Tag Archives: unity

“Is Christ Divided?” — Victor M. Eskew

Is Christ divided? Those who know their Bibles would answer in the negative. They will boldly affirm: “No, Christ is not divided.” However, the actual practice of some proves they do not really believe this answer. Their practice affirms that they believe Christ is divided. Those who embrace the concept of denominationalism want us to believe that the Christ is divided. He is divided in many sectarian groups: Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Pentecostals, Amish, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Assemblies of God, Mormons, Mennonites, Nazarenes, Lutherans, Independent Christian Churches, Disciples of Christ, Church of God, and a host of other religious groups. All of these groups, we are told, belong to Christ. All of them are separate from one another in name, doctrine, worship and works. Thus, Christ is divided according to those who hold to denominationalism.

The question that entitles our article is found in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians. The apostle Paul was addressing a group of Christians who were divided under one roof. He writes: “For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ” (1 Cor. 1:11-12). Immediately after addressing this divided church, Paul asks: “Is Christ divided?” The question is rhetorical. It answers itself. Is Christ divided? The answer is a simple and bold: “No.” If Christ is not divided, then why were the Corinthians dividing themselves by the names of various men? It was a stern rebuke to the division that existed in this first century church. Paul would ask those in what is referred to as Christendom the same question. “Is Christ divided?” The answer is: “No.” Then why are all those who claim to be disciples of Christ so divided?

Some try to rationalize that we are not divided. “We all believe in the same Jesus Christ,” they say. “We are all going to the same place,” we are told. “We have unity in diversity,” they proclaim. Dear reader, our doctrines are different. The manner in which we worship is different. The practice of our Christianity is different. Our “interpretations” of God’s Word are radically different. This is not unity. In 1 Corinthians 1:10, Paul writes: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” Five times Paul calls for unity in this one verse. Notice the words that he uses: “speak the same thing,” “no divisions among you,” “perfectly joined together,” “the same mind,” and “the same judgment.” God never intended for there to be different religious groups on every corner, calling themselves by different names, teaching different doctrines, and engaging in different religious practices. Christ is not divided!

Sadly, some within the precious church of Christ have not learned this lesson. We are divided in many different groups today: conservative vs liberal, young vs old, traditional vs contemporary, black vs white vs Spanish, one school vs another school, institutional vs non-institutional, and on the list could go. Again, this is not what our Lord intended among His people. In His high priestly prayer in John 17:20-23, Jesus prayed for oneness among believers. “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou has loved me.” The word “one” is extremely powerful. Jesus likened it unto the oneness that exists between Him and the Father. Would you say that is a perfect oneness? That is what He desires for His disciples. “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee…”

On a more personal level, divisions often happen within single congregations. Sometimes it is one family versus another family. Sometimes it is one portion of the eldership against another portion of the eldership. It may be that a segment of the church locks horns with the entire eldership creating a riff in the church. The division can be between the preacher and the elders. Churches have been divided between the young and the old. One church can be split between those who are conservative and those who are liberal. Various ethnic groups can be divided under one roof. The church can be divided over mission works, various preachers, different Christian publications, and various works in which the church is involved. This is not the way Paul taught the first century church of Philippi to be. To them he wrote: “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27).

My friends, the religious world has a long way to go with regard to unity. Our brotherhood has a long way to go as well. In addition, some churches have a lot to work out in the area of oneness. As churches address this issue, they need to constantly ask themselves the question: “Is Christ divided?” The answer will ring clearly in their minds: “No, Christ is not divided!” Let us close with the words of Paul to the church at Ephesus: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above, and through all, and in you all” (Eph. 4:1-6, emp. mine).

Victor preaches for the Oceanside congregation in Atlantic Beach, FL.

