By Mark Nitz
1. Appreciate presence
a. Hopefully indicates that you have the same mind as Christ in His prayer for unity of the saints.
b. Hard to imagine a Christian who doesn’t have this concern.
2. No secret that there is much division in Lord’s Body
a. In Cincinnati alone there are 7 or 8 “Churches of Christ” all claiming to be the loyal one
3. Naive to think we could solve overnight
a. Reuel Lemmons: “You don’t zap shut a wound, it takes time to heal and it begins at the edges.”
b. Many brethren feel there are too many areas of difference therefore impossible to restore.
c. At least we’re communicating which is the first step.
4. We’ve already had one meeting in which we each discussed what we saw as problems of the Lord’s church in this area.
a. Surprisingly, the entire discussion was on “unity.”
b. Tonight, I want to discuss biblical principles concerning fellowship and unity.
c. Biblical unity is the only kind worth having.
5. The thoughts presented will be nothing new but hopefully will serve as a basis for fellowship.
a. Afterwards the floor will be open for further discussion or questions.
I. The more I study the Restoration Movement the more I realize how far we’ve strayed for their noble ideals and the “restoration spirit.”
A. It was from the beginning a “Unity Movement” sought by restoring the Word of God to its rightful position.
1. Story of Thomas Campbell and African Missionaries
a. “How sad that the conversion of the world must wait for the unity of the Lord’s disciples”
B. Both Campbell and Stone believed the basis of our unity was our relationship in Christ.
1. i.e. We are brothers, not because we see eye-to-eye on everything, but because we have the same Father.
2. Campbell realized there would be differences among Christians due to different levels of maturity and diverse backgrounds.
C. Campbell made a distinction between faith and opinion – a distinction that many have forgotten in our day.
1. Thomas made the distinction based on matters specifically stated in God’s Word and those things deduced or inferred from it.
a. “There is a manifest distinction between an express Scripture declaration, and the conclusion or inference which may be deduced from it.”
b. Alexander Campbell: “It is a concession due to the crisis in which we live . . . to distinguish between the testimony of God and man’s reasonings and philosophies upon it.”
2. Notice what Thomas Campbell stated as one of the primary propositions of his Declarations and Address:
“Although inferences and deductions from Scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine . . ., yet are they not formally binding upon the conscience of Christians father than they perceive the connection and evidently see that they are so; but their faith must not stand in the, wisdom of men, but in the power and veracity of God. Therefore, no such deductions can be made terms of communion (fellowship), but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the church.”
“We dare not therefore patronize the rejection of God’s dear children, because they may not be able to see alike in matters of human inference – of private opinion; and such we esteem all things not expressly revealed and enjoined in the word of God.”
3. I do believe many of our “latter-day” divisions would fall into the category of “opinions” with the Campbells.
II. The Basis of our fellowship with one another is the same as the basis of our fellowship with Christ. (“Wherefore receive ye one another, even as Christ also received you . . .” – Rom. 15:7.)
A. What is the basis of our fellowship with God?
1. Is it not simply our conversion to Christ?
a. “For ye are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27).
b. It is “in Christ” where there is no condemnation (Rom. 8:1).
2. The fellowship is maintained by my “walking in the light” (1 Jn. 1:7).
3. Our fellowship with God is not based upon:
a. A perfect knowledge of the Bible (else how could I “grow” – 2 Pet. 3:18).
b. A life of sinless perfection (“If we say we have no sin . . .” – 1 Jn. 1:8; “in many things we all stumble” – Jas. 3:2).
c. The ability to comprehend, explain, and expound every doctrine.
4. Rather, it is based upon my being in Christ and walking according to the level of understanding I have attained (Phil. 3:15-16).
5. There is hope in trusting and obeying Jesus, not in being right on every brotherhood issue brethren have concocted.
a. Let me hasten to say that the true believer will try to be right on every point of doctrine, not because their salvation is dependent on it but because they want to please the Lord.
B. If God will accept me with my imperfect life, imperfect understanding and knowledge, surely I ought to accept my brethren with the same.
