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Unity in the Church

In another article (Bible Study), the need for doctrinal unity and a method for reaching it within a congregation is described. Ephesians 4:11-13 shows us that God gave the gifts of prophet, pastor and teacher to the church so that doctrinal unity may be realized. 1 Corinthians 11:18,19 shows us that all views, even heresies, need to be discussed and examined carefully so that “they which are approved may be made manifest” or, in other words, so that the truth may be clearly seen by all. It is not a presbytery or a group of elders that review each point of doctrine and then decide among themselves what the congregation should be told. It is the entire congregation that hears all sides of every issue and each decides for himself what he will believe. Unity is approached through a gradual process in which differences are continuously being examined and eliminated.

Christianity today is far from the kind of unity Scripture enjoins upon it. If we were to reduce the faith to what all the Christian sects and denominations believe, we would find that much Biblical doctrine would be eliminated. There is much disagreement on the doctrines of the Holy Spirit, the end times, salvation and to a lesser extent on every doctrine in Scripture. There is a degree of unity within denominations but much disunity across their boundaries. I don’t believe this is what the apostle had in view when he said:

4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.
11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: (Ephesians 4)

In today’s structure, each denomination hardens its pastors, teachers and members against what it sees as the errors of the others. There is no force of any kind that works toward biblical unity across these boundaries. Nor does there seem to be any concern or even awareness that the current methodology is deficient in this respect. Each sect seems to believe that unity can only be reached when their particular views become universal. So each digs in, shuts ears and eyes against all that they see as heresy, and charges blindly ahead. Instead of going down, the walls get higher and thicker and the prospect of unity diminishes. Sadly, the walls are often taken as an object of pride: I’m a Baptist says one;I’m a Lutheran says another. It sometimes seems that these distinctions are as important, if not more important, than being a Christian. Instead of pride in distinctions, they should rather be viewed with sadness and all differences made an area of concern.

Some, perhaps in recognition of the problem, have advocated acceptance of the least common denominator as the totality of Christian doctrine by all. This of course is not an answer; it is a retreat from Christianity altogether and capitulation to humanism. Without compromising one’s faith though, there needs to be a change in attitude; there should be a serious effort on the part of Christians to broaden their horizons. They need to go outside their own denominational study material and commentaries and develop a real understanding of the teachings of other denominations.

Because of the firm divisions that are currently in place, it doesn’t seem likely that any real steps toward biblical unity will be taken without a major change in the current denominational dynamic. Christians need to see that, to have an effective message, the body of Christ must present a unified front to the unbelieving word. The lack of unity diminishes credibility and seriously weakens the Gospel message. Change though, will need to come from the bottom, not the top. The seminary graduates are too hardened; they know too much and have too many arguments or proofs (often derived from a faulty systematic) to give alternate viewpoints any true consideration.

A totally new attitude toward Christian institutions is needed, a change not likely to arise out of the clergy. It can only come from ordinary Christians that get serious about their faith and the work God has given them. Too many Christians today don’t see the church as their responsibility at all; they see themselves as observers and to some extent financial supporters of the pastors and missionaries. But this is insufficient, the body of Christ cannot and does not make progress when the great majority of its members leave all the work to the few that are in so called “full time Christian service.” This attitude is not Scriptural; Christ tells us that we must take His kingdom seriously; it must be “first,” top priority in every Christian’s life, even before concerns about food, clothing or shelter (Matt. 6:33). Until this lack of concern for the furtherance of God’s kingdom on the part of Christians is corrected, we cannot expect to see unity in the church at large.

Lay Christians, and hopefully some pastors and seminary graduates as well, that become aware of the need for unity should work to spread this message. They represent a force for change, a force that may be small to begin with but one that, because it is based on God’s truth and God’s will, will grow. If it is to be the force that will conquer evil in this world, the body of Christ cannot remain divided. It must eventually find unity in the truth and, with a consistent message, it can then begin to function as God purposed.