The Relationship Between Love And Unity — David Bragg

Many people in the Lord’s church today have a presence on Facebook and other social media. It can be a helpful way of keeping in touch with friends, literal, and “friends” of a less personal nature (they have no interaction outside of the online community). Part of our online presence is, on Facebook at least, often summed up in a single word: single, engaged, married, separated, divorced. One of the relationship options is “widowed.” That single word, according to an article dated December 29, 2017 on Daytona Beach News-Journal Online, raised the suspicions of Florida authorities leading to the eventual charges against a man accusing him of attempting to murder his pregnant wife.1

There were other clues. Among them, according to reports, the 32-year-old man warned his estranged wife to not allow a child to touch the knob on her front door. When his wife mentioned this odd request to her step-father, he went over to her house to investigate. After looking over the scene the woman’s step-father contacted police who discovered a battery charger connected to the inside knob of the front door in such a way that to insert a key into the lock would complete the electrical circuit sending a shock through the person seeking to unlock the door and enter the home. Another hint: the accused had changed his Facebook status to “widowed.”

Relationships are important, especially when it comes to Christian fellowship. Healthy, scriptural fellowship in all its various facets is the result of the careful balance of two vital traits that lays at the heart of New Testament Christianity: love and unity. This precarious balance can be clearly seen in John’s portrait of Jesus. In John’s gospel account, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7 and 21:20) provides his readers with a unique look into Jesus as He interacts with His disciples on a level not pictured in the synoptic Gospels. John describes in depth Christ’s words to the chosen twelve on His final night with them prior to His arrest and execution. Part of that final conversation included Jesus’ prayer. High among the thoughts occupying the Lord’s mind on this agonizing night was the idea of unity (John 17:20-26). It is vital to keep in mind that in this portion of Jesus’ prayer, our Lord was praying for us, the then future Christians who “will believe in Me through [the apostles’] word” (John 17:20). What we learn from Jesus is crucial in establishing and maintaining fellowship.

Love for Christ produces unity. As Jesus’ thoughts progress in His betrayal night prayer from the chosen twelve to the multitude of yet unborn believers it becomes clear that the unity of this body will rest in their mutually shared love for Christ. The very basis for a single body of believers stretching across the centuries is their love for and obedience to Jesus Christ. Listen to His words: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:20). It is the mutually shared faith in Jesus as the Christ, the God ordained Savior and the God appointed Head of the one true New Testament church that provides the very basis of our unity in the church of Christ.

Jesus prayed specifically “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us” (John 17:4). That same love which eternally exists between the divine Father and Son must also exist between believer and Lord (14:15 and 15:14). It is on this very basis that unity among believers of this common faith is possible: “that they may be one just as We are one” (17:22).

Love for the truth protects unity. The events of the closing chapters after Jesus’ prayer for unity (John 17) move quickly. In just the next chapter Jesus is betrayed and arrested, brought before Annas (a former yet still influential High Priest; 18:13), denied by Peter, taken before the current High Priest Caiaphas (18:24) and then He was finally brought before the Roman Governor, Pilate (18:28). Forced to hear the case against Jesus (John 18:29-32), the reluctant judge questions Him. “Are You the King of the Jews?” (18:33) “My kingdom is not of this world” (18:36). “Are You a king then?” (18:37) This last question prompts this response: “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (18:37).

It was this final declaration that elicited the infamous response by Pilate, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) We know the truth to which Christ referred. In fact, it is that “truth” which protects the church from the eroding influence of division. We have that truth preserved for us in the inspired New Testament (“Your word is truth” —17:17). This powerful Word of God protects the body of believers by laying down the boundaries of the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42). Preserving our unity in Christ goes hand in hand with keeping or obeying God’s Word (John 17:4).

Love for our brethren preserves unity. The preserving effect of love is powerfully declared by Jesus as He concluded His prayer in John 17:26: “that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” When the church’s fellowship is infused with a love “like” God, the love of Christ will sweeten that fellowship. However, when that fellowship is broken we can be assured that someone’s love for God has faltered. A failure to love God, His Son, and the inspired Word of God is certain to create the fissures of division of which Jesus, who prayed that we be one (John 17:21), and Paul, who condemned division in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 1:10), warned.

