Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Unity of Christian Community


 
In John 10:16 Jesus said, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” The Church, while at times looking quite splintered and segmented is actually “one” community. Jesus Himself said that there are sheep who are not “of this fold,” but that he must bring them also, and they will hear His voice. These “other” sheep are gentile believers who will be grafted into the body of Christ by faith, making up the “one people” of God.

A litter later, John said in 11:51-52, “Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” John was commenting on Caiaphas’ prophecy concerning Christ. This verse reminds us of another one in John’s first letter, “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” The latter is a very close paraphrase of the former. This means there is only one people of God, one fold, one flock for whom Jesus said He would lay down His life. The word “one” points to an indivisible unity. Few things are as important in the Christian group as unity. Unfortunately, in our culture, independence is valued far more than unity and this value often finds its way into the Christian group. One of the primary functions of the Christian group is to recognize and purge values that contradict the values of the group. Independence is an American value that has no place in the body of Christ. Nothing contradicts the mature of the Triune God more than independence. Think about that. The highest American value is also the one value that represents the exact opposite of the unity of the Divine we see in the Triune God. I suggest you stop and think about this. Let this fact sink in. Ask yourself how the American value of independence has come to influence you thoughts and actions both in and outside the church.

David deSilva writes, “The Christians are explicitly instructed to treat one another as family: “Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as to a father, to younger men as brothers, to older women as mothers, to younger women as sisters—with absolute purity” (1 Tim 5:1–2). Fostering an ethos of kinship within the Christian group was a widespread technique of the group, grounded in the conviction that believers have become kin by the blood of Christ, being adopted into the one household of God as the many sons and daughters.”(1)

Christian unity is a core value of the Christian church. The bond of this unity is the Spirit of truth and its foundation is love for God and for one another.

In the great High-Priestly prayer, our Lord petitioned the Father “that they may be one even as we are.” It is clear that unity within the Christian community, the Church, was of major importance to the Son of God. When you are engaging in behavior that divides the body of Christ, you are engaging in behavior that is antithetical to the prayers of Jesus Christ Himself. Moreover, one of the things the Lord hates is one who sows discord among the brethren. Does this mean we cannot have disagreement? While it does not mean we might agree on every issue, it does have serious implications for how we react and respond to those disagreements. Moreover, it has serious implications for how we treat those with whom we disagree.

A perfect example is failure is in the area of eschatology. This area creates a lot of disagreement and unfortunately a lot of division. Those who hold to one view spend a lot of time criticizing those who hold a different view. While I am all for the hot pursuit of truth, I am very disturbed by when tiny issues morph into mountains of heated debate that result in name-calling and ill-feelings. Such behavior is not the product of godly sanctification. Rather, it is the result of pride. In some matters, we must humbly recognize that we simply do not possess enough clarity to take a dogmatic stand. It is a wicked behavior for covenant theologians and dispensational theologians to accuse one another of not preaching the true gospel. The issues are complex and the more complex the issue, the more humility we must exercise in our hermeneutic. What have we gained if we discover truth at the expense of brotherly love? Unity in the body of Christ and brotherly love are more important than whether or not one holds to covenant theology or dispensationalism.

This is not to say that we seek unity at the expense of biblical truth. We do not. Indeed, we cannot. Biblical truth is the glue that makes Christian unity possible in the first place. The “matters” that are clear are the “matters” that matter. Perspicuity is a significant doctrine here. We do not and cannot join with those who hold views that clearly run contrary to the clear teachings of Scripture. At the same time, when we make that decision to separate from someone who professes Christ because they hold to false doctrine or heresy if you will, we should do so with great care, with much prayer, and with tears. The Christian’s goal is always to unite in truth with those who have made the confession of faith in Christ. Yet, when it is clear that an individual has no interest in abandoning their heresy, the Christian must separate.

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

 



(1) David Arthur deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 212-13.
 

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