By Bill Cavender
“If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, make full my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others ….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 …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” (Phil. 2:1-4; Eph. 4:1-3; 1 Cor. 1:10).
These scriptures are a few of the many in God’s word enjoining upon believers a unity of spirit, mind, purpose and objective in our fellowship with God in Christ and with each other. Only as brethren are united in love, spirit and goodwill can they maintain that scriptural unity which is pleasing to our Father and edifying to each other. Work for Jesus and worship to the Father by a united band of disciples is pleasurable participation indeed.
The bases of all scriptural unity is the word of God, the Holy Spirit given revelation spoken and written by Jesus and His inspired apostles. Only as that truth is taught and received as the word of God will brethren be united (1 Thess. 2:13; 3:9-10). “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul: and not one of them said that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common” (Acts 4:32). The grounds of our unity as God’s children is our common faith in Jesus and in the common salvation provided us by God in Christ and revealed in the scriptures (Jude 3-4; Eph. 3:1-13; Rom. 10:17; 1 John 5:4-13).
The Psalmist said, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psa. 133:1). Those of us who have been privileged to be members of congregations where there is a true love for Christ and for each other, and a deep, abiding respect for truth, know the certainty of the truth whereof the Psalmist spoke. Those who have been members of congregations where there is confusion, strife, parties and every evil deed, know the heartaches, sorrows, sighing, and debilitating declination of spiritual strength and growth in such divisive circumstances.
Scriptural unity, that unity taught and produced by the Holy Spirit, is absolutely necessary for our best service to God, to a full cooperation with brethren, and to our own spiritual growth and development. We are to make a definite effort toward such unity (Eph. 4:3). This we will do by much study and practice of God’s word, by great faith, by prayer, by a spirit of cooperation and good will toward brethren; and by bearing the infirmities of the weak as far as possible, consistent with but short of a compromise of God’s will (Rom. 15:1-3; Eph. 2:2; 1 Cor. 9:19-23).
Christians are generally led into a spirit of unity or divisiveness by their leaders, by whatever disposition elders and preachers cultivate within and among themselves and display to a congregation. Brethren rarely rise, as a congregation, above the quality and kind of leadership they have. This is true of nations, families, and of churches. If an eldership is pure, holy, lovers of truth and of people, with initiative, foresight and faith to do God’s will and go forward in His work, then a congregation will be of the same mind. If pastors are indifferent, lazy, ignorant, opinionated, tight-fisted, having little faith and willingness to “launch out into the deep,” then a church will be of the same caliber.
Foremost and absolutely necessary to internal unity, and spiritual and numerical growth, are high quality, well-qualified men who are bishops (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). These men must be able and willing to work together, to pray, visit, worship, weep, discipline and think together. Often elders are divided over the most insignificant matters. In too many cases they spend their time and energy discussing and looking after material matters which most any man in the church could see about. Too often they are “check-book” elders, a board of business men, looking after contributions, paying of bills, deciding how to spend the money, to the great neglect of their true spiritual work. A united presbytery will mean a united congregation. A church whose overseers stand together as one man in the gospel, of the same mind and judgment, will experience comparatively few problems. A church which follows spiritual-minded elders will prosper in every way. Unfortunately many elderships are not deeply spiritual men, or have some unqualified men within them; many lack energy to study, know, teach and do God’s will; many have strife and alienation among themselves and aloofness from the people they are supposed to lead, souls they are commissioned to tend and guard (Heb. 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-4); and many are so opinion-ridden that they destroy themselves and a church as an effective voice and influence for truth, both in their communities and among brethren. Mark it well! A church will be strong or weak, knowledgeable or uninformed, aggressive or asleep, approved or apostate, interested or unconcerned, working or shirking, as are their elders. A united, working church will reflect a united, working presbytery.
Preachers, too, have much to do with the atmosphere, feelings, attitudes and spiritual habits of brethren where they preach and with whom they work. Preachers are influential men. They can always have a following. Some brethren, like Masons in their lodge, will love and follow a preacher whether he be right or wrong. He may be altogether a hinderance and hurt to a church but a “personality cult” loses sight of the truth and welfare of the cause of Christ, and will do his bidding. Preachers can destroy or cultivate unity, just as elders can. Preachers can be (and should be) great builders in the Lord’s house. They are “wise” builders if they abide in truth, live godly in Jesus, refrain from hobbies and opinions, and encourage brethren unto every good work. If a preacher will show himself an example of the believer “in word, in manner of life, in love, in faith, in purity,” and ” if thou put the brethren in mind of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Christ Jesus,” then he will be a blessing to brethren generally and to a church where he labors regularly in particular (1 Tim. 4:12, 6).