Love is indispensable to unity. Unity is impossible without love. Yet when these two qualities are properly balanced fellowship is enriched and God is glorified. Maintaining that balance is crucial in our efforts to evangelize. In His prayer, just hours away from the cross (John 17:4), Jesus emphasized the opportunities for outreach, evangelism, love and unity will create (“that the world may believe that You sent Me” — 17:21; cf. 17:23).

On May 11, 1811 twin sons were born in Meklong, Siam. These were no ordinary twins. The brothers were tightly joined together as few brothers could experience. They were literally connected at the chest by a narrow band of flesh. Coming to America in their late teens, the brothers, whose original birth names are lost to history, toured North America as Chang and Eng Bunker (Chang was the Chinese word for “left” and Eng meant “right”)2 and would become known as the original “Siamese twins.”

After touring for years with P. T. Barnum, the brothers met and married sisters in Wilkes County, North Carolina, where they would retire and raise large families. Although the brothers sought to be surgically separated, their wives were opposed to the idea and convinced the brothers to not undergo the surgery.

The families eventually settled in Surry County, NC. Chang became addicted to alcohol and, in early January 1874 contracted pneumonia. On the night of January 17, 1874, Eng awoke to find his brother dead. There are conflicting stories about what happened next. According to one account the family summoned a doctor to the farm to perform an emergency surgery to separate the brothers. But by the time the doctor arrived Eng had died. Another account claimed that Eng refused the families’ pleas to be separated and, knowing death was quickly approaching, stood vigil next to his brother’s corpse until he died three hours later. The brothers are buried in the White Plains Baptist Church cemetery near Mount Airy, NC.3

Regardless of which account squares with the truth, the reality is that on that January night one thing was clear to everyone involved, the death of Chang Bunker was a death sentence to Eng Bunker. While he remained connected to his twin brother it was certain that Eng could not continue living. The same thing is true regarding the relationship between love and unity within the New Testament church. They are inseparable. The death of one spells certain death for the other.

Dave serves on the board of directors for the Carolina Messenger.

1 Seth Robbins, Palm Coast man rigs door to electrocute pregnant wife, deputies say, Daytona Beach News-Journal Online, Dec 29, 2017.
2 Chang Chun Bunker, Eng Chun Bunker, http://www.geni.com, Burbank, CA. The information used in this article is not endorsed by or affiliated with Geni.

3 Eng and Chang Bunker, The Original Siamese Twins, Surry Arts Council, Mount Airy NC, 2018; http://surryarts.org/siamesetwins/index.html

Christianity and Conflict Resolution — Roger L. Leonard

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!  It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes.  It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever” (Ps. 133, NASB).

I will sadly add the words, “Behold, how ugly and how unpleasant it is for brothers to be divided due to conflict!”

People do have conflict. Christians have conflict. It is a part of life. Sometimes it is due to mere misunderstandings and easily settled, so life goes on. At times is it can be healthy and good because matters can be clarified and sins can be forgiven.  Sometimes, however, it is unresolved and continues in cycles of verbal and physical abuse. Unresolved conflict can cause divorce. Christians can have conflict and never settle their differences. Christians and churches can separate from one another. It can cause unbelievers to avoid the church and weaker saints to forsake the Lord.  Conflict can even end with murder. Worst of all, people can be lost in eternity over it. Are there no answers? No resolutions?  Yes, there are.

The Old Testament records examples of conflict.  Cain killed his brother, Abel (Gen. 4:8-10).  Sarai had conflict with Hagar (Gen. 16).  Jacob and Esau had conflict (Gen. 27).  Joseph and his brothers had conflict (Gen. 37).  In a mere two chapters — 1 Samuel 18 and 18 — Saul tried to kill David at least twelve times!

