Tuesday, January 27, 2015

United We Stand

What should Christians be united around? The basic thing should be Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 2:18-20; 1 Corinthians 3:10,11) and His message of salvation (Galatians 1:8,9; Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11). That is, that Jesus is God become man (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-18) to pay the price for our sins, so that we might be saved by faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9).

But too often we base our unity on other things. We can claim we have to come to God through being part of a particular organization rather than directly through Christ (1 Timothy 2:5; John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Now God's people are called to be organized (Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 13:17; Titus 1:5). But the organization should serve the people, not the other way around (Matthew 20:25-28; 28:18-20; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Now the message of Christ requires us to hold to certain basic truths (Jude 3; Romans 16:17-20; 1 John 4:1-6). But we can divide over every detail, forgetting that we do not have all the answers (1 Corinthians 3:18; 8:1-3; Philippians 2:1-4). We are also told that putting our faith in Christ results in a changed life (Titus 2:11-14; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10). But it is easy to erect a structure of dubious ethical requirements to distinguish ourselves from others (Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 15:7-9; 23:23-28). It is important to base our unity on the right grounds.

But if we do not have a solid basis for our unity, we can, almost by default, base it on something that lacks any clear definition. This can seem broad-minded, but can often have the opposite effect. Those who see the unity of the church as based in Christ have a definite idea of what unity is based on and know where the boundaries are. But it is often those who have no clear idea what their faith is based on who can make a big deal out of externals. They can divide over names or outward behaviors because they have no clear idea of  what the issues are. It is the individuals who clearly understand what they believe who can recognize those who agree, even if they use different words, and see where they disagree with others, if they do. But those with a superficial knowledge are more likely to be impressed by catch-phrases and procedures. And many of the divisions in church are over methods or personalities or even atmosphere. I would therefore conclude that one of the most important factors for maintaining unity in the Christian church is remembering what and Who we are about. Or we will be forever dividing over shadows rather than substance.

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