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Thursday, May 12, 2022

Unity in God's Church

The Christian Church has dealt with strife and division within its ranks for almost two thousand years now, and there have been many unsuccessful attempts over the same period to foster or impose unity on those discordant ranks. Why? What has caused all of this strife? Why have all of the Church's efforts to stifle this discord and promote unity within its ranks met with such utter failure? and Why has God allowed this situation to exist?

To begin to answer these questions, we must first clearly define the objective, UNITY. Indeed, the failure to clearly understand the concept of unity has been one of the principal reasons that the Church has never achieved it! Now everyone understands that "unity" indicates that everyone is united or acting as a whole, but most of us don't seem to comprehend what that implies for the individuals who make up that whole. In other words, for a bunch of individual humans to be united as a whole requires each one of them to commit to a common objective/goal. In Biblical terms, this is expressed as "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" [Amos 3:3, KJV] Notice too some of the other English translations of this verse: "Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?" [NIV] "Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?" [NLT] "Can two walk together without agreeing where to go?" [BSB] Hence, if a group of individuals cannot agree on their objective at the beginning of their joint venture, they will NEVER achieve unity!

In the Gospel of Matthew, we read of an instance when Jesus Christ was accused of casting out demons by Satan's authority [Matthew 12:24]. Continuing, however, we read that "Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, 'Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.'" [Verse 25, NIV] Once again, the clear implication being that there must be agreement about the objective on the front end of any venture that is going to have any hope of success. Christ went on to explain: "If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters." [Verses 26-30] Hence, any individual who has not accepted the common objective of the group on the front end will NEVER be in harmony with the other members of the group! He/She will NEVER be able to work together with the other members of the group and coordinate with them because he/she is working toward a completely different goal/objective!

Moreover, the Church has always had individuals who have not shared the goals/objectives of the wider community. Jesus Christ likened them to weeds that have been sowed among the grain [See Matthew 13:24-29, 36-43]. Because of the pulls of human nature, some folks have inevitably succumbed to lust, envy, and selfish ambition, and strife and disharmony have been the consequence of that failure [See James 4:1-3]. Unfortunately, others have taken their eyes off of God and have begun to look to human leaders with the same result [See I Corinthians 1:10-13]. We must also understand that people with different backgrounds, perspectives, and dispositions will only become unified through a spiritual process that requires time to change and mold individuals into a harmonious whole [See Ephesians 4:1-13]. Likewise, we must all come to acknowledge that some of the differences which naturally exist among any group are not detrimental to achieving the primary goal of the group [See Romans 14]. Finally, we must also realize that harmony within the Church can sometimes be harmful when the shared objective is amiss. Although the entire Corinthian Church had decided to tolerate/accept a member's incestuous adultery, Paul warned them that they had all allowed themselves to be corrupted by what they had tolerated together as a community [See I Corinthians 5].

Thus, we see that conflict within the Church was clearly anticipated by Christ and his apostles. Indeed, all serious students of the New Testament are aware of Christ's instructions for dealing with problems that arise between brethren [See Matthew 18:15-20]. Likewise, most of my readers are familiar with Paul's instructions to the saints at Rome: "I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them." [Romans 16:17, NIV] In this connection, I found the commentary of Pastor Scott Harris of Grace Bible Church in New York to be very helpful in understanding exactly what Paul was talking about in this passage. After pointing out that Christ had said there would be these discordant voices within the Church, the Pastor observed: "Paul is specific here that the divisions and hindrances he is talking about are arising because there are those that are contrary to what Paul and the other apostles have taught. There are people that make professions of faith in Christ and become part of a church. They can even exhibit a lot of good qualities and could become part of the church leadership. But there is a problem within their hearts and minds. They love themselves more than the Lord Jesus Christ and His people. They think themselves to be wiser than the word of God. They pervert Biblical doctrine and twist the scriptures to fit their own desires. They end up being contentious to one degree or another and try to persuade people toward their personal view." [See Dealing with Dissension] And, unfortunately, these types of people will often accuse the folks who are pointing out their shenanigans as the ones who are sowing discord!

So, after reviewing some of the scriptures associated with the subject of unity within God's Church, we can see that the Church has always had to deal with issues of disharmony and strife within its ranks. Moreover, many of those same scriptures make plain that the Church will continue to deal with these issues until Christ returns to this earth. Hence, it is incumbent upon those of us who constitute the Body of Christ to be aware of the sources of these divisions and discordant voices and to deal with them in the manner which Christ and his apostles specified in Scripture. In other words, it is futile to try to pretend that these forces do not exist within the Church or to think that we can impose unity on the members of God's Church. Instead, we must strive to deal with the situation as it exists and strive to achieve the unity that we understand will take time, patience, and determination. And, finally, we should not blame God for our own propensity to be opinionated, quarrelsome, and arrogant!   

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