The New Testament also records examples of conflict.  Jesus had conflict with the Pharisees over several issues.  The Lord’s disciples had conflict over a power position in the kingdom (Lk. 22:24ff).  Stephen faced conflict for being truthful and direct in his message (Acts 7).  The Christians in Corinth had conflict over spiritual leaders, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, and more.  Euodia and Syntyche had conflict (Phil. 4:2).  Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark had conflict (Acts 15:37-40).  Diotrophes caused conflict by seeking to be first, making unjust accusations, and turning good men away (3 John).

The Scriptures also give us examples of resolutions.  Jacob and Esau finally made up after Jacob’s deception.  They wept, Jacob offered gifts, and they peacefully went separate ways (Gen. 33).  Joseph forgave his brothers for selling him as a slave, fed them during a famine, and eased the heart of his grieving father, Israel (Gen. 42-50).  Eventually the Lord’s disputing disciples became apostles and served Him until their deaths.  Although we don’t know how, Paul and John Mark worked out their differences and Paul found him useful (2 Tim. 4:11).

What Is The Lord’s Plan For Unity In The Church?  How About Conflict Prevention?

Consider the Lord’s prayer in John 17.  He prayed that His disciples would be one and at peace in several ways.

“Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one as We are” (v. 11).  The Lord repeats this plea for oneness in verse 23, with a special emphasis on their behavior so positively affecting the world that it would believe the Father had sent Him.

He prayed, “…that they may have My joy made full in themselves” (v. 13).  He wants His people to be spiritually joyful!

He prayed that the Father would not “take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (v. 15).

Finally, Jesus said, “…I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (v. 26).

We should carefully examine the key points Jesus made and understand how this oneness can prevent conflict.  Note especially verse 26 and the love that exists between the Heavenly Father and the Son!  These petitions do not mean that Christians will never have conflict, and Jesus knew that.  They do mean that our first and foremost desire should be the same as His: seek the oneness that He and the Father had for which He fervently prayed.

How Are Conflicts Supposed To Be Resolved?

Conflict, disunity, and divisions arise from two approaches:

  1. I want my way. It is all about me and what I want.
  2. Not seeking God’s will to promote unity or prevent strife and division.

When unity is broken, the only way to repair it is by using the Scriptures.

Consider Matthew 18:15.  Break down the verse and you’ll see a pattern emerge:

If — Situation.  There must be certainty.

Your brother— Connection.  Someone in Christ.

Sins— Infraction.  A violation of God’s will (cf. 1 John 3:4).

Go and tell him his fault — Confrontation.  The charge needs to be made clear and explained.  Clarify.  Get everything out in the open.

Between you and him alone— Condition.  This is to be dealt with privately.  (Unfortunately, this is not the usual pattern.  Brothers will tell everyone except the one with whom they had the problem.  That is a sin!  Neither does it resolve the conflict.)

If he hears you— Contrition and confession.

You have gained him— Communion.

Jesus illustrated the contrite heart in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Lk. 18:10-14).  The humble repentance which God desires is contrasted with self-righteousness.  The eloquent prayer of the proud Pharisee did not reach the heart of God, but the humble cry of the repentant sinner did and brought about his forgiveness.  They both needed mercy, but only the contrite heart was in a position to receive it.

Now consider Matthew 5:21-24.  As used in this passage, Mounce’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words defines “angry” as a sustained anger.  “Raca” means “good for nothing; empty-headed; stupid” and “fool” means “moron; one without reason; morally worthless.”  One of the reasons conflicts are often unresolved is because people do not have a Christ-like attitude toward others.  Like the Pharisee, they look down on them and speak evil words, even calling them names.

There are those in the kingdom who are always in conflict with others and love to fuss!  In Luke 22:24, “dispute” is a compound Greek word, “philoneikia,” which accourding to Mounce means “a love of contention; rivalry, contention.”  How are conflicts often handled?  Quite often they are not dealt with at all.  If they are dealt with, oftentimes they are not done so biblically.

