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Faith Bible Church, NY
September 15, 1996
The Basis of Unity: True Doctrine
The importance of unity within the church is seen in Jesus’ prayer in John 17. In verse 21 Jesus prays that those who would believe in Him would be one, even as He and the Father were one so that the world would believe that God the Father had sent Him. In verse 21 Jesus also prays that His followers would be perfected in unity for the same reason. The unity of the church gives evidence not only that we belong to Him, but more importantly, that God really did send Jesus Christ and that He is who He claims to be. The unity of the church is testimony to God’s hand upon men which changes them dramatically.
The world is by nature a very divisive place. The major reason for this is that we all are naturally ego centric and self centered. In our minds, the things similar to us are good, and what is not like us is feared. We divide with one another over physical traits like skin color, height, or weight, over cultural traits like language, diet, customs, and religion. We divide over birth place and origin of ancestors, over economics (whether we be poor, middle class, or upper class), over the type of job we work, be it blue collar or white collar, over our position in that job, be it management or non-management. We even divide among they kind of hobbies we enjoy, be they physically active or sedentary, or a particular type of sport or subdivision of a sport. It is easy for humans to find points of difference and then divide over those differences.
The unity of the body of Christ, the church, is a confirmation of and a witness to the fact that God has touched the lives of men and changed them radically. The unity of the church brings glory to God. A divided church brings dishonor. A divided church hinders the work for which the church was created. A divided church is a shame on the name of Christ.
Unity is important, but the question is how can unity be achieved. The wisdom from below, man’s wisdom, has two ways of producing unity. You can either be permissive by making a tent so large that everyone can get under it, or you can be prohibitive by crushing all opposition and do not allow dissension.
We have seen both of these in the two major political parties of our nation. The Republicans want to be inclusive and get as many as possible in their big tent. Problem is that there is division among the ranks because that tent has tried to include fundamental philosophies that are in direct conflict with one another. The Democrats on the other hand have crushed dissension within their ranks. Either you tow the party line, or you will be excluded from the debate.
The same thing is true in churches. Man’s wisdom replaces God’s Word and so we find that within the cults you must believe what the denominational hierarchy states or you are excluded. Final authority in any cult is always placed in people rather in the Scriptures themselves.
In Roman Catholicism it is the Pope and Church Traditions over the Bible. In Jehovah’s Witnesses it is the Governing Board of the Watchtower Society and their publications over the Scriptures. In Mormonism, authority is in the Book of Mormon and many other books added to the Scriptures. Christian Science places its authority in the writings of Mary Baker Eddy. The list goes on and on. Many so called Christian Churches, have enforced a unity on their people by holding some person or writing other than the Bible to which the people have to bow their conscience. Certainly there is unity where people are no longer allowed to think and pressured to march in lock-step uniformity.
The Bereans were commended by Paul for examining all that he said by the Scriptures. The same is not true of any cult group. In some cults you may not read the Bible, and in those that do, you must not question what the group says, because only the upper echelon of the cult (the founder, priests, or governing board) can correctly interpret Scripture.
On the opposite end we find churches that are seeking to find unity under the big tent of “Christian love” and “naming the name of Christ.” This is the reason for things like the annual “March for Jesus” where people get out and show the world their “unity” by having a public parade including anyone who calls themselves by Christ’s name regardless of their doctrine.
But let’s ask a couple questions about that. The Mormon’s name the name of Jesus but their Jesus is the son Elohim and the brother of Lucifer. There Jesus is a glorified, ascended man who has attained Godhood, just as they promise you can if you follow Mormonism closely enough. Jehovah’ Witnesses name the name of Jesus, but their Jesus is a sub-God of sorts, a created being, and not God Himself, the creator of the universe. Kenneth Copeland says that “Jesus is Lord,” but his Jesus is not coming as God in human flesh either, but a man who became God. He also believes that you too can become a God like Jesus did. And then there are a host of others that talk a lot about Jesus, but their Jesus is more of a sugar daddy who will give them everything they want rather than the Holy One who will judge all the Earth. Just because someone talks about Jesus does not mean it is the same Jesus of the Bible.
What then is the basis of unity? We know that it is very important, but how is it brought about?
Turn to Ephesians 4:1-6. Paul also wanted the followers of Christ to be unified and he has already shown that unity comes only in Christ. Only in Jesus Christ are the walls of that separate people broken down for in Christ the division between Jew and gentile is eliminated and we can be fellow citizens (chapter 2). In Christ the barrier of economic and social status is broken down. The early Christians gave to one another according to need (Acts 2), and as Paul put it to Philemon, his slave Onesimus was now his brother in Christ. Even the barrier of sexism is broken down because women have full access to God as well as the men. Certainly there are still differences in all these things, but the barriers that separated and divided are gone because we are all “one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
Paul states it here in Ephesians as follows: 1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 [There is] one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
As we pointed out last week, the first basis of unity within the church is “walking in a manner worthy of the calling” by which God has brought us to salvation. Again, notice verse 3 that we are not called on to “create,” “establish” or somehow “generate” unity, we are called on to preserve it. Jesus Christ’s prayer of John 17 was answered when the church was born and the Holy Spirit came. Every believer is baptized by the Holy Spirit, for that is how you get into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). And if you do not have the Holy Spirit, then you do not belong to Christ (Rom. 8:9). So unity in the church is already exists. There are many members, but only one body (1 Cor. 12:20). Unity is not uniformity as there is a lot of diversification of gifts, ministry, and power of ministry within the body.
