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Unity in Truth

Christianity today is highly diversified. The present day lack of unity has weakened the Christian witness to the world and humanism is rapidly taking control of America as it already has in Europe. The apostle Paul told us that this is not God’s intent. He has given us leaders and teachers in order to bring us all into the unity of the faith. This unity, we are told, must be “of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” It’s purpose is: “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine…” (Eph. 4:11-13).

In other words, it must be a unity in the truth. It cannot be a unity based on a least common denominator in which much of the truth is absent. Such an attempt at unity is bound to fail. It cannot survive because, it ignores the very differences that caused the diversity to begin with. Actually, unity is only possible in the truth; false elements cause dissention and tend to destroy unity.

Unity and Knowledge

So then, how can the many diverse elements now present in Christianity ever be unified? Each group believes that they are the possessors of the whole truth and that their view is the only true truth. They each see their way as the only path to unity. This is the present impasse but Scripture points to a way out. We read in 1 Cor. 11:

18 For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.

19 For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.

The context is the Lord’s Supper but Paul’s reference here is to the problem of divisions within the church, which is our situation today. So, instead of attempting to solve this difficult problem on our own, lets take our lead from God’s word. We have here a group of Christian assemblies that disagree with one another to such an extent that a large section of a book of Scripture is dedicated to it. Paul says that heresies existed in Corinth and gives a reason for their existence. They existed so that “they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” The heresies were necessary! They were the vehicle through which the truth would become known. All the views needed to be aired and discussed until all the congregations understood the respective teachings. Heresies were not to be ignored but were to die out through exposure, and in the process, leading to widespread understanding of the truth.

The strong implication here is that the exposure is to be general. It cannot be limited to the pastors or elders but must include the members as well as the leaders. History teaches us that heresies do not originate or develop within the general membership but rather among the leaders and teachers. Such individuals often tend to harden in their respective viewpoints and vehemently resist change. Those that have the charismatic skills can often attract many followers to their views and heresy prospers.

Today, heresies abound. Any individual with or without credentials can start a church in his home or a school and, if he has the right charisma, can lead a great many people astray. The problem is not that there are too many such individuals but that the general population is so ignorant and gullible. Sadly, it is not just the unchurched that are susceptible to heretical ideas; church members, even long-time and otherwise very capable church members, often lack sufficient knowledge of Scripture to resist the heretics.

Here we have the underlying root issue responsible for the divisions we find in Christianity. It is the lack of Scriptural understanding in the great majority of Christians and their inability to resist and check heretical teaching. Very few have a good grasp of their own, let alone other denominational, teachings. Too many are easily led astray by charismatic charlatans. A case in point is dispensationalism, promoted by J. N. Darby and C. I. Scofield, which virtually took over the fundamentalist churches. It contributes greatly to the current lack of unity.

Unity and Doctrine

Unity among physically separate groups is dependent on a common purpose, one that separates them from others. Its effectiveness is dependent on the extent to which this purpose governs their thinking and their lives. A loosely held desire or inclination will not do much while a deeply held sense of life-purpose can effect tight bonds between strangers. When these groups are a small minority or face opposition, the sense of unity is further strengthened.

Prior to the 19th century, the majority or at least a substantial minority of Christians in the West were united in the purpose of establishing and strengthening God’s kingdom on earth. They felt that the entire world would one day be Christian and that they should do whatever they could to bring this about. The methodology employed included effecting cultural change as well as evangelism. The typical Christian that sat in a pew on Sunday felt responsibility for what took place within his or her range of influence. Speech or actions that were in violation of God’s law or word, be it by an individual in civil office, a business man, a man on the street or a child, were rebuked or punished accordingly. Individuals that persisted in such behavior found that they were not re-elected, lost business or were otherwise chastised by the community. Christians were strongly united in this kingdom purpose.

The new 19th century theologies (dispensationalism and amillennialism) that were adopted and taught in the churches discouraged this faith in the future of God’s kingdom on earth and in time. They were highly pessimistic toward the future and deferred any victory of Christianity until after Christ’s return. The only work then left for Christians to do was evangelism; “let’s save as many as we can before time runs out.”

The typical Christian, believing these new doctrines, understandably lost interest in any personal involvement in social activity other than evangelism, an activity that most felt lay in the purview of pastors and missionaries. The old purpose is now gone and its replacement (if we can call it that) holds little interest for the average Christian. Humanism has filled the gap that Christianity left behind and is now in control of all but isolated pockets of Christian culture. Having lost their purpose, Christians lost their unity. The unity of a century or two earlier is now but a pale shadow of what it was. Its power, a doctrinal system that instills a real heart-felt purpose among Christians, has been lost.

Unity and the Church

The church leadership, in just about every denomination, has treated their congregations as sheep that need to be spoon-fed the very basic teachings. Most pastors see themselves as shepherds charged to protect their sheep that, in their opinion, would otherwise be at the mercy of heretics or unbelievers. Often, protection is needed but the best form of protection is knowledge. These sheep-children need to grow up and be able and “ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15).

A major factor in the sheep-like condition of the great majority of Christians is the two tier structure characteristic of today’s churches. Congregants are not given sufficient reason or incentive to lead them to spend the time and effort needed to acquire an in-depth understanding of Scripture. It entails many hours of reading and study, a commitment that most men would need a good reason to expend. They need to be shown from Scripture that this is something that is required of them and this, the churches do not provide. The few that do demonstrate a significant level of interest (typically younger men) are encouraged to enter a program of study to become pastors. Hence, the development of a two-tier, shepherd-sheep system in which Scriptural knowledge and responsibility are concentrated in the pastor class. This is not the picture of the Body of Christ we see in 1 Corinthians 12. There we see serious participation on the part of the entire congregation, each doing the work the Holy Spirit has equipped them for.