In an article titled “Animal Instincts” published in Leadership, authors Norman Shawchuck and Robert Moeller identified “a variety of conflict management styles” and shared what “psychologists…labeled” as “responses with animal names: sharks (“I win; you lose”), foxes (“Everyone wins a little and loses a little”), turtles (“I withdraw”), teddy bears (“I’ll lose so you can win”), and owls (“Let’s find a way for everyone to win.”).

The personality types and approaches were described as follows:

The Sharks.  “Sharks tend to be domineering, aggressive, and open to any solution as long as it’s the one they want.  Sharks use whatever it takes to prevail: persuasion, intimidation, power plays.  Sharks don’t always appear menacing and may even possess a quiet demeanor, but make no mistake — they play to win, even if others lose.”

This attitude is diametrically opposed to seeking God’s way and a fellow saint’s good.  The “shark” needs to look at the humility of Jesus, who had all power and yet submitted to the will of God (Phil. 2:6-11).

The Fox.  The “wily fox” represents someone who makes an “attempt to help everyone win-a-little, lose-a-little.”  The desire is for compromise to keep everyone from “breaking apart.”  And while “their primary interest is the common good, if people don’t immediately respond to their bargain they aren’t above arm-twisting and manipulation to impose an agreement” to resolve the conflict.  The fox seeks ways and means to get conflicting “parties to accept” their “solution.”  The problem with this is that “the problem will emerge again later in a different form.”  Compromise does not “address the underlying issues” which will “eventually re-emerge.”

Furthermore, no solution should compromise God’s truth nor leave sinful issues unsettled.  It is wrong to manipulate people (2 Cor. 4:2).

The Turtles.  “The turtles are so frightened by conflict that they pull into their shell.”  This reaction could be the result of abuse or a home where children were not allowed to voice their feelings in conflicting situations.

That said, the turtle reaction could also be the result of pent up anger or repressed feelings.  So the withdrawal approach can be counterproductive to remedying the conflict, because people can and do hold on to bitterness or anger for years.  Paul instructed to not “let the sun go down on your wrath” (Eph. 4:26); that is, deal with it quickly.  There are times when people need to speak up, even when it is uncomfortable or fearful to do so.  Often people are afraid to do what Jesus said in Matthew 18:15.  That’s fine if the offended can let it go.  Stephen did so (Acts 7:60).  Yet if one cannot let it go, fear has to be overcome and a meeting or confrontation must occur.

The Teddy Bear.  Described as “cuddly and accommodating,” the teddy bear “is typical of the most lovable creature in the conflict management menagerie.”  “In a threatening situation, teddy bears readily surrender their own interests to accommodate the disagreeing party” and “will maintain peace at almost any price.”  The article concluded that while there is value in surrendering selfish goals in pursuit of peace (Phil. 2:3ff), the downside is that relationships should not override the settling of legitimate issues.

The loving thing to do is solve problems God’s way.  Paul urged Euodia and Syntyche “to live in harmony in the Lord(Phil. 4:2, emp. added).  He obviously realized that the conflict was known by and affecting the church.  He expected the dispute to be resolved, and not to just have them give one another a hug and move on.

The Owl.  The “Collaborative Owl” will “‘co-labor’ with all parties until they arrive at a mutually satisfying solution.”  They “see disputes as opportunities to strengthen…not destroy.”  This fits the “spiritual” ones described in Galatians 6:1-2.  These Christians seek to help others who are overtaken in any sin.  The owls could also be the ones who would go with an offended brother (Matt. 18:16) with a goal to help resolve the conflict.  The wise owls will seek God’s wisdom and not take sides with anyone but the Lord!

Brethren Must Settle Their Differences God’s Way…But Often They Do Not

Jesus made it clear that further actions must take place if brothers cannot reconcile alone (Matt. 18:16ff).  Ultimately, a withdrawal by the church is commanded by the Lord if there is no repentance by the sinning offender.

