The Ancient Faith
ENDEAVORING TO KEEP THE UNITY
We have no greater privilege than taking our families to worship at a congregation of peace, love, and truth. Such is one of those rate things that is “both good and pleasant” (Ps. 133:1). It is so good and so pleasant that we are under a divine mandate to “keep the unity” (Eph. 4:3). Sadly, we discover that from our areas of greatest joy can also come some of our greatest heartaches and problems.
We live in a world that is divided socially, racially, politically, and economically. The greatest division of all is worldwide religious division. The saddest division is that which exists in the Lord’s Church.
Strife and division strike against the plan of God to “reconcile in one body” (Eph. 2:16) and totally disregard the prayer of the Prince of Peace “that all may be one” (Jn. 17:21). Satan, not God, is the author of confusion, strife, and division. Satan creates conflict and division but not in his house. Our Lord says, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city of house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?” (Mt. 12:25-26). Satan is a devil but not a fool. He works in the Lord’s house; the Church is his favorite theater of operation. Satan is behind all envy, strife, confusion and division.
God is the author of peace in all the congregations of the saints. (i Cor. 14:33). His Word is the source of all genuine peace and unity. Without a biblical foundation there can be only a fragile union—not unity. Unity without divine principle is a unity without a purpose. Acts 2:42 reveals the simple fact that fellowship depends on continuing in the apostles’ doctrine. We know that peace and unity cannot be bought at the expense of truth.
We know that a unity of the Spirit is the only unity that pleases God. But do we know that unity is an individual obligation? Is it not true that we have a common salvation, a common faith (Jude 3)? Ultimately, unity is a matter of the local church and of each individual member.
Listen to these statements:
* “there be no divisions among you” (1 Cor. 1:10)
* “speak the same thing” (1 Cor. 1:10)
* “be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10)
* “have the same cate one for another” (1 Cor. 12:25)
* “Be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (Phil. 2:2)
* Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory (Phil. 2:3)
* “in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3)
These passages fairly shout individual responsibility and obligation. It is a sad day when we no longer accept our personal responsibility to maintain the unity of the Spirit. It is a sad day when Satan deceives us into pursuing a personal agenda that leads to division.
Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit bespeaks the fact that unity can be lost. Heresies and heretics will come (1 Cor. 11:19). What is our responsibility then? How do we deal with the problem? First, we acknowledge the problem. We must face it as it is, not as it once was, not as we wish it were, but as it is. Both the cause and the cure are outlined for us in the Scriptures.
Paul’s letter to the church of Christ in Corinth, established by Paul himself about A.D. 51 or 52, is a veritable case history of what can go wrong in the house of God. The epistle deals with division, problems, heresies, immorality,
lack of discipline, chaos in the assembly, and various doctrinal deviations. Some of our brethren in Corinth smirked at immorality, argued over their preachers, despised the gift of the Holy Spirit, used their gifts to humiliate their brothers,
sued each other in pagan courts, and were allowing a case of definitive fornication.
After reading the epistle, one must wonder how Paul could address them as the church of God and as saints at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:1)! Indeed one must wonder why Paul put up with them. Why did he not just write them off?
Because Paul had a deep commitment to the church. It was not a casual view of sin, and it was not indifference to moral behavior. Tt was the love of a man standing in the center of it all, determined to save them. What is the message? Beware the person who wants to bury a congregation too quickly!
What were the underlying problems in Corinth. A sectarian, partisan spirit had invaded the church—a childish, sectarian spirit that had to have its own group, its own preacher, or someone who belonged exclusively to them. “I am of Paul, ] am of Apollos…” They had descended to a new low where they were impressed by the status of the speaker more than the message of the speaker. (Sound like anything you have heard about?) How does Paul deal with that? He takes them back to the message.
Moreover, brethren I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
The message was, and is, that Christ alone was crucified for them, that Christ was the One into whom they were baptized. Paul then turns to the Paulites asking, “Is Christ divided?” Has Christ been parceled out to you? What is the message? The exalted status of a speaker (then or now) has nothing to do with the truth or error of his message! To align ourselves with a certain speaker or speakers is a strike against the unity of the body. What is right must always take precedence over who is right!
Also, error and falsehood are not the only things that destroy the church.
Now the works of the flesh ate manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21).
Please note that there is a direct connection between verses 19-21 and verses 15-16. According to Romans 8:5, these sad times come because someone is living according to the flesh. Living according to the flesh is a mental attitude. The mind is set on things of the flesh. Living becomes self-centered rather than Christ-centered. When we are hung up on the dead center of self, and when the flesh is in control, we can fall to a new low. Spiritual cannibalism is deplorable, alienates the Lord’s people, and eventually leaves in its wake a carnage that is worthy of divine condemnation. What is the cute? The cure is death of self by crucifixion. In Galatians 2:20, Paul explains, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Gal. 5:24).
Self does not die easily. The desire for recognition does not die easily (Acts 8:9-10). So long as we have a feeling of displeasure when we hear of the prosperity of another, so long as jealousy rears its ugly head among us, so long as we ate worried about who gets the credit, so long as we are suspicious of one another, discrediting one another, provoking one another, and envying one another, crucifixion of self has not happened.
All of the ruins of former civilizations ate not in the old country. Some of us could take you on a sad tour, a tour of ruined temples of the living God—churches that once rang with the songs of Zion and churches that were once pillars and supports of truth and right. These ruins once heard the best that the brotherhood afforded. On this tour we could pause along the way to point out that it was not atheism or evolutionary thought that brought them down. It was division.
Divisions are monuments to tragic failures. These sad ruins bear mute testimony to spiritual immaturity. These ghosts of the past proclaim to the world that we are yet babes, that we are yet carnal and walk as men. In 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, Paul assails this fault in the church in Corinth and “to all those in every place that call upon the name of the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:2). In the beginning of the Corinthian church they were immature by reason of infancy. Infants are not responsible for infancy but adult babes are grotesque, abnormal, and undesirable. “Such were some of you,” Paul said and some still were.
First Corinthians 3 is an implicit call for all of us to grow up, to rise above our selfishness and littleness, to set our feet on higher ground, and do all within our power to fulfill the petition of the Prince of Peace:
“That they all may be one: as thou, Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe…” (Jn. 17:20-21),
[This study is from the Christian Expositor Winter 2004 Vol.18, No.4].