Unity for Christ’s sake

Once again, the comments section on this blog is proving to be the most enlightening part. If you haven’t had a chance to do so, read over the comments from Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s posts. Lots of good, insightful discussion.

I’ve heard it said that David Lipscomb taught that it was a sin for a member of the churches of Christ not to attend the congregation closest to his home. (That would make sinners out of a lot of people in Abilene!) I see some merit in the idea. I think we’ve been too quick to find a congregation that fits our tastes rather than pausing to see if God is trying to shape our views through the people around us.

That’s a hard one for me to do, yet I fully believe that the Bible is to be interpreted in community. We tend to be very individualistic with our faith, be it concerning our salvation or be it about our beliefs. The Hebrew mindset was much more community oriented.

I’m not arguing for unity for unity’s sake. I’m arguing for unity for Christ’s sake. For the good of the body. Yes, there are critical issues on which we much agree, but none of these critical issues allows us to leave love by the wayside. (just ask the Ephesian church addressed in Revelation 2!) There will be extreme moments where separation is the only answer, but these should be few and far between.

In the United States, we often have the luxury of being able to leave one group to find another where we are more comfortable. I’m not sure that luxury has served the body well. I’m wondering if we wouldn’t do better if we were forced to try and work through our differences in love, forced to find reconciliation and restoration. In places where there are no alternatives, Christians are forced to stay together and learn to get along.

I’m largely preaching to me here, reminding myself of things that should never have been forgotten. When I get full of myself, believing that I have all the answers and that my way is the right way, I need to remember that those hard-headed, closed-minded people are the temple of the Holy Spirit. And maybe, just maybe, God has something to tell me through them.

(Any resemblance to persons now living or dead is purely coincidental)

2 thoughts on “Unity for Christ’s sake

  1. Tim, you wrote: “In places where there are no alternatives, Christians are forced to stay together and learn to get along.”

    This is true, but not in all cases. I definitely understand the case of loving each other. One cannot read 1 John (for example) without being smacked in the face with this truth. Love for our fellow brothers is high on the list of what is to be in the church. (Even to the threat of condemnation for those who do not act in this way.) Absolutely.

    But what we also have is what we find in the New Testament regarding other understandings of unity. Most of the early church was under some kind of persecution; and some churches more than others. As we read the letters of Paul and Peter, for example, what can be learned about what was important enough to end fellowship over, even for a people who had “no alternatives” and where staying united was vital? The answers range from unrepentant moral deviants to false teachers. For one example, Paul believed the theology over justification by faith was so important that he said anybody teaching a Gospel that added to the work of Christ for one to be found right with God should be thrown out of the church. I don’t see anybody being thrown out for drinking multiple cups or playing music or whatever else we find reason to split over – ridiculous as they may be (though I do understand this is an argument from silence and that different issues arise in time). It seems to be, though, that our splitting over what I would call debatable issues shows how spoiled we have become.

    Because what I find interesting is that what these small, persecuted church bodies in the NT did unite over were certain close-fisted theological positions. The would die for these things. And when they were instructed to toss people out (read: divide) it was FOR the sake of unity, and FOR the cause of love, and not the other way around. Division does not always act contrary to love or unity. So as I opined in the other post; what we believe about God and Christ seem to be the most important factors regarding unity (at least from what we read in the NT churches). I hope I’m making sense. :)

  2. So last night in our small group we read through the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.1-11. That is a story that often goes overlooked in unity discussions. I struggle with the story but here are some thoughts it makes me wrestle with (hint: I’m thinking out-loud)…

    In his commentary on Acts, Luke Timothy Johnson suggests that the sin committed was not just the lie and selfish act but that the underlying issue was that the choice made by Ananias and Sapphira was an act against what God was trying to accomplish in the name of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, God is trying to redemptively bring about a new humanity/community in Christ by the Spirit. Ananias and Sapphira we’re destroying that. And we see just how much God placed “preserving the relationship” over his mission…Ananias and Sapphira died.

    So what am I getting at. I believe the mission of God – in the name of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit (hence our baptism (Acts 2.38) into a new life that is lived as witness -ought to be that which drives every church. Yet some churches will concede the mission of God to members threatening to leave if a decision for the mission of God is made/continues to be pursued. The ‘keeping everyone happy’ becomes the mission. But God seemed to be able to see the bigger picture and understood that removing Ananias and Sapphira was the only option necessary to preserve his mission among his people at the time.

    Could it be that after church leaders have prayerfully and prudently discerned that participating in the mission of God necessitates making a decision to do X and a certain church member(s) says they will leave if X is done, could it be that their leaving is God’s way of removing someone so that the remaining body of believers can continue on participating in his mission? To draw on another metaphor, could it be that God is just pruning the vine of those branches that do not bear fruit (cf. John 15.1-8)

    Again, I’m just thinking outloud but I have seen too many churches where the mission of God has been conceded to a few very vocal minority voices who paralyze the church from living out its calling just so that the church can maintain “peace”.

    Grace and Peace,

    Rex

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