Some brethren see this as optional — at least in practice — because they will not do it.  Yet the same Lord who commanded Mark 16:16 commanded this.


Those “who cause divisions (are) worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 19).  Solomon wrote, “Through insolence comes nothing but strife, but wisdom is with those who receive counsel” (Prov. 13:10).  Some brethren need to receive counsel and repent.  Some are able to give it.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9).

Roger and his wife Alisa live in Valdosta, GA.  He preaches for the Adel Church of Christ in Adel, GA.


Norman Shawchuck and Robert Moeller. “Animal Instincts: Five ways church members will react in a fight.” Leadership, Vol. XIV. Number 1 (Winter 1993): Pp. 43-44.

William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.


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).


Efforts To Unify The Christian Church and Churches of Christ – Melvin Sapp

The church is a spiritual body of baptized believers who unite under the authority of Jesus Christ and his New Testament. This glorious body was in the mind of God the Father from eternity to contain the redeemed through the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:8-11). The church is the house of God that was prophesied by Isaiah 700 years before its establishment upon the earth (Isa. 2:2-3) and was promised by Jesus (Matt. 16:13-19). Jesus built his church as promised and on Pentecost of 33 A.D. the terms of entrance were proclaimed to Jews gathered from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:1-5, 36-38). The gospel was preached to Jews first, then to the Gentiles and everybody were united in one body of Christ (Acts 13:42-48; I Cor. 12:12-14; Eph. 4:3-6; Gal. 3:26-28).

The church has gone through several apostasies and divisions over the centuries. Men in positions of leadership would introduce ideas and proposals that are of human origin and that conflict with the New Testament of Jesus Christ (Acts 20:28-32). One division that occurred in the 1800s was over the Missionary Society, mechanical Instruments of music and men fighting in the Civil War.

The first of these controversies was the Missionary Society. “Cooperation Meetings” were advocated for in the Millenial Harbinger by Alexander Campbell in 1831-32. The intent was to cooperate in supporting local evangelist where financial support was lacking. Walter Scott, Jacob Creath, Jr., Tolbert Fanning and others opposed these meetings as unscriptural and that the New Testament had ordained elders to oversee the work of evangelism, not a separate society. The Missionary Society was never fully accepted by the church but was tolerated as brethren differed on the subject.

The Civil War (1861-1865) pitted the Northern brethren against the Southern brethren as it required taking up arms against one another. The South seceded from the Union when Abraham Lincoln became president over fear of abolishing slavery, taxes and state’s rights. Many popular preachers taught that it was sin to fight in the military and others leaned on patriotism as justification for taking up arms. This farther divided the brethren as many from the North also supported the Missionary Society.

During the same time mechanical instruments of music were introduced at Midway, Kentucky by L.L. Pinkerton using a small melodeon in 1860. The instrument was being defended on the grounds of “expediency” to improve the singing. J.W. McGarvey, Moses Lard, Benjamin Franklin, David Lipscomb and others opposed their use in the worship of the church. Most of the churches that used the instruments were in the North and the combination of these forces brought a division what would later be recognized as two separate bodies, the Christian Church and the Churches of Christ.

In the 1900’s these bodies have grown even farther apart. Most Christian churches still support the various societies, use mechanical instruments of music, and have preachers who serve as “pastors” and wear the title “Reverend.” Women are ordained as preachers and serve in other positions of leadership in various organizations. In the latter part of the 1900’s unity summits were held in various places seeking to unite the Christian Church with the Churches of Christ. Most of these meeting brethren were invited who were willing to compromise on matters of faith for union. They treated matters of faith as if they were matters of opinion. The instrument was accepted as an opinion and those who opposed it were called legalist. Faithful brethren were willing to use the New Testament as our faith and pattern to determine fellowship based on truth (Rom. 10:17; Jno. 8:31-32). In matters of expediency, freedom is allowed as long as it is supported by a generic command. Those who have departed from the doctrine of Christ are encouraged to return for unity sake (II Jno. 9-11).

