A unifying spirit is necessary if a family is going to function well.ÊThis does not mean that there will be no diversity among the family members. There is plenty of room for rugged individualism and yet members be united in a common spirit. This is also true in the family of God.
The New Testament places great emphasis on the importance of unity in Christ. Jesus prayed for believers of all ages, “I pray that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you . . .ÊMay they be brought to complete unity to let the world know thatÊyou sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”Ê
John 17:22,23 While Christ prayed for unity among His apostles,ÊHe knew there would be strong differences of opinion within theÊ
group. Their personalities were different. Peter was an extrovert and a leader. Andrew was willing to live in the shadows of his brother. Don’t you think their personalities often clashed? JohnÊ
was a warm-hearted person and must have been irritated at times with Peter’s mannerisms. Thomas was a doubter and was not able to understand how the other disciples could acceptÊ
everything that Jesus said without doubting. But in spite of these differences, which often could fill their meetings with tension,Êthey were one in the Spirit.
The Apostle Paul wrote about the importance of being united in Christ. He tells the Romans, “May the God who gives endurance
and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one head and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
(Romans 15:5, 6). He also wrote to the Christians at Ephesus, “There is one body and one Spirit just as you were called to one hope when you were called one Lord, one faith, one
baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Christianity and unity was not an option.ÊAs Christ drew believers to Himself, His followers were brought
into one body as brothers and sisters.Ê
Dr. George Forell, former professor of religion at the University of Iowa, has written in his book, The Protestant Faith, “Christ is the source of the Church’s unity which is not dependent upon a
united organization. There seems to be no evidence that the Christian Church was ever organizationally one. Such unity was apparently
of no concern to the early Christians. No super organizations controlled the various Christian groups in the earliest centuries of Church history. The oneness of the Church transcends the disunity of the churches.”
While the Scriptures talk about members of the Church being united in Christ, they do not teach that there will be no diversity among the Body of Christ. The New Testament tells of times when there were strong differences among the disciples. In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas were planning a mission trip. Barnabas was anxious to
take Mark on the trip, but Paul did not agree. Mark had been with them on a previous mission trip and on the way had left them.ÊThis irritated Paul and therefore he wanted someone more
dependable than Mark along on the journey.
Can’t you hear the conversation between Paul and Barnabas as they discuss Mark? Barnabas could have reminded Paul, with a little fire in his soul, that there is such a thing as Christian charity and he had better apply it in the case of Mark. Paul could be heard saying in reply to Barnabas’ chastisement, “It is not a matter of
charity. Mark is too immature. He is not ready for a mission like this one.” They did not reach an agreement whether or not to include Mark on the trip. The Bible tells us that Barnabas took Mark and went on his way, while Paul chose Silas and pursued his mission. Because they were humans, it is possible that their departure was not too cordial.
Were they united in Christ? Yes, they were. A strong difference of opinion has no effect on the unity in Christ. It is also interesting to note that Paul’s attitude towards Mark changed. Paul loved
to see Mark grow up in his faith. In his last letter to Timothy, he asks him to come soon and bring Mark with him. Paul knew that his days were numbered and he wanted to see Mark while there
was yet time to visit. Their oneness in Christ drew them to eachÊother. Strong personalities do things differently and that is also true in the Church. Let’s take a look at some of the practical teachings on Christianity as it existed in the New Testament Church.
A study of the New Testament Church must convince us that the unity of the Christ transcends denominational loyalty. I am a Lutheran.ÊI love my church. This is the church that delivered the message of Christ and His saving grace to me. However, should the time
come when the Lutheran congregation to which I belong does not preach Christ, l will have to attend some other church. It is sad when people feel so tied to a particular congregation of their
denomination that they continue to worship there Sunday after Sunday though they are not being spiritually fed.
I had a telephone call from a friend some days ago telling of her family’s dilemma about transferring to another congregation in town. For years they have been leaders in their church. They have realized that things were not as they should be in the church’s ministry. The emphasis was far from the Gospel. The question as, “What shall we do? If we leave our parents will be hurt and we will be leaving a host of friends who are so important to us. We will continue to see them, but since our friendship is a by-product of the congregation, our relationship will not be the same.Ê What shall we do?”
It is not an easy question to answer and much prayerful consideration needs to be given before doing anything unwise. Maybe there should be an extra try at remaining with the congregation. Perhaps there should be a very honest conversation with the pastor or leaders in the church, but when all of that has been done and there is an honest conviction that you need to move if you are going to grow spiritually, the answer is clear.ÊRemember that when you are one in Christ Jesus, you have a unity that transcends denominational lines.
A second insight from reading the New Testament shows that there was little structure in the New Testament Church. Professor ForellÊ
writes, “Protestants are generally suspicious of those who insist that organizational unity is the condition of the oneness of the Church.”Ê
The Church is one because Christ is one. To make the oneness depend upon the consent of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theÊefficiency of ecclesiastical machinery would contradict the
Protestant assertion that man is justified by grace. For this reasonÊall movements towards organizational unity are for Protestants to be justified on pragmatic grounds.”
The mergers between and within denominations are sometimes necessary, but they are for practical reasons and have no great Biblical significance. In my own denomination, we have witnessed two major mergers within the last 40 years. People are not in agreement as to whether or not these mergers benefitted ourÊ
denomination, but we must agree that the unity in Christ was there long before the churches merged into one denomination.Ê If leadership can convince the congregations who make up the
denomination that ministry could be done much more efficiently and better use could be made of the church’s funds and trained staff,Êthere might be good reasons for a merger. However, this would not add to the oneness of those Christians who belong to these church contemplating merger. In Christ they are one.
A third insight that we learn from the New Testament is the denominational differences should not create bitterness and strife
between congregations or among the denomination. At an early morning Bible study a dozen men gather to study God’s Word.
In the group are a Baptist, a Roman Catholic, an Episcopalian,Êa Presbyterian, a Wesleyan, and several Lutherans. If we wanted to center the studies on what divides us, it would be a negative
experience. However, if we concentrate on our salvation inÊChrist and how He brings change to our lives, it is always a rewarding experience to be there and learn from each other.
It is pathetic when people confess faithfulness to the New Testament,Êbut refuse to accept Biblical teaching that we are one in Christ.ÊThe unbeliever can wonder what Christianity is all about. I recall being at a theological seminar where certain people did not enter the room to hear the lecture until the prayer, which always opened the session, had been prayed. It was their conviction that, unless you are in complete doctrinal agreement with all present, you should not pray with them. In such a case denominational policy has thrown
a vicious attack at the New Testament teaching of our oneness in Christ.
How does today’s Church compare to the New Testament Church regarding oneness in Christ?Ê
Thank God for the unity that we experience in Him, and where there is separation because of denominational loyalties, let them not disturb
us but let us move on lifting high the cross of Christ where we are all brothers and sisters for all eternity.