1. I should make no condition of fellowship that God has not made a condition of salvation.
2. Unity among Christians is not based on unanimity of opinions but on being in Christ (Gal. 3:28 – “Ye are all one man in Christ Jesus”).
a. I can no more think exactly like my spiritual brethren than I can look exactly like my physical brethren.
b. Ironic that on the one hand we encourage independent Bible study and free thinking, yet on the other hand say, “If you do not come to my conclusions I can not have fellowship with you.”
III. Since we are to accept brethren with whom we differ, and we all do, what should we do when differences do arise?
A. Don’t immediately question the motives or sincerity of the one with whom we differ.
1. Paul maintains that two brethren with equally good conscience and desire to please the Lord can come to different conclusions (Rom. 15; 1 Cor. 8).
B. Discussion of differences should take place, but not in the context of drawing lines of fellowship (1 Cor. 5).
1. Should not be a question of fellowship but one within the fellowship.
2. Division never considered as an alternative in N.T.
C. Must respect the conscience of our brother.
1. It is sin to force a brother to violate his honestly held conviction (1 Cor. 8:12).
a. I believe this is why most division has occurred.
2. There are many examples from Restoration History of this taking place (primarily collective action).
a. Christian Church – Instrumental Music.
b. Issue of multiple containers in the L.S.
D. We must respect the local autonomy of a congregation.
1. Though their forefathers may have “split” congregations over the issue, the present congregations may not be binding it on others. (Ex. – “One Cup” Brethren).
E. A separation can take place without a division occurring so that all can worship with a clear conscience.
1. Though we differ in some areas, fellowship can take place in others.
2. My fellowship in some areas does not mean blanket endorsement.
F. Refrain from Judging (Jas. 4:11-12).
1. Rom. 14:1 (NASV): “Now accept the one who is weak in the faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.”
2. I must conscientiously teach what I believe is right and teach against what I believe to be error, and yet leave the judging to God.
IV. A Practical Approach To Greater Unity Among Us.
A. Fellowship is defined as “joint participation.”
1. There is a sense in which every brother is in fellowship by sharing in the blessings., in Christ (1 Cor. 1:9).
2. However, generally `fellowship” is used in reference to a particular action.
B. Fellowship in the N.T. was always between in dividual not congregations (i.e. brotherhood not church-hood)
1. Though I may differ with a brother in a certain area, and therefore could not have fellowship in that action, I can have fellowship in those activities in which we both agree.
C. Greater unity will take place when we have a right appreciation for our relationship to Christ (if Jew and Gentile could be “one man” in Christ, surely we can).
D. Practical Approach:
1. A practical step to reducing tension is to con tinually emphasize that we are brethren.
a. We are not warring aliens.
b. 28 times in Corinthians Paul reminds them that they are brethren.
c. We cannot disregard our kinship.
d. Christ is not ashamed to call us “brethren” (Heb. 2:11). Why should we?
2. Pray to help keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.
a. Jesus felt strongly enough about it to pray for it (Jn. 17:20-21).
b. When we have the Lord’s passion for unity God will be able to use us in granting our requests.
3. Association makes it difficult to disregard one another.
a. Cannot “quarantine” our brethren.
b. We should not overlook our differences, but must not let them become barriers to fellowship.
(1) We practice this all the time within the local congregation.
4. In whatever meetings we have we must be careful not to ask a brother to violate his conviction, regardless how trivial we may feel it is.
a. It is an act of “brotherly kindness” to forego the exercise of one’s liberty out of concern for the welfare of a brother.
5. In discussion across party lines, try to honestly see things from the other’s point of view.
a. Attribute to them as much sincerity and love the Lord as we want them to give us.
b. I truly believe in the past many have not tried to understand each other’s position.
c. We are presently making efforts to come to a better understanding through the “Cogell-Turner” discussions.
To summarize, our problem is not the creating of unity, but as brothers maintaining in the bond of peace the unity that we have as brothers.
a. We must make it the sincere desire of our hearts.
b. We must begin association as brothers, instead of isolation as aliens.
c. We must discuss instead of debate.
d. Until proven otherwise, we must not doubt the other’s sincerity and love for the Lord.
If all of this will not obliterate the walls between us, at least we can lower them enough to make it a little easier to shake hands across them.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 10, pp. 291-293
May 19, 1983