How has a desire for unity negatively affected the Churches of Christ in the area of evangelism?

Those who sought unity were willing to compromise on the fundamental teachings of the New Testament. Compromise seeks growth by union or by absorption. Union would bring congregations into our number without having to evangelize the “unchurched.” If union was accepted between the Christian Church and the Churches of Christ, compromises will have to be made on societies, instrumental music, women preachers, fellowshipping with denominations and organizations that are set up to do the work of the church. The Churches of Christ would look more like the Christian Church than vice versa. If we can fellowship the Christian Church with all of its innovations and perversions, why can’t we seek unity among denominations that have as many innovations? The Christian Church looks more like many of the mainstream denominations than it looks like mainstream Churches of Christ.

Another effect of the desire for unity with the Christian Church is the failure of many to recognize the saved from the lost. Jesus said that it is not enough to be religious, but one must be right (Mat. 7:21-23). Many who are religious are not doing the Father’s will, but what they want to do. Yet, Jesus will refuse to claim at the judgment those who have twisted, altered, perverted or changed the will of the Father. Paul exhorts us to prove all things before accepting them as doctrine and practice (I Thess. 5:21). The apostle John charges us to test, examine, scrutinize and try everyone who teaches the word of God (I Jno. 4:1). If we fail to see those outside the Lord’s church as lost, there will be no motivation or interest in doing evangelism. If God is going to tolerate the religious errors of the Christian Church, why would he not overlook the errors of the denominations?

We don’t have to be self-righteous or insulting to those who are lost, but we are commissioned to go to them and preach the gospel unto them (Mk. 16:15-16). Paul felt the urgent need to preach the gospel to the Jews who were religious, but ignorant of God’s righteousness (Rom. 10:1-3). He was just as eager to preach the gospel to the Gentiles as well (Rom. 1:14-16). Let us not allow compromise or apathy to hinder us from carrying out the “Great Commission” (Mat. 28:18-20)!

Melvin Sapp is the minister and an elder for the Kingsbury Road Church of Christ in Sumter, SC.  He is also Director of the Central Carolina School of Preaching.

The Challenge To Grow A Church – Brock Shanks

In the first century, multitudes of people abandoned their lives of sin and wickedness and obeyed the New Testament pattern (Acts 2:36-42; 4:1-4; 5:12-16).  Today, the absolute necessity of teaching the same redeeming power of the gospel to every accountable person is just as urgent.  Are we preaching the same pure gospel that the apostles preached?  If we are abiding by Galatians 1:6-9, the answer would be yes.  The seed of the kingdom is still the Word of God, and the soil upon which the seed is sown is still the hearts of men (Luke 8:4-15).  Has the seed lost its potency?  Absolutely not (1 Pet. 1:22-25).  In order for results to occur we must, therefore, get the seed upon the soil and plant the Word of God in the hearts of men in the most effective way possible.  In view of the ongoing challenges facing the growth of the local church, our methods of evangelism must never grow stale or become ineffective.  If our methods are not effective, we must prayerfully and properly examine ourselves and find the most expedient manner of fulfilling our obligation to evangelize.

When considering all of the aspects and prospects of evangelism, no expedient method, person, or group of people can be excluded.  Effective evangelism must occur in places other than within the walls of our building.  More often than not, the majority of the families living in the houses surrounding our buildings are lost.  We need to visit them in their homes and encourage them to attend our services.  Door knocking is still an effective method of evangelism.  We must never doubt the battle-tested ways of former years (Jer. 6:16; Acts 5:42).  We might be pleasantly surprised at the effectiveness of a well-organized summer afternoon spent knocking on doors and setting up Bible studies in our local communities.  Different methods of evangelism can indeed help the small local church to grow.  However, we must always be diligent and prayerful in our endeavors.  We must be steadfast in asking our Father in Heaven to help us in our evangelistic efforts (James 4:2).  We must realize that faithful prayers alone cannot take the place of obedient action coupled with a spirit of humility (James 2:26; Luke 17:10).

