Friday, June 12, 2015

Unity in Christ

The Psalms of Ascent speak of our pilgrimage upward in seeking the Lord. For the Israelites it was moving in unity toward Jerusalem for an annual feast and worship, as discussed in Eugene Peterson’s, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. For all Christians it is living for the Lord and seeking Him in all we do. Psalm 133 speaks of living together in unity and how the Lord views it. “It is good and pleasant when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard.” David is speaking of unity in the body. Jesus speaks of unity in John 17:23, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” It is unity through Christ that gives us power and through which our love for one another grows.

The Psalmist in Ps 133 ends with “For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forever.” He is speaking of unity in the body. This unity is a theme or thread throughout all Scripture, albeit a very difficult one to be taken by faithful believers.

Paul speaks of it in Romans 15:5-7,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 heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

Paul teaches in Ephesians 4:3, Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit- just as you were called  to one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  He goes on to speak of how God gave each of us gifts to use for the edification of the body to serve one another and build each other up, “until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”  This is a clear teaching that we are to grow together and not apart in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul’s final teaching on the subject was to the Colossians where there was a spirit or teaching of Gnosticism. This false teaching on human wisdom and secret knowledge included that Jesus Christ could not have been fully God and man, because God is so holy that he would not lower himself to come to earth.  Paul preached the supremacy of Christ was preached even referring to the mystery of the Godhead and Christ. “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given the fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.”  This is our unity, in Christ.

So today we must decide whom we will serve.  In Joshua we read of how Israel’s leader admonishes his people, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshipped…then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14,15).  This scripture and covenant that Joshua was forming with the people, as God has made with us, stands forever.  Yet through the millennia man has gone his own way and so has the body of Christ. Today we have over 3000 separate protestant denominations. In my opinion, as I heard a prominent Bible teacher say recently, this is an insult to God.  God wants one holy catholic church, as the Apostle’s Creed reads. This is one universal or united church of Christ. Our faith is in and of God in Christ our head. Man has added or redefined scripture. Religion is of man; relationship with Christ is of God. God has made clear that nothing should be added or subtracted from his Word, the Bible. Jesus through Matthew spoke, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men” (Matt 15:7-9). In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, John says, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophesy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophesy, God will take away from him his share of the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”  Paul teaches about Scripture to Timothy saying,  All Scripture is God- breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

So where do we go with this?  I believe that in these last days, God is saying, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  He is the Head so come together under his authority. Although; it seems that discussions of unity lead to disunity.  In John 17 Jesus admonishes us that just as He and the Father are one that we may be brought to complete unity in Him. This is a model for us. We are the bride of Christ and should live in such unity. What are we representing, our denomination, or Christ?  Many believers present that there is no antagonism between believers. I personally have experienced disunity even in serving a church as a Pastor. Even though my ordination supposedly was in communion with a certain denomination, I was not allowed to serve in some categories, such as leading Holy Communion.  Fortunately, this fact has helped me in that I was not required to accept all of the denominations doctrine, which now I believe are outside the will and word of God.

Therein lies a problem. Churches and denominations differ beyond Christian faith on doctrine, governance, structure, form and function of ministries.  Back in the Reformation a major split occurred on the question of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper. Churches have split on questions of  missions, social or international problems and neglecting of evangelism.  The ecumenical movement of denominational unity or merger would struggle around issues of defining church membership and the question of who is a heretic.  How would checks and balances be handled?

 So how do we proceed? Millard Erickson, author of ChristianTheology, gives some guidance.  1. Realize that the church of Jesus Christ is one church as all are related to one Savior and Lord as part of one spiritual body (1 Cor. 12:13).
2. Spiritual unity of believers should show itself in goodwill, fellowship, and love of one another. 3. Christians of all types should work together whenever possible in common witness to the world. 4. It is important to delineate carefully the doctrinal basis and objectives of fellowship, and it is difficult to do this if evangelism is not part of the goal. 5. We must guard against spirituality not being vital. 6. Conservative doctrine or witness should not be abandoned, keeping convictions and principles intact. 7. In disagreeing, it is essential that we keep the spirit of love, seeking to persuade others of truth in love.

It seems that much of the ecumenical movement lost its zeal toward the end of the 20th century. However, certain efforts like Promise Keepers and Billy Graham crusades as well as disaster responses like for hurricane Katrina seem to not be denominational in effort.  This speaks well of the church, as Satan would want to divide and conquer our efforts for Christ in our neighborhoods, and around the world.  We must continue to seek unity in the Spirit through God's perfect Word. Keep looking up for your redemption draws near.

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