Pastors must stop treating their congregations as children that are unable to deal with doctrine other than on a do this and don’t do that basis. This may be the case today in the majority of typical congregations but even there, a significant number of members are capable of understanding and then teaching many of the others. Christians should be united in the faith and in the knowledge of the faith and must believe with understanding. This process is necessary to achieve the goal of Ephesians 4:13 “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine…”

Unity at the level of pastors and leaders, while desirable, is no substitute for unity among the people. It is the Body of Christ that constitutes His effective force for establishing righteousness and His members cannot do so without a thorough understanding their responsibilities in this regard.

Today’s churches are too top-down oriented. There is too much separation between the leaders and the people and little or no participation by the latter in church affairs. The pastor preaches a sermon; the people listen and then go about their business in life. But their affairs do not include the church; the church is a place they go to be obedient to God and to learn about Him and His word. Christians need to feel that they are not merely spectators but are an integral part of the churches they attend. They should see, for example, that a baptismal ceremony is something they are doing. The pastor is merely the individual designated by the congregation to perform the actions of the ceremony but it is the church body as a whole that is welcoming the new member into its community.

Unity and Freedom

All this is a consequence of a gross misunderstanding of the institution we call the church. It is pictured as a ruling institution that, alongside the state, sits above and rules over the family and the individual. This is a distortion of the biblical picture, where we see the regenerate individual free in Christ and in bondage to no one. He obeys the magistrate “for conscience sake,” because God says he should and then, only when in his opinion, such obedience does not violate God’s commands. This is not subservience it is the free choice of a free individual who sees only Christ, his true Lord and only lawgiver, above him.

The same is true relative to the church. Absolute obedience is only to the Lord and not the pastor or bishop or any other official. He obeys church officials because God tells him to and only when, again in his opinion, the request conforms to God’s word. He is told to “search the Scriptures” to see if what he is being told is true and what he is being asked to do is in conformity with God’s law.

We see here one sense in which Jesus’ saying, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” is true. Freedom is through faith in the truth, the truth that God is God and there is no authority independent of him. All authority is given by God and subject to God’s law and oversight. The Christian, the believer in Christ, while under both church and state is truly free. He obeys the temporal authorities only because his final obedience is to God.

What is more, both church and state are to be the objects of the free man’s dominion work. As God’s prophet, he is to “teach the nations” to obey his Lord (Matt. 28:18-20) and seek “first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). He does these things as God’s free man in his personal life, his family, and both church and state. This means working, within the means that God permits, to promote God’s law in civil government and God’s truth in the church. In this work he can find unity with others of like persuasion.

Restoring Unity

Unity cannot be achieved through meetings of pastors, seminary professors or other institutionally trained individuals. Most are too set in their views and have too many supposedly right answers to the theological questions. Many, if not most pastors are too concerned with loss of members, especially the older members that provide most of the funding, to take any steps that might offend them. Sadly, for many more, the prestige, power or financial security of their positions override all other considerations. In addition, the peer pressure from fellow pastors prevents many from seriously considering any change in their currently held positions.

Seminary professors have a life-long investment in the many students they have inculcated into what they feel certain are the only truly biblical theological positions. This is true also of older pastors that have taught a particular viewpoint all their lives. For these reasons and others, meetings held for the purpose of increasing unity tend to degrade into totally impotent, least-common-denominator endeavors.

But God is not frustrated by disobedient or self-serving organizations. Most Christians are already very upset with today’s godless society and feel it should be more Biblically oriented. God’s law is truly written in their hearts and their desire is to follow its lead; but because they have never been given a biblical basis to support such action, and many pastors actually discourage it, they have been unable to coordinate and take concerted action. Nevertheless, they know in their hearts that Jesus called them to be salt and light and are beginning to act accordingly. As more and more Christians begin to take action to correct the godlessness in the world around them, a unity based on this purpose will develop. This has already begun and will develop more and more rapidly as the culture continues to degrade.

This movement is developing outside of the seminaries and Bible schools. It is springing from the working of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of His people. There is a tension developing between the teachings of the currently popular theologies and what is going on in the world. Christians are feeling with increasing fervor that they must act to correct the trampling-under of God’s commandments regardless of whether or not such action may be in conflict with the theology they hear from their pulpits. Despite all the teaching to the contrary, they are becoming dominion workers by applying God’s law in society.

A second reformation, one that is centered in and driven by God-fearing family heads, is forming. The first reformation, while correcting much of the error and corruption in the church left church and state as rival institutions and therefore lost its original power very early. It made possible the subsequent rise of humanism and its take-over of the greater part of society. But God in His wisdom knew the effect that that would produce in His saints. They needed to feel the scourge of Satan to wake them up and motivate them to become the soldiers for Christ they were destined to be.

Christians and especially pastors and teachers, that already understand the need for Christians to exercise their God-given, dominion work, should encourage others to get involved in this movement. The Body of Christ must be brought together to be in substantial and not just superficial agreement. All must “know the Lord” in a full sense. Mature Christians should be able to walk into almost any church assembly in the world and feel at home with what is being taught. We must become one as the Father and the Son are one (John 17:21-23). We are a long way from that condition today but it must be our goal, something we keep in view and work toward with due diligence.