"U" as in UNITY

To be sure, there is not much unity in the opinions of men about what the Bible teaches on the doctrine of unity in the Lord's church. Perhaps a major reason for this is the lack of understanding on what the church is. That's the place for us to start in examining the Scriptural background and teaching on our subject.


In the well-known story in MATT 16, Jesus “began asking His disciples, 'Who do people say that the Son of Man is?' And they said, 'Some say John the Baptist, and others Elijah, but still others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.' Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.' And Jesus said to him, 'Blessed are you Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father which is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.'”

Notice several important things about the statement of Jesus. He called it “My church” and used the singular form. It would be built in the future and would be built on a “rock.” Some have supposed the rock to be Peter, but the language will not permit this. “Rock” in Greek is “petra.” This word is in the feminine gender. Peter in Greek is “Petros,” a masculine word, meaning “stone.” Thus we have a play on words but not a literary connection. What did Jesus mean the “rock” was? Well, something else, obviously, and the connection is Peter's confession, and particularly the content: that Jesus was the son of God. It is inconceivable, given everything the Bible teaches about Christ, His sacrifice, shedding of blood, burial, resurrection and ascension, that God would build his church on man. Peter would play a vital role—he would be given the “keys to the kingdom” (how to get into it), which he would use for the Jews on the day of Pentecost, the day the church (kingdom) came in ACTS 2:38, and about ten years later at the household of Cornelius for the entry of the gentiles in ACTS 10:48; thus for all mankind.


It is plainly IMPROPER, even sacrilegious for anyone today, to speak of the church as “my church” or “our church.” It belongs to Jesus, He bought it and paid for it with His own blood; it is His and we dare not usurp His ownership. This is serious business and should not be taken casually. Note that Jesus did not say that he would build a church or more than one church.


What other evidence do we have in the Bible that the church belongs exclusively to Christ? EPH 1:22, 23 gives us an insight. Here we read: “He (God, verse 17) put all things in subjection under His (Jesus, verse 20) feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” This was an Old Testament prophecy, also partly quoted in HEB 2:6-9 and taken from PSA 8:4-6, a psalm of David some 1000 years earlier.


Let's look at some other Scriptural references that bear on this subject and point to the ownership of the church.


In ACTS 8:1, it is merely called “the church” with no possessive adjective. In I COR 1:2, the name is the “church of God.” This is less specific, but confines the ownership to the Godhead. The other references show which part. ROM 16:16 has the “churches of Christ.” Here, as elsewhere where a plural is used, the words refer to congregations or assemblies of the church of Christ. In EPH 4:12, the church is termed the “body of Christ.” I TIM 3:15 calls it “the church of the Living God” and HEB 12:23 “church of the firstborn,” plainly referring to Christ (COL 1:15).


Putting this evidence together, along with MATT 16:18 (My church), we reach the unmistakable conclusion that the Holy Spirit indicates that the church belongs to Christ and should bear no other name.


No “official” name is denominated to the Lord's church and we can use any of the Scriptural terms to identify with it. For purposes of order and identification, we generally use the best composite and Scriptural name, the church(es) of Christ.


Then supplement this evidence with the fact that Jesus died for the church. As Paul puts it in ACTS 20:28, he calls it the “church of God which He (that is, Jesus) purchased with his own blood.” How dare we use any other name for it or in relation to it! There are many who “knoweth not what they do.”


This combined revelation in itself should be enough to convince us to reject all divisive and denominational names and terms and to unite into one body of Christ.


Let's examine what the church actually is. The word “church” derives from the Greek word “ekklesia” (hence our word ecclesiastical), which means “a group of called-out people” (“called” is an oft-used word in the Bible referring to members). Of course, there is only one such “called out” group. It is not a group we can choose to join (on our own terms or terms of some denomination). We become members through obedience to God's terms and then He “adds” us to His church at His pleasure. This is explicitly indicated in such passages as ACTS 2:47—“...And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (KJV), and ACTS 5:13—“And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women” (KJV). Added to which church, do you suppose? To the Baptist, or Methodist, or Catholic or some other? No, to “the church,” the one and only described in the Bible.


