by Matt Slick
“Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose,” (Phil. 2:2).
One of the signs of apostasy (falling from the truth) in the Christian Church is the bickering and disunity among Christians. Jesus said that the world would know that we were His disciples by the love that we have for one another (John 13:35). In Col. 3:14, it says that love is the perfect bond of unity. The New Testament speaks about us being unified in Christ (Eph. 4:5). In response to Christians who follow after individuals rather than Jesus, Paul says that Christ is not divided (1 Cor. 1:12-13). Though Christ is not divided, His body of believers is. Divisions in the Christian church can be a healthy and necessary thing: “For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you,” (1 Cor. 11:19). But too much of a good thing isn’t good.
It is all right to have differences of opinion on the non-essential matters like worship styles or days, pre-trib rapture, post-trib rapture, Arminianism, Calvinism, etc. Whether you believe one or the other, do not affect salvation. Yet far too many Christians use these non-essential differences as justification for division and sometimes even insight anger. When this occurs, the love of God in our hearts is sacrificed to our pride. Instead of saying to one another, “I am right and you are wrong,” we should be saying something like, “It is certainly possible that you are correct. Now, let’s work together to glorify God and expand His kingdom.” Perhaps this is too simplistic, but at least it displays an attitude of humility that helps to bring unity. It is the devil that wants us to fall into the self abuse of division and bickering.
Table of contents
Sometimes apostasy means remaining united
There is a time for division in the body of Christ. When an individual or a church group is denying clear scripture and remains unrepentant after being admonished, then it is time to break fellowship with that group. Such is the case with the Metropolitan Community Church denomination which openly advocates the support of homosexuality. Also, the Evangelical Lutheran church is in risk of apostasy by entertaining the idea of accepting homosexual relationships into church as is also the case with United Church of Christ: “The United Church of Christ set up a $500,000 scholarship fund for gay and lesbian seminarians Friday and urged wider acceptance of homosexuals by other denominations.” (United Church Makes Gay Scholarship, CLEVELAND, Jun 16, 2000, AP Online via COMTEX). Or “The supreme court of the United Methodist Church was asked Thursday to reconsider the denomination’s ban on gay clergy. (Church court of United Methodists asked to decide on gay clergy ban, NASHVILLE, Tennessee, Oct 25, 2001, AP WorldStream via COMTEX). Such movements by churches toward accepting in Christianity are clearly a sign of apostasy. If they don’t believe God’s word in such a fundamental issue, how can they be trusted to understand God’s word in other issues?
Church groups like this are in open rebellion against God and His word and it would not only be prudent, but it would be biblical to not fellowship with these groups.
What is it that unites us?
Primarily, it is the saving work of Christ that unites us. Secondarily, it is the essential doctrines that define orthodoxy. We have, as a common heritage, the blood of Christ that has been shed for the forgiveness of our sins. True Christians serve the true and living God and we know Jesus in a personal and intimate way (1 Cor. 1:9). We have been redeemed by God himself. Furthermore, we have the body of Scriptures which tell us the essentials of the faith and deviating from these essentials means to be outside the camp of Christ. It is the essential doctrines that we must know and unite in.
Why then, for all practical purposes, do we elevate the non-essential to the place of essentials? I believe it is because of immaturity and pride in various Christians. Should we not sacrifice our “perfect” opinion on a biblical matter for being gracious to another brother or sister in Christ? Of course we should, but when that doesn’t happen, we have denominational splits. I cannot see how such a huge fragmentation in the Christian Church in denominations and sects glorifies God.
The Christian church, as a whole, needs to repent. We need to look at ourselves. We need to look at our churches. We need to look at one another and decide that we will stand on the essential doctrines of the faith and that we will be united against the enemy. Those of us who are united by the blood of Christ are not enemies with one another whether we be Presbyterian or Baptist or Lutheran. It may be difficult for many of us to look lovingly into the eyes of those of a different denomination without thinking in our hearts that they are wrong about this doctrine or that doctrine. But, we need to be reminded that there is neither a Presbyterian nor a Baptist nor a Lutheran on the throne of God. All of us I am sure, will have our theologies corrected when we stand before the throne of God. Therefore, we need to seek to work together to further the Kingdom of God.
