly contend (Jude 3). It is the revealed faith. (6) There is one baptism. That baptism is in water (Acts 8:36-38; 10:47), is a burial (Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:12), is in the name of the Lord (Acts 19:5; 10:48), and is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16). (7) There is one God. He is described in contrast to idols in Acts 17:24-29.

2. We must walk by the same rule. The word of God must be the standard for our faith and practice. Amos asked, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3). Amos was in agreement with God and walking with God. The people of Jeroboam's kingdom were out of step with God. The New Testament is the revelation of God's will for us today. Do people really want unity in Christ? "Let them all agree to walk by the same rule, the New Testament. Could they for this be blamed by the candid of any party? Does not every party confess that its own rules are fallible, and that the Bible is the only infallible rule? Do they not act wisely then, who give up the fallible for the infallible?" (B.W. Stone, Christian Messenger, Nov. 25, 1826, p. 16).

3. We must reject all that the Bible does not authorize. Moses E. Lard, writing in the first issue of his Quarterly (Sept., 1863), attempted to summarize the plea of such men as Campbell, Stone, and others. ". . . The reformation consists in an effort to induce all the truly pious in Christ to become perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, by accepting as doctrine, precisely and only what is either actually asserted or necessarily implied in the Bible; to speak the same things by speaking what the Bible speaks, and to speak them in the language of the Bible; and to practice the same things by doing simply the will of Christ.

4. We must differentiate between faith and opinion. Faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). Nothing should be urged as a matter of faith unless it is backed by divine testimony. Alexander Campbell once noted: "A person's faith is always bounded by testimony; his knowledge by observation and experience, and his opinions where both these terminate, and may be boundless as God's creation or as human invention" (Christian Baptist, Feb. 6, 1826).

Many times brethren form a personal judgment about something, and that opinion is preached as if law and gospel. We ought to avoid preaching human opinions, and we must never elevate them to the high level of divine revelation.

5. We must have the proper attitude. We may preach loudly about the importance of walking in the old paths, and we may guard against unscriptural practices with the sharp perception of a good sentinel, and we may stress one Lord, one faith, one baptism, only to fail to keep the unity of the Spirit. Paul mentioned lowliness and meekness, longsuffering, and forbearance in love (Eph. 4:2). Some gospel preachers have never learned to show patience. There are brethren who seem to have a divisive spirit. At the slightest disagreement or provocation, they are ready to draw away disciples after them. Humility is a missing ingredient in a lot of men. The desire to rule, or to have one's own way, even if it means splitting the church, has crippled the good cause in many localities.

6. We must endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirt. The unity into which the Spirit leads is based on truth, not error. A million people can be united in the practice of error, but that unity does not transform their error into truth. It is the unity of the Spirit that is to be preserved in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).

Some people have the idea that if we preach the truth unity will result automatically. Paul knew that more is involved. He wrote of "endeavoring" to keep the unity of the Spirit. We must make careful and painstaking effort. This necessitates crushing unholy and selfish ambitions. It includes keeping down strife, seditions, and heresies. It involves the application of Phil. 2:3.

Most of us deplore division in the church. We plead for unity based on the Bible, but in practice a lot of us insist on unity based on our personal whims. Although we dare not compromise principles of right for any purpose, we must be willing to compromise in the realm of human judgment. Many congregations that have been ripped apart with bitterness and turmoil could have remained united if certain people had swallowed their pride, shown willingness to admit wrong, extended forgiveness, learned to keep their mouths shut, tended to their own affairs, shown brotherly love, exercised patience, and talked about staying together instead of "starting a new work" (a pretense for leaving).

Summary

God's word teaches that unity is desirable, and it reveals how such unity can be attained. Through the ages many have caused divisions and hindrances by teaching what is contrary to the doctrine of Christ (Rom. 16:17). As David Lipscomb well expressed it, "All human teachings, inventions, and institutions are occasions of discord, stumbling, and division . . . . The hearts of those who add human inventions are not right in the sight of God" (Comment on Eph. 4:3).

Each Christian can make his contribution to the unity of the church by walking according to God's pattern, teaching others to walk by the divine rule, rejecting everything contrary to the Scriptures, maintaining the right attitude, and humbly endeavoring to promote and preserve the unity of the Spirit.

Questions

  1. What did N.B. Hardeman say about division resulting from the introduction of mechanical music in worship?
  2. Is Jesus' prayer for unity in John 17:20, 21 compatible with the denominational divisions and divisions among us? How might some people's attitude toward modern denominationalism be compared to a religious smorgasboard and how does it affect unity?
  3. How is it possible for Christians to be of one .mind, speaking the same thing? Give at least one verse to prove this.
  4. Name six things that are essential for the unity revealed by the Spirit.
  5. What are the seven one's named in Eph. 4:4-6. Discuss each of them.
  6. What seems to be the missing attitudes in some men whose doctrinal soundness is unquestioned but who divide churches?
  7. If a million people are united in the practice of error, will that unity transform their error into truth?
  8. Discuss what Paul meant by "endeavoring" to keep the unity of the Spirit.
  9. How can each Christian make his contribution to the unity of the church?

Truth Magazine XXIV: 1, pp. 17-19
January 3, 1980

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