By Mike Willis
The subject of the unity of the church has moved to the forefront in material being published among brethren. Some are teaching that unity can be attained and maintained by agreeing to disagree on things taught in the Bible. Various arguments have been made to justify fellowship with those who are teaching admittedly false doctrines and practicing things unauthorized by Scripture. Among the different arguments that have been made over the last thirty years to justify the broadened fellowship are the following:
- Imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer
- Continuous cleansing
- Romans 14 allows for fellowship in doctrinal and sinful differences
- Redefining false teacher to mean “a bad apple”
All of these arguments lose sight of the original means of attaining and maintaining unity taught and believed by Christians. Brethren formerly taught that unity could be attained and maintained if brethren would believe and teach only those things authorized by Scripture.
Speak the Same Things
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). The divisions in Corinth were to be healed by brethren learning to “speak the same thing” as a result of their having arrived at the “same mind” and “same judgment.” As a means of illustrating how this is to be done, consider some of the problems at Corinth.
1. The problem of the resurrection. Some among the Corinthians were arguing that there is no resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:12). No doubt, they had accepted the Grecian philosophy that viewed the body as inherently evil. What the Grecian long for was the soul’s liberation from the body, not the bodily resurrection. Paul replied to this false doctrine. His solution for the division over the resurrection at Corinth was not the same as some brethren contend that we should apply today. Today, some might say that “we can no more expect to think alike than to look alike.” Rather than calling such men false teachers who should not be tolerated (1 Cor. 15:32-33), some might say, “Just because one is teaching that there is no resurrection does not make him a false teacher. A false teacher is a ‘bad apple.’” Rather, than taking this approach, Paul argued for the resurrection of the dead and told the church not to have fellowship with those who teach that there is no resurrection of the dead. He warned, “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. 15:33).
When brethren will confine themselves to teaching what the Bible reveals about the resurrection, unity can be attained and maintained. The simple solution for unity on the subject of the resurrection at Corinth was for all to “speak the same thing” as a result of being of the “same mind” and the “same judgment.”
2. The problem of fornication. Some in Corinth argued that fornication was morally neutral. Echoes of their argument are seen in this passage: “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them” (1 Cor. 6:12-13). Their argument is that fornication is morally neutral. Just as one who is hungry eats meat to satisfy his hunger, one who is lusting for sexual gratification should fulfill that lust in fornication. How should this disagreement about fornication be resolved? Paul does not use the modern contemporary method of solving this problem, by calling for a unity-in-diversity. Rather, he counters the false doctrine by showing that fornication is a sin against God and against the body (1 Cor. 6:13-20). He even said that fornicators cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Thus, Paul argues for unity by calling on fornicators and false teachers to repent.
When brethren will confine themselves to teaching what the Bible reveals about fornication, unity can be attained and maintained. The simple solution for unity on the subjects of the resurrection and fornication at Corinth was for all to “speak the same thing” as a result of being of the “same mind” and the “same judgment.”
The unity of the church depends upon men speaking the same thing. Brethren will not and cannot be united in the faith of the Lord Jesus so long as they are teaching different doctrines. “Can two walk together except, they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3).
The Source of Church Troubles: False Doctrine and Personal Judgments
The Scriptures teach that brethren teaching unrevealed doctrines will trouble churches. Paul wrote about the Judaizers causing trouble in the Galatian churches; he said, “Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (1:7). Regarding these troubles, Paul wished they were disfellowshiped saying, “I would they were even cut off which trouble you” (Gal. 5:12).
There were those in Thessalonica who rejected Jesus as the Lord’s Messiah and persecuted Christians (Acts 17:1-10). Paul announced that the Lord would “recompense tribulation to them that trouble you” (2 Thess. 1:6).
Those who teach unrevealed doctrines cause division. Paul wrote, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom. 16:17-18).
When someone teaches that which is unrevealed, he should not be surprised that those who believe what is revealed will answer him. The subsequent result is division — division caused by teaching that which is unrevealed.
Not only does Paul forbid the teaching of what is unrevealed, he exhorts that brethren who have strong convictions about matters that are indifferent (things that neither commend us to God, nor separate us from him), should hold their personal opinions to themselves. (That there are indifferent matters is confirmed by 1 Corinthians 8:8 — “But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.” This is the category of things we mean by “indifferent.”) In those matters, Paul commanded that brethren keep their personal opinions to themselves saying, “Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth” (Rom. 14:22). Preaching one’s opinions creates division. Therefore, Paul told the brethren at Rome to keep their personal opinions to themselves.
Recognizing that preaching unrevealed doctrines and personal opinions creates confusion and division, one can see that unity is attained and maintained by agreeing to confine one’s teaching to the doctrine of Christ. We can have unity by agreeing to teach and preach only those things that are revealed in Scripture.
The Restoration Plea
The restoration plea for unity may be unclear in the minds of some of our readers, inasmuch as we hear it preached so seldom today.
N.B. Hardeman expressed it clearly in his Tabernacle Sermons:
I would God to-night that all professed followers in the city of Nashville, Tennessee, and elsewhere, would be content to have but the Bible as their creed, their discipline, their church manual, their church directory, their rule of faith and practice throughout life. There would be oneness on the part of all the splendid people of this great country. . . . I pledge my word and promise myself to-night, if the man will thus show me that God’s book does not plainly demand it, I will gladly surrender and give that up that the cause of division may cease. . . . When I announce that platform, it is not narrow, it is not limited, it is not human; but it is big enough, broad enough, wide enough, and comprehensive enough for every son and daughter of God on earth to occupy and none feel that in so doing they have had to sacrifice a single principle of faith. . . .Take your stand on God’s book and eliminate all things that are not plainly taught therein; and when you so do, I will gladly come to you and take my stand with you, if there be any preference as to which way the coming is done (Tabernacle Sermons II:185, 186, 187).
The strength of the restoration plea is its basis for unity — unity through the restoration of the ancient order. Think how this plea would heal divisions among us! If brethren would cease preaching their unrevealed doctrines on divorce and remarriage and confine themselves to the Scriptures, unity could be attained. If brethren would cease preaching their doctrines on church support of human institutions (orphan homes, old folks homes, colleges, missionary societies, etc.), unity could be attained. If brethren would quit defending and practicing the sponsoring church arrangement, unity could be attained.
Let’s not forget what makes us one. We are drawn together as “one in Christ” through the preaching of the gospel. Men from every background without any commonalities are united through the one faith in Christ.
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