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Unity and the Christian — Eric Diaz

It has been suggested that you can bind the tails of two cats together and they will be united. While they would be joined together, there wouldn’t be unity. Likewise, there are indeed hundreds of religions and church affiliations today but God has always desired there be unity among His people.

The idea of spiritual unity presents us with the goal of being united or joined together as a whole so there are no divisions among us (1 Corinthians 1:10). Not only does God desire that Christians be united in doctrine but also in matters of judgment and in our daily work within the church. We know from reading Ephesians 4:1-6 that unity is expected because there is only one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all. If we are not one with God, we are not united with Him nor with our brethren.

Let us explore a number of ways in which we can be united and how we can contribute to this unification:

Speak The Same Thing

God desires of His children to be of the same mind when it pertains to what we believe. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth because it was reported to him that there were contentions and division within the congregation. Paul sent Timothy to remind the Corinthians to imitate Paul as he taught the same thing everywhere in every church (1 Cor. 4:17). He also encouraged them to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). It is by the authority of Jesus and the standard of His word that they should have been united.

It is no different for us today. We must be perfectly joined together as brethren in order to be pleasing to God. If we cannot agree on sound doctrinal matters then we cannot be united. There are many passages that encourage us to speak soundly in our teachings and passages that warn of those who do not (1 Cor. 1:10; Titus 2:1-15; 1 Tim. 1:3-11; 1 Tim. 6:3-5; Gal. 1:6-10; Rom. 16:17-18).

Imagine if I had a stick, passed it around a crowded room, and asked everyone to tell me exactly how long they thought it was. You might hear twenty different answers based on each individual’s perception of length. It isn’t until a ruler is introduced that all in the room can be united in their agreement of its length. The same principle can be applied to what we believe and why we believe it. Unity isn’t based upon each individual’s perception of truth but by the spiritual standard that is the Bible.

God’s Word has been recorded in a way that makes it possible for us to understand it. Paul prayed without ceasing for the brethren in Colosse that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. By being filled with His will they would continue to grow together spiritually, being partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light (Col. 1:9-14). In order to remain in the light one must fight the good fight and keep the faith (2 Tim. 4:6-8). By walking steadfastly in the light we have fellowship with God and with fellow faithful Christians, and the blood of Jesus Christ continues to cleanse us of our sins (1 John 1). May we never break a bond of fellowship that is in perfect harmony for the sake of our own desires.

Why Judge Your Brother?

An important facet regarding relationships with our brethren is not to bind our own convictions on others. There are some subjects that are matters of opinion and those who are strong must be patient with their weaker brethren. Likewise if you happen to be the weaker brother you would expect those who are more mature in the faith to be longsuffering. When we speak about matters of judgment we are talking about morally neutral topics according to the Bible but which still may affect a Christian’s conscience. In Romans 14 we read of the example that one believes he may eat all things while another eats only vegetables. If they do not judge or despise one another they will both stand because God is able to make them stand.

The type of language used describing scruples is very different than that used in matters of doctrine or salvation. In Romans 14 we read of such language: “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind,” along with, “Who are you to judge another’s servant? But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother?” In verse 13 it closes out with this statement: “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” If we are aware of a certain weaker brother’s faith we must walk in love. We are to consider our brethren and the possibility of giving up something that is not sinful of itself in order to preserve unity.

Another example of how to handle a matter of judgment can be found in 1 Corinthians 8. Concerning meat that had been sacrificed to idols, some would have violated their own conscience by eating it. There wasn’t anything inherently good or evil about eating the meat. Yet by eating the meat a more mature Christian would have sinned against the weaker brother by wounding his conscience. The attitude of Paul in this situation sums up how we are to walk in love: “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (1 Cor. 8:13).

We Be Brethren

When it comes to unity between brethren I think of what Abram said to Lot: “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren” (Gen. 13:8). I especially like the KJV rendering “…for we be brethren.” Even though they parted ways soon after this, they remained brethren and Abraham would later rescue and intercede for Lot and his family. Sometimes we forget that as children of God, we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. If we stick together we will be glorified together (Rom. 8:16-17).