Romans 14:1-12 speaks about accepting Christians of differing opinions and to not judge them because, “To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind…But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God,” (Rom. 14:4-5,10). The whole point is that we need to be united, not bickering. We need to move beyond the denominational barriers of what separates us into the common ground of what unites us: Jesus!
Ask yourself what is most important in life. Is it your relationship with God? If it is, and it should be, should you not also be seeking the same thing that God wants? Should you not also be seeking to love one another as Christ commanded us? Love is the perfect bond of unity, (Col. 3:14).
Apostasy begins in our hearts when we put distance between ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ because of a difference of opinion on a non-essential doctrine. Apostasy means that we fall away from the truth. This falling away can be complete or it can be slight. Let’s not commit apostasy in our hearts by abandoning the truth of God’s call of unity and love within the body of Christ. Remember, it is the devil that wants us to fight each other so that he can be freed up to deceive the world. If we are fighting each other then we are falling prey to His tactics.
I know that it is easy to speak these words and it is very difficult to apply them. That is true because true love is difficult to live. But what if the world began to see the Christian Church uniting in spite of its differences? What if the world started to see how the Christian Church started to love not only their own church members but other church members? What do you think the world would say if the churches’ bickering stopped? What do you think the unbelievers would say if they saw us living more and more the loving attitude and a sacrificial life of Christ across denominational barriers? It would be a tremendous witness for Christ. It would be a tremendous assault on the enemy and I know that God would use it mightily to bring others to Himself by his grace.
Apostasy begins with the individual. Apostasy begins in the heart and the mind. Whichever comes first is not important. Whether we think something wrong and then feel it or feel something wrong and then think it. The heart and the mind are so closely related that we must guard them both. We must focus on the truth of God’s word and let our minds be shaped by it. We must seek to have our minds shaped by the love of God as we move not only to learn about Him, but also to carry out His desires.
What should we do to bring unity wherever possible?
We need to look at our own hearts and our own minds and compare them to Jesus and the Scripture. Where ever the two are not in agreement, it is we who need to change. We need to pray that the Lord would provide opportunities to work with other Christians across denominational lines. We need to recognize that we have differences of opinions and worship styles and that that is okay. But we need to lift each other up and be united in Christ.
This post has a negative perspective to it. I freely admit it.
I addressed the positive perspective of it in a recent podcast.
Sometimes we have to face the reality of a sickness before we are willing to seek treatment. Please read the next sentence carefully. One of the greatest sicknesses in our churches in America is disunity. Indeed, many of the problems we think we have are really just symptoms of the breakdown of unity in the church.
The early church in Jerusalem thrived because it was so unified. Acts 2:47 says: “(They were) praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved” (HCSB). The phrase “having favor with all the people” refers to those on the outside looking at the church on the inside. They saw a selfless and unified church, and were thus attracted to it.
So what are some of the key reasons we are seeing the breakdown of unity in our churches? Though my list is not exhaustive, allow me to share fourteen of those reasons.
- Gossip. Church members talk about one another instead of talking to one another. Paul calls church members who gossip people “filled with all unrighteousness” (Romans 1:29, HCSB).
- Actions cloaked in darkness. I recently heard of a church personnel committee and a few church staff members who worked in darkness to fire a pastor without ever meeting with him first or giving him reasons for his dismissal. Then they refused to respond to church members who were asking questions.
- Failure to confront church bullies. Some church members seek power in a church they can’t get elsewhere. They are devious and dangerous. They must be courageously confronted.
- Self-serving church members. Some church members insist on getting their way for everything from worship style to the order of the worship service. Biblical church membership, however, is selfless and more concerned about others.