In our present time there is far too much emphasis on various opinions by many preachers. Numbers of congregations are being needlessly divided. Many preachers leave no matters in the realm of personal judgment, preference, and individual rights. To try to dictate and regulate every personal, private right of judgment and practice by God’s word is wrong and divisive. At a time in the world’s history when faithful preachers and strong, aggressive, united churches are needed so badly, and when there are great, major spiritual issues and conditions which need the truth of God so badly, we are fractured and greatly alienated, and our forces decimated, by various ideas and opinions of brethren, especially of preachers. We are foolish indeed if we cannot see how we nullify our effectiveness and influence when arguing, strife, ill will and division over opinions and judgments have replaced truth, love of God and brethren. The unity of the Spirit is vital to the proclamation of the gospel of Christ to lost men, and appealing to them with our lives, love and practices. No one wants to be numbered among a warring, fighting, factious, fractious body of people who cannot get along among themselves. Yet many “faithful” churches are just that, and some of them think they are doing God’s will and being God’s faithful people in this manner. As a preacher, I say that if preachers would get their bearings and eliminate their opinionated preaching, then they as a body of men among brethren could have a tremendous influence upon elders and brethren in general in bringing about more favorable conditions for real spiritual and numerical growth among true churches of our Lord. We have so much that needs doing in and for this old sinful world. How tragic that we waste so much energy and time on destroying rather than building. Churches are built on truth, the teaching and practice of it, and not just by fighting error and discussing opinions of brethren.
A close, working, confiding relationship between elders and a preacher is essential to a good work in a local church. Their work is not contradictory nor in opposition. Their work together in teaching and leading God’s people is mutually constructive. So often elders want to ignore and be independent of a preacher. They care not for his advice, thoughts and counsel. They conduct their affairs as if they had one job and he another, with no overlapping areas of interest and responsibility. Wise indeed are elders and preachers who benefit from the other’s wisdom and knowledge.
Many churches are now appointing qualified preachers as one of the elders of the church. In my judgment this is wise in most cases, contributes to stability, and is beneficial to the work. As a general rule a preacher of experience, age, maturity and knowledge has much to contribute to an eldership which others, especially younger elders, have not yet attained to.
A well-informed church will be a working, interested, united church. The more brethren know what their pastors are thinking and doing, the more the church is abreast of plans, events, problems, etc., within the congregation, informed and led by their elders and preacher, will there be internal unity. A secretive eldership, which rules and commands instead of leading and teaching, will eventually foster discontent and strife within a church. Brethren will do and be their best when they are informed and taught. After all, a church is a body of God’s children voluntarily working and worshiping together by their own choice. Each faithful Christian should have opportunity and encouragement to do their best and develop their talents in God’s service in every faithful church. Elders rule best who inform, teach and set an example before the church. There are times and problems which arise which elders know about and deal with, which would be harmful to the church if public announcement or information were immediately made known. Some personal problems that people have which elders and preachers have to deal with do not need to become public property. But there should be few secrets in a church if we expect brethren to love each other, help one another, and work together for our Lord Jesus Christ.
Then there is work, real work, which is absolutely essential to internal peace and unity. Our faith is shown by our works of love, and our works are necessary to salvation and will not be in vain (Gal. 5:6; James 2:1426; Phil. 2:12; 1 Cor. 15:58). A child of God is a busy person. There is more to do than we will ever get done. We never catch up. We never ask the question, “What is there for me to do?”
An idle mind is still the devil’s workshop. Lazy people get into trouble. Busy people have no time to waste in evil thoughts, idle talk, gossip, back-biting, harsh criticisms, etc., sinful practices which cause wounds, separations and sin. Had David stayed busy, going out with his soldiers to battle in the springtime, he would not have fallen into sin, as he did in his idleness (2 Sam. 11:1).
There is so much to be done: study, memorize, pray, teach, and visit, visit, visit. There is not enough visiting being done by the people of God. (I am not speaking of socializing, eating, etc.) We need to visit every prospect whose name we obtain and every visitor at our services. We need to visit the aged, sick, spiritually weak, erring and troubled in heart. We need to visit in homes to teach the scriptures. Most conversions come by private influence and effort. A church will grow when the members are involved in visiting, in being interested in others. Elders should visit the homes of members whose souls they are guarding. Preachers should visit to teach the word and to encourage people to do God’s will. Deacons need to visit, especially the aged, sick and needy among the saints.
There is nothing new to be done by God’s people. Those lives and deeds of faith which make for strong, growing churches are as old as the New Testament. There is no substitute for the love of God, of Jesus, of the Holy Spirit, of the Scriptures, of brethren, faith, works and a godly life in Christ. The church which is busy learning and doing these will be a growing, loving, peaceful, united church.
Truth Magazine XXI: 27, pp. 422-424
July 14, 1977