Another Old Testament passage that can be applied to unity is Amos 3:3: “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” This makes me think of a three-legged race, where two people are united at the ankles and must work together to move forward. If you have ever seen or participated in one of these races you will inevitably see some awkwardly stumbling, some falling down and sometimes one will fall and the other will try to keep going. Unless there is agreement and cooperation between brethren some will walk disorderly, some will stumble and some will fall. Yet, the words of the psalmist still ring true: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

Bringing these thoughts to the New Testament, we can turn to 1 Corinthians 12 and read of the diverse members within the one body of Christ needing to be united. We are taught the importance of each individual, the necessity of the weaker members and how God composed and views the body. In verse 25 we read again that there should be no divisions within the body but all should have the same care for one another. There is no doubt that problems will arise. Yet the more time we spend with brethren in the word, the easier it will be to avoid or solve our problems. We will be united in our common faith. If one does stumble the rest will be there to encourage, to pray and to build him up on our most holy faith (Jude 1:20). While those who do fall away will feel the godly sorrow necessary to repent and return to the light. It is a wonderful thing to be unified with brethren of like precious faith by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.

The Work of the Church

There are a number of scriptures that come to mind concerning how we can properly prepare ourselves to be united in the work of the church. The very first is 2 Timothy 2:15: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” I’m also reminded of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which teaches us that the word of our living God is able to equip us for every good work. The Bible contains all that we need when it comes to being united in our work. In order for us to all be of the same mind and judgment we must be diligent in study, accurately handling the word of truth.

We must be knit together in such a way that our love for God will naturally lead to an unquenchable thirst and hunger for righteousness. Yet we must also grow together. One cannot remain on a milk-only diet while others feast upon the meat of the word. Ignorance of the scriptures can leave an individual vulnerable and we know how wolves and lions target the weak, sick and defenseless of a group. If those within the body, with Christ as the head, wear the necessary armor we will be able to stand together against the wiles of the devil (Eph. 5:23; 6:10-20).

If we can be truly united as God intended, the church will grow day by day both spiritually and numerically. We would have strong bonds and consideration for one another, stirring up love and good works. If we can be united with our brethren, in our doctrine and in matters of judgment there will be more time to carry out the work of the church. Without having to address constant dissension, discord and contention there will be more opportunities to study, to teach, to evangelize, to share the soul-saving gospel of Jesus Christ. If we can be united God will be pleased with us. We will be avoiding division and embracing unity (1 Cor. 1:10).

ericmigueldiaz@gmail.com

The Name of the Church — Hugh Fulford

On one occasion, Leonard Johnson, one of the founders of what is now Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama, was preaching in a gospel meeting in a small Alabama town.  One night he preached a sermon on the church.  In the midst of his sermon brother Johnson said, “Now within the next four to five minutes I am going to tell you everything the New Testament says about the name of the church.”  For the next four to five minutes brother Johnson was completely silent.  He did not utter a word.  Then he said, “There you have it – everything the New Testament says about the name of the church!”

Brother Johnson was absolutely right—the church, the body of people redeemed to God by the blood of Christ, does not have a proper, formal, exclusive, and patented name!  It was not and is not a denomination and does not wear a denominational designation.  Instead, the New Testament gives numerous descriptors for the church.  The church (the aggregate of all who have been saved by obedience to the gospel) is the spiritual body of Christ, of which there is but one (Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4).  It is the spiritual temple of God, being composed of living stones (Eph. 2:19-22; I Pet. 2:4-5).  It is the house (household, family) of God, with every child of God a member of it (I Tim. 3:15; Heb. 3:5-6).  It is the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Col. 1:13; cf. Acts 2:47).  Christ, in promising to build it, called in “my church” (Matt. 16:18).  A plurality of local congregations are designated as “churches of Christ” (Rom. 16:16).  At the same time, they also are described as “churches of God” (I Cor. 11:26), and the universal body of redeemed people is called the “church of God” (v. 22).  Geographically, the people of God are spoken of as the church at Jerusalem, the church of God which is at Corinth, the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, the churches of Judea, the churches of Galatia, the seven churches of Asia, etc.  Modern Catholic and Protestant names are noticeably absent from the New Testament, and came to be applied to religious groups arising this side of the New Testament!

Churches of Christ today strive to be churches of the New Testament order.  We do not profess to be a denomination.  The use of the biblical descriptor “church of Christ” is not intended as our “official, exclusive, denominational name.” Any biblical descriptor is acceptable.  However, in our sadly divided religious world, it is practical to use rather consistently a descriptor that sets forth in a scriptural way those who are pleading for a return to the undenominational church of the New Testament and who are contending for “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

Clearly, it is possible to use a biblical designation for the church in a sectarian and denominational sense and, sadly, many are doing that with the descriptor “church of Christ.”  At the same time, to use this scriptural designation does not make those using it a denomination.