The word “the” is what is called a “definite article” in English grammar, limiting the noun it modifies exclusively to the one named. Every act of man to join any other church is unnecessary and divisive.


As Christians only, we need to be careful in how we answer others who ask us “What church do you belong to?”


But what else has the Holy Spirit told us about the church? It is the “Body of Christ.” COL 1:18 makes this plain—“He is also head of the body, the church,” adding in verse 24: “His body, which is the church.” EPH 4:12 speaks of “the building up of the body of Christ.” Verse 15 adds “He is the head” and verse 16 compares it in likeness to the human body. See also EPH 5:23, 25 for further emphasis.


How many bodies does Christ have? How many do any of us have? One is the answer, of course. EPH 4:4-6 sets this unity in “concrete”: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”


Then we add I TIM 3:15 to such abundant and explicit evidence: “I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”


In the various lessons in the Bible on the nature of the church, the pictures are of one body (ROM 12:4, 5; I COR 12:20), one vineyard (JOHN 15: 1), one vine (JOHN 15:1-6), one household or family (I TIM 3:15), one flock, one shepherd (JOHN 10:16). In the world today, as we look at Christianity, the picture we see is hundreds of bodies, vineyards, vines, families and flocks. This is called “denominationalism” and is defined by Webster as “the tendency to separate into religious sects or denominations.”


And on another very important question on our journey to examine unity, how does God see it? For this we go to JOHN 17:20-23, and the prayer of Jesus to His Father for the people. He pleads, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those who also believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one, even as You, Father, are in me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one. I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity...”


There is perfection in unity; a house divided against itself cannot stand (MK 3:24).


I add a few more words from Paul: I COR 1:10—“Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions (or “schisms” in the margin) among you, but that you be made complete (“be perfected” as Jesus put it) in the same mind and in the same judgment.”


He then goes on in verses 11 ff to give us the best example of sectarianism that we have; it was already erupting in the early church in his lifetime: “For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, 'I am of Paul' and 'I am of Apollos' and 'I of Cephas (Peter)' and 'I of Christ.' Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was He? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius so that no one would say you were baptized in my name.”


So soon, sects were beginning to form and Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wanted to put a stop to it. Some of them were devotees and followers of Paul, probably calling themselves Paulites, or something of the sort. Others called themselves Appoloists, and some chose Peter as their favorite preacher. The message here is to both the preachers and to their followers, as well as to us today: division is unacceptable! Christ is not and should not be divided. Using human identification (denomination) in your religion must not be practiced.


Hear the testimony of Charles Spurgeon, the most recognized and talented Baptist preacher that ever lived: “I say of the Baptist name, let it perish, but let Christ's name last forever. I look forward with pleasure to the day when there will not be a Baptist living. I hope that they will soon be gone. I hope the Baptist name will soon perish, but let Christ's name endure forever.”—Spurgeon Memorial Library, Vol 1, p. 168


Hear the testimony of Martin Luther: “I pray you to leave my name alone, and call not yourselves Lutherans, but Christians. Who is Luther? My doctrine is not mine. I have not been crucified for anyone. St. Paul would not let any call themselves after Paul, nor of Peter, but of Christ. How then, does it befit me, a miserable bag of dust and ashes, to give my name to children of God? Cease, my dear friends, to cling to these party name and distinctions: Away with all and let us call ourselves only Christians after him from whom our doctrine comes.”—The Life of Luther, by STORK, p. 289


Sectarianism becomes so engrained and acceptable that even its adherents will not follow their own leaders.


This should be enough to convince anyone that unity is the will and mandate of God. Man may go down on his knees and thank God that there are so many churches from which to choose—what a mockery of the Lord's Prayer!


Finally, we ought to be able to see clearly that unity is a must. But it is inextricably linked to another vital concept, AUTHORITY, and we encourage you to study and discover the Biblical teaching on this subject as well.


10 May 2011

Annapolis, MD