With these thoughts in mind, let us consider the following four different methods of evangelism that should aid in the growth of small local congregations of the Lord’s people:

  1. Restoring our wayward brethren is one method of evangelism in which the small local church can grow.  The word “evangelize” simply means to announce the good news to another.  The good news to our erring brethren is that they no longer have to continue in their terrible state of rebellion.  There is hope if they repent and confess their error (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9).  Some wayward members of the church have been away so long they may not even remember why they stopped attending.  Others never forget past mistakes, nor allow anyone else to forget.  We need to take the time to patiently explore the matter and continue seeking the proper avenues of correction.  Was their departure due to a former preacher’s poorly worded sermon, or feelings of apparent neglect from the leadership, or possibly financial stress?  Perhaps there was no particular reason at all.  Regardless of the circumstances, these individuals are souls that are lost and need to abide in the doctrine of Christ in order to have fellowship with God (1 John 1:3; 2 John 9).  They have obeyed the first principles of the gospel and need to be restored to the fold (Gal. 6:1-2).  Therefore, we must evangelize our erring brethren.
  2. Equipping our faithful brethren with the whole armor of God is a second method of evangelism in which the small local church can grow.  Every aspect of the armor of God is in reference to understanding and implementing the gospel of Christ (Eph. 6:10-18).  The good news directed toward our faithful brethren is that, when properly equipped, they can accomplish greater things for the Lord in His kingdom than they ever thought possible.  Can we grasp the concept of an entire congregation of the Lord’s people in which every member is prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in them with meekness and fear (1 Pet. 3:15)?  Imagine the difference that would make in our workplaces.  Instead of being unprepared to answer the denominational and worldly quibbles, we would be ready to calmly and patiently discuss and refute any and every Bible topic without hesitation.  Great are the opportunities for evangelism in the workplaces of well taught members of the church.
  3. Advertising all upcoming events taking place at the building is a third method of evangelism in which the small local church can grow.  We generally send our gospel meeting flyers to the congregations in the (somewhat) surrounding area, and yet fail to place flyers in our local businesses.  Although we love for our brethren to attend our meetings, our hearts would rejoice to have just as many or even more visitors from our local communities.  We pray that the day and hour has not come in which we have gospel meetings only out of habit and not due to a sincere desire of seeing souls snatched out of the fire (Jude 22-23).  Adequate advertising in the local community can be a greater asset than we believe.  This is an excellent opportunity for some lost soul to see a welcome invitation to hear sound doctrine!  We never know who is searching for something better or who may be receiving the House to House/Heart to Heart publication and visit our services for no other reason than sheer curiosity.  Brethren, we must sow righteousness abundantly in order to reap righteousness abundantly (Gal. 6:7-9)!
  4. Perfecting our love toward one another is the fourth method of evangelism in which the small local church can grow.  You may not think this to be a method of evangelism, but it is an important one.  Imagine for just a moment that you are a visitor at the congregation where you regularly attend.  Is there a feeling of tension in the air?  Do you observe individuals who do not shake hands or even look each other in the eye?  If we can see it, our visitors can as well.  Visitors have a knack for being aware of tensions that are unnecessary in the assemblies of the saints.  Our manner of life must always be in harmony with the gospel of Christ (Phil. 1:27).  There is nothing more discouraging than for visitors from our communities to detect disharmony among the Lord’s people.  The disharmony amongst us will cripple our efforts of evangelism.  The Bible commands us to love one another (1 John 4:21).  What doth hinder us?

We must always strive to find the most effective way to accomplish the greatest good for the kingdom.  We must be convinced that the fields are white unto harvest (Matt. 9:36-38; John 4:31-38).  James says we must be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).  When the love of evangelism gets into a faithful congregation of the Lord’s people, the results will be evident and everlasting.

Lexington, NC Church of Christ