Many years ago, the late Cled Wallace made some insightful observations about the “name” of the church that we would do well to consider today. He wrote: “Now I am somewhat of a stickler for calling the church anything and everything it is called in the New Testament and have said so over and over again in these and other columns . . . I am certain that the expression ‘church of Christ’ has been used in a sectarian sense, but not when it is applied to the right thing, however often it may be used.  It is misused only when it is employed to cover too little or too much or applied to something that is not it at all . . . Brethren keep me more uneasy sometimes by what they mean by it than they do by how often they say it” (Bible Banner, Volume IV, Number II, September 1941).

Let me say again: I am not Church of Christ (viewed as a denomination) in my religious affiliation.  I am not a Church of Christ (viewed as a denomination) preacher – no more so than I am a Church of God (viewed as a denomination) preacher, or a body of Christ preacher, of a kingdom of God’s dear Son preacher, or a temple of God preacher, or any of the other biblical descriptors for the people of God that may be corrupted into a denominational name or employed in a sectarian sense.  At the same time, I am a member of Christ’s church, the Lord’s church, the body of Christ, the household of God.  I can be such without being a member of any denomination.  So can anyone else.  Local churches can be churches of Christ without being a denomination.  There are many of us who are Christians only without denominational affiliation, members only of what the New Testament most frequently designates simply as “the church.”

huford@comcast.net

Editor’s Page, May/June 2013 Issue – David R. Pharr

Since death comes to all men, regardless of nationality, color, education or rank, every thoughtful person knows that, even at best, he cannot stay here very long…With the exceptions of Enoch and Elijah, the mortality rate has been the same the world over – one death per person.

Gus Nichols, 1973

 

What stand does your congregation take in regard to various moral issues that are at the forefront of American society?  Yes, I am confident that those who read this – preachers, elders, strong members – know and believe what the Bible teaches relative to abortion, homosexual conduct, gay marriage, drugs and alcohol, racism, divorce, living together outside of marriage, etc.  But the question is how firmly and how specifically is the truth being taught on such matters?  And, how confident are we that attendees and the community around us know we hold an unwavering position?

The world (and maybe some in the church) does not consider it “politically correct” to be dogmatically against things that have become acceptable to society.  The pernicious bullying tactics of the gay rights movement, for an example, seek to label any who oppose their perversions as being backward, bigoted, and hateful.  The front cover of the April 8 issue of Time magazine says:  “Gay Marriage Already Won.  The Supreme Court hasn’t made up its mind – but America has.”  Though we are persuaded that the majority of Americans do not favor gay marriage, it appears media and political bullies are being successful in suppressing opposition.  Schools teach toleration in respect to the feelings of gays, but are intolerant toward those who want to uphold their Christian convictions.  Some religious leaders have openly endorsed sodomy (though they would be offended by the frank use of the term).  The AARP website features a link favorable to gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, and transgenders (LGBT).  Situation comedies on TV portray everything turning out well for those who pursue the homosexual lifestyle.  Major retail corporations give financial support to so-called gay rights organizations.

We expect that older and mature Christians have their minds settled on this and other moral issues.  We have to be concerned, however, with what philosophies have been impressed into the minds of rising generations.  Public schools will not uphold righteousness.  It seems obvious that movies, TV, music, and the internet are the dominant forces for shaping American concepts of right and wrong.  In a culture of ever loosening standards we cannot expect children and youth to learn godly conviction by associations with their peers.  It must begin with parents.  And the church as a God-given mandate to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all longsuffering [great patience] and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2).

As the above text continues, some “will not endure sound doctrine.”  When the church takes a bold stand there will be people offended.  Some visitors will not come back.  There might be members who decide to leave.  The church may get a reputation of backwardness and bigotry.  There may be charges of “hate speech” and lawsuits.  We can even imagine protesters marching in front of our buildings.  Eventually the tax free status of churches may be taken away from those who insist on biblical morality.

Certainly our opposition should not be hateful, but it must be frank.  It is one thing to say in general that we agree with Bible teaching.  It is more to the point to present actual texts, to give the sense of what they say, and to declare that is wherein we stand.