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Unity in the Church

September 28, 2018

 (Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash)

 

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give

you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus,

Romans 15:5

 

God wants unity in the church, but is there confusion as to what that means? Is it about tolerating all differences for the sake of being united or are there some things that can't be compromised?

 

PAUL'S PLEA TO THE CORINTHIANS

 

1 Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.

 

Paul was writing to the Corinthians because he had heard of the quarrels that were going on in the church. He makes his appeal in the name of the Lord Jesus. This is the tenth time in ten verses that Paul talks about Jesus. It's clear that Paul believes Christ is the One who should be the source and focus of their unity. [1] He had heard about the problems in the church from the household of Chloe (v.11), and he wants to address them right away. So he writes them this letter. They were divided on which leader they thought was the best...Paul, Apollos, Peter, or Christ. You will notice there was a group that said, "I follow Christ" (v.12), and essentially that is what Paul wants them all to say. He asks them three questions: Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? These are rhetorical questions, but Paul's point is everyone should follow Christ, not a particular leader.

 

Today is no different. Believers still have disagreements and what Paul tells the Corinthians is the same things he would say to us. In fact, almost every New Testament Church faced divisions in one way or another. [2] The problem is sin, not having a disagreement. It would be wonderful if we agreed on everything, but since we don't, we need to guard against division. The word for "divisions" is schisma. It means no open break, no fracturing of the church. [3] Fracturing happens we fight, criticize, gossip, slander, want revenge, or become bitter. This is what divides believers. 

 

What Paul isn't saying is we must agree with everyone. He, in subsequent chapters, reminds the Corinthians of the things he has taught them and defended his teaching as from Christ. He didn't condone those who were teaching something different. He never said, "We all need to get along and accept each other's beliefs as valid even if they are saying something different from what I've taught you." No, when he saw that happening, he called them or the wrong belief out. He encouraged the Corinthians to do the same. And that's what we must do today as well. Unity is about having the same essential beliefs about something. That's why we have creeds. One such creedal statement in the Bible is:

 

Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

1 Corinthians 15:3-4

 

These two verses tell us something essential. All Christians believe this, and when someone doesn't, there will be no unity.  

 

A DIFFERENT VIEW

 

There are some leaders today that think unity is about all faiths coming together. They say we must put less emphasis on doctrine and focus only on love so that we can be one as the Father and Son are one (John 17:11). These leaders believe they have a mandate to bring about unity based on Ephesians 4:11-13 which talks about the five ministries Christ gave the Church to "equip God's people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God's Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ." But what these leaders are proposing isn't real unity because it doesn't embrace truth. It embraces tolerance or compromise. When a teaching is false, meaning it goes against what Scripture teaches, we must not accept it. Kenneth Copeland is one such leader who goes as far as to say we must put an end to the Protestant Reformation. Copeland talks about how the Protestants have been protesting for 500 years, but in 1999, reconciliation began between the Lutherans and the Catholics. He says, "that church demon has fallen" referring to the Reformation. [4] He goes on to say that most of the Church doesn't know it yet, but they better find out. [5]

 

LOVING ONE ANOTHER DOESN'T EQUAL UNITY

 

Christians and Catholics are called to love one another, but within the two  Churches, there are fundamental differences that don't allow for unity in the way Kenneth Copeland wants. Todd White is another leader that wants doctrine to be cast aside in favor of unity. He and others believe it must happen before Christ can return. Todd White prays with Fr. Edward Benioff for Christian unity in this video [6], but it's hard to tell what this video is about. Are they casting aside doctrinal differences? Are they having an emotional experience together? Are they agreeing to love one another and stop fighting? Do you see what I'm saying? Unless they are willing to lay aside their doctrinal differences and come into agreement, there can be no true unity. For example, Protestants believe in the sufficiency of Jesus' death on the cross to save completely apart from works, and Catholics believe that works play a part in salvation. They can't both be right. I gave just one example, but the differences in doctrine between Protestants and Catholics are extensive. Unity and loving one another are not the same thing.

 

SUMMARY

 

The Bible calls for unity, but it must be based on the same beliefs about essential doctrine. Paul tells the Corinthians to stop bickering over things that are not relevant to faith in Christ. When someone veers off from what is essential, unity by its definition cannot happen. The Bible does not teach that unity is possible with those who believe something different from what the Bible teaches or when new doctrines are added that are not in the Bible and make them as important as the Bible. I disagree with Kenneth Copeland. The Protestant Reformation has not ended.   

 

 

 

Sources:

[1] John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck: The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Victor Books, A Division of Scripture Press Publications Inc., Wheaton , IL, 1983) p. 508

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe: The Bible Exposition Commentary Vol.1: Matthew-Galatians (Victor Books, A Divisons of Scripture Press Publications Inc., Wheaton, IL, 1989) p. 569

[3] J. Vernon McGhee: Thru the Bible: 1 Corinthians through Revelation (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1983) p. 8

[4]Kenneth Copeland Calls for End of the Protestant Reformation    
(YouTube video 6:23)

[5]Kenneth Copeland Declares the Reformation is Over (YouTube video 2:27)

[6]Todd White and Fr. Edward Benioff Pray for Christian Unity

(YouTube video 5:10)

 

 

 

 

 

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