- Lack of prayer. A church that does not pray together is likely to fragment into special interest groups.
- Fear of confrontation. Too many church members would rather sweep problems under the rug than deal with them. I know of one church where two deacons were known to be having affairs. No one wanted to deal with it.
- Adopting the hypercritical spirit of culture. This reality is especially true in blogs and social media. I’ve seen many pastors attacked publicly on Twitter and Facebook.
- Low expectations. Many churches have no clear guidelines on what it means to be a part of the body of Christ. If you expect little from members, that’s exactly what you’ll get. And some of them will use their idle time to gossip, criticize, and tear down.
- No church discipline. The majority of churches with which I have familiarity have no process for church discipline, or they have a process in place in theory only.
- Churches known more for what they are against rather than what they are for. This negativity becomes pervasive in the congregation and destroys church unity.
- Fear of losing members. I am familiar with one church plagued by a spirit of divisiveness by one particular member. No members have confronted him because they don’t want to lose one of the biggest givers in the church.
- Failure to be evangelistic. I have never known a church member who is both evangelistic and divisive.
- Power groups. Sometimes the bullies in the church get allies to form power groups. They may be informal groups, or they can be formal groups like elders, deacons, staff, or personnel committees.
- The silent and fearful majority. One church member said it is not always good to know the truth. Such a statement is unbiblical and symptomatic of members who let evil exist because they are afraid to confront it.
One of the greatest problems in our churches is the breakdown of church unity. It is insidious, debilitating, and destructive.
Paul urged us “to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keep the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us” (Ephesians 4: 1-3, HCSB).
Jesus said in John 13:35: “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The breakdown of church unity is one of the most critical problems in our churches today. Are you part of the solution? Let me hear from you.
The church is made up of many parts of the body of Christ. It is when we find the place of working in unity that great things begin to happen.
I am always amazed when I watch the music awards on TV, the artist who is recognized as great always says thank you to the many people who helped them to achieve greatness. God has gifted you with certain abilities but always remember to use them in connection with the body of Christ.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
1Cor 12:12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.
You are important to God and you have a part that fits with others in the functioning of the church. I heard a wise lady recently explain it this way; a box of parts can be together, but useless until they are assembled. She also mentioned that strands of chord are weak when alone but strong when knitted together.
Prayer: God help me to find exactly where I fit in your plan and what part it is that I am in the church body. Help me to work in unity with others by the power of your Spirit.
Posted by admin Date: Monday, April 5, 2010
By Kim Butts
When Jesus prayed for us in John 17, His primary desire was that we would all be one: “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name – the name You gave Me – so that they may be one as We are one” (John 17:11).
Christians have failed to be obedient in keeping the unity for which Jesus prayed. The tragedy in this failure is that God’s purposes are evangelistic – that the whole world would know Him through the unity of His followers: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in Me. 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” (John 17:20-23).
Our unity is a key to convincing those outside of Christ that He lives. Jesus’ prayer should serve as a convicting rebuke to us, His followers, because of the bitter and senseless divisions we allow within our churches, and within even our own families. He has set the standard for unity – the unity between the Father and the Son. Because the Father and Son are one, we are now one with Jesus. And because we are one with Him, we have everything we need to demonstrate Him to others. “I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for Me may be in them and that I Myself may be in them” (John 17:26). The active demonstration of a unified body of Christ is a primary way for the world to know Jesus as Savior and Lord.
Unity Begins with Families
Unity for believers must begin at the level of the family before it can truly characterize the Church. God created families long before He created the Church. He gave many specific instructions to families with the intent of unifying husbands and wives and children into a unit that would honor and reverence Him. His expectations were specific and straightforward whether in the Old Testament or the New: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). “ answered: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27).
