Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
What does it mean to have unity in the church? Most of us have seen the ugliness of denominationalism. While having various denominations isn’t bad in itself, it can be if Christians begin to draw lines around themselves and declaring that God only resides on their side of the line. Indeed there are certain fundamentals of the faith that cannot be compromised, but most things that divide the church are meaningless disputes.
Many of the epistles address this very thing. 1 Corinthians is dedicated to teaching the Corinthian church how to have unity by learning to be in the same mind and the same judgment. In that area, people were dividing themselves by declaring which teacher they were disciples of. Some were calling themselves after Paul’s name, some after the name of Apollos, others of Peter (Cephas), etc.
We see the same problem today. Some say, I am a Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Calvinist, Arminianist, or any other source of division. It’s possible to draw from teachings of Calvin without feeling the need to be called after his name. It’s also fine to connect with a denomination and other like-minded believers without making it a source of exclusion. Many times people take on a label to identify themselves as part of an ‘inner circle’ or they label others as a means of excluding them from their company.
There are essentials of the faith that can’t be compromised, but we also must realize that where the Bible is silent, we are silent. God works within our lives where ever we stand. There are churches that have doctrinal issues, yet we still see Christians emerging from these places. Often, when someone is in a church that has a weak biblical position, they outgrow the church and leave to find a place to be fed. Yet others use this as an opportunity to grow those around them.
For the most part, division within the church is a matter of perspective and not always a serious doctrinal problem. Here’s a word-picture to illustrate what I’m saying. When we come to Christ, we enter a path that ascends heavenward. As Jesus said, the path is narrow and the way is difficult. We all begin where we are and begin climbing the mountain of where we need to be. Because we begin in different places, have different cultural backgrounds, and different life experiences, each person begins with a different perspective.
It’s like a group of people climbing a mountain from different sides. It’s one mountain and one destination – one truth and one God, but our path looks different based on where we are and where we are coming from. Does the truth change because our perspectives are different? No. The Bible teaches that no scripture has any private interpretation; however, the scriptures speak to us where we are.
The problem is that the person seeing the mountain from the north side is telling the person climbing from the south side that they are wrong. How God deals with me is not how God is going to deal with you. But if I am critical of you because you don’t see the Christian life from my perspective, I have become a judge over you and am missing the point of this journey of faith. God doesn’t want you to journey in my shoes, but He does want you to be encouraged from my walk. And me to be encouraged by yours.
We all have different relationships with God, but it’s still the same faith. We all are ascending from different backgrounds, but it’s the same mountain of faith. We are all one body, but not the same part of that body. This goes back to Paul’s warning, the hand can’t say to the eye, I have no need of you, or the mouth to the ear, I have no need of you. The body is healthy because of what every joint supplies. Also look at Ephesians 4:1-6
1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were 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.
One Lord, one faith, and one body. Not a Baptist body and a Methodist body (or pick your denomination), but one body that includes every believer. Nor is it one part over another part. We forget that every part supplies a necessary function. When one person is excluded or pushed aside, unity is lost. True unity is through the word. Continue reading the passage above in Ephesians. The ultimate goal of teaching is so we all come together in love as we draw near to Christ.
As we draw closer to the mountaintop, we are naturally going to grow closer together. Unity is when we stop throwing rocks at those on the other side of the mountain, stop focusing solely on our own path, and look at the whole mountain and how we are journeying together – and helping each other on the way.
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