Can you imagine how quickly God’s kingdom would grow if the Church was comprised of unified families obediently carrying out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission? If each individual family member, and each relationship represented within each family, would determine to live in unity, and if we were all committed to loving the Lord with a desperate passion, and to loving others as Jesus loves us…perhaps then, a watching world would be drawn to the Father. A family should and must begin with unity –connection, identity, building up of one another, etc. God has given much instruction to parents and to children about their relationships within their families. Only in unity are we able to carry out these relationships successfully, and in ways that are pleasing to the Lord. In order for unbelievers to truly know the love of Christ, they must see it in the unified, loving families that comprise Jesus’ Church.
Unity in the Faith
We all have work to do in the kingdom! If we are truly followers of Christ, then we are working to advance His kingdom on earth. “It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all 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.
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:11-16).
Unity in Agreement
“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” (Romans 15:5-6). God has not created us all to think the same or to act the same. He has uniquely crafted each of us differently in His image. Doesn’t that make you amazed at how creative and amazing God Himself must be? The key to having a spirit of unity is not so that we will all think, speak, feel and act the same. It is to have the mind of Christ so that we can lovingly agree to disagree with one another.
My husband and I are involved in two groups of national prayer leaders, many of whom we could never come to agreement with on some matters of doctrine; however, the Father has given us all such a powerful spirit of unity that we all love and respect one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. We have, without exception, been able to come into agreement together in prayer. Only a God who has created us for unity, could accomplish such a thing. We could choose to be at odds with one another over our differences. Instead, we have chosen to love one another in the bond of unity created by God Himself.
Unity in Peace
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 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 hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6). God reconciled us to Himself through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It is our responsibility to keep that bond intact through peaceful unity.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:12-17).
Are the virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience woven into the fabric of your family? Are you able to forgive one another as the Lord has forgiven you? Does love characterize who you are? Does the peace of Christ rule in your hearts? Are you thankful? Does the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you express worship to Him with grateful hearts? Do you do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him? Perhaps these are questions that you, as a dearly loved family, should spend some time discussing together. Take each of these questions, examine the roadblocks that keep you from answering “Yes!” wholeheartedly, and decide what changes need to be made so that unity is what others see in your family.
Unity in Love
“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3). Is your family encouraged in heart and united in love? Are you an encourager? Do you build up others in your family and love them so that they will have the full riches of complete understanding to know the treasures of wisdom and knowledge through Jesus? What happens in your family when there are disagreements? Do you argue bitterly, or can you set aside your differences long enough to pray together? Perhaps you will come into agreement as the Lord shows you His plan. Or, perhaps, He will give your hearts a desire to love one another in spite of your differences of opinion. Unity does not mean you always have to agree! What a powerful thing unity is! How much stronger and wiser our families and churches will be when we decide to fulfill the purposes of unity that Jesus has already placed in us.
Walking in Unity as the Family of God
There were times when God placed His hand upon His people to bring them into unity: “Also in Judah the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered, following the word of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 30:12). Perhaps a good prayer for His people today would be, “Father, would You place Your hand upon us to give us unity of mind so that we will carry out Your plans and purposes for us? Would You help us to love You with all of our heart, soul and strength? Teach us to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.”
We certainly know that God could place His hand upon His people today and bring us into unity…perhaps He is waiting for us to realize “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity… For there the Lord bestows His blessing…” (Psalm 133:1, 3b). It is brotherly harmony which sets God’s people apart from the world. The Christian life is not yet seen as desirable by a dark world, because we are not yet in harmony with one another! We must be of one mind and heart within our own families and within our churches! The world sees broken marriages and families, damaged relationships, fighting in churches, pastors falling, etc., and cannot be convinced that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. It is our own sinful behavior that causes many to turn away rather than run towards the Savior.
God’s desire is that His people walk in unity, but we are usually more interested in being right than in being one! We have not been faithful to reconcile ourselves one to the other by fervently seeking God in this regard. May we, as families, and as the Church, repentantly seek to be more interested in being one in Jesus, because that is right. “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” (John 17:23).
–Kim Butts is the co-founder of Harvest Prayer Ministries.