Paul’s call here is for the unity of the body to be preserved. From the human stand point, this is impossible because man cannot even preserve cease fires, and preserving the unity upon which peace is built much beyond that. Yet, at the same time, this unity is very much possible and should be expected among those that follow Christ.
Each of the character qualities Paul mentions in verse 2 and 3 (humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearing in love) are also fruits of the Spirit. As each Christian is in submission to the Holy Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit becomes characteristic of their lives and all the practical aspects of living in harmony with one another fall into place.
Those who emphasize love as a basis of unity are correct in that Biblical love is needed, but Biblical love is not the kind of fuzzy, touchy-feely type of love they are talking about. Biblical love is that which is demonstrated by God in His choosing us for Himself while we were yet His enemies and then satisfying His holiness and justice with the grace and mercy granted to us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Biblical love does not compromise on truth, but rather satisfies it and brings about righteousness. The great problem with the kind of love advocated by those in the ecumenical movement is that love without doctrine leads to liberalism and liberalism results in eternal separation from God, because it denies God’s revelation of Himself.
The primary basis of unity within the church is being a true member of the body of Christ and that results in character traits by which that unity can be preserved. Being a true member of the Christ’s body also means that there is a core of doctrine that is held as true and which will not be compromised. Paul discusses those in factual statements of verse 4-6.
Verse 4 starts out “there is” and those words are in italic. That signifies that they are not in the Greek text, but supplied in the translation so that it will make sense to you. Paul actually simply just makes these statements: one body and one spirit, just as also 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.
Each of these verses deals with a different member of the trinity. Verse 4 – The Holy Spirit. Verse 5 – Jesus Christ. Verse 6 – God the Father.
Paul again stresses that there is already unity in the church because it is only “one body.” The visible church may be fractured into many different groups and it may be filled with tares that disrupt the harmony of local fellowships, but the true church made up of all who are the called by God to be His children make up only one body: the invisible church.
There is only “one Spirit,” and as we have already pointed out it is only through that one Spirit that anyone can enter into the one body (1 Cor. 12:13). I have already commented this morning about the importance of the Holy Spirit, but let me remind you as well that this truth must be kept in mind in our efforts to bring people to salvation. Salvation is not the work of man, but of God. Revival is not something we can generate. It cannot be created by the false unity and love of the ecumenical movement. It cannot be created by getting thousands of people together for religious meetings. Historically, revivals have always been accompanied by an increased understanding and practice of Biblical doctrine, so all the efforts to tone down doctrine as a means to produce revival are false. Revival is something we can only pray for as we plead for God’s mercy and grace to be extended to those around us and to our nation.
Notice here at the end of verse 3 unity is also based on the fact that were called in only one hope of that calling. There are a lot of ramifications to this truth.
It means that the church is not an end in itself, but the means or an instrument to an end. Our hope is in God’s ultimate plan to remake the earth and us in perfection. When our positional righteousness will be actual. When we will be physically and not just spiritually separated unto God. When at the culmination of time we will be God’s chosen people living in the new Jerusalem upon an new Earth.
The hope of our calling eliminates a lot of or maybe even most of the reason for divisions among people. Our hope looks forward to the future when we will all share the same glorious inheritance. What we were before makes no difference. What we are now makes no difference. We were all called the same way – from out of sin and death to holiness and life. Family heritage, wealth, physical abilities, and all the things that naturally divide people are of no consequence as we recognize that we all have been given the same calling to the same hope. What a wonderful hope we have in heaven, a place where there will be no envy, no jealousy, no hatred, no condemnation for our focus will not be on each other, but only on God Himself. We get a glimpse of that unity now when we quit comparing ourselves with each other and keep our eyes fixed only on Him, the author and finisher of our faith!
Verse 5 deals with God the Son: one Lord, one faith, one baptism.
Unity must have a focal point on which everything converges. The focal point of Christianity is Christ. Christianity is not about ethics, economics, or education; it is not collection of ideas, a philosophical system or a religion. True Christianity is about Jesus Christ Himself and our relationship to Him. Our every thought being brought captive to Him (2 Cor. 10:5). Our lives being lived as a sacrificial offering to Him (Rom. 12:1).
Philosophical systems and religions can be separated from their founders and propagators without there being any difference. Marx is long dead, but communism continues. Buddha is long dead, but Buddhism continues, Mohammed is long dead, but Islam continues, for religions and philosophies continue on regardless of their originators or the character of their founders, but if Jesus Christ were dead, or if His character was soiled with even one sin, Christianity would cease immediately. In Christianity the Lord Jesus Christ is everything.
There is only one Lord, so there is a certain intolerance in Christianity. Jesus Christ does not allow any competition. You cannot serve God and mammon (material wealth), you cannot have two masters – Matt. 6:24. You either are a child of God or of the devil (1 John 4), you either have the Son and have life, or you do not and you are bound for hell (1 John 5; Rev. 21). Jesus Himself said that He is the way, the truth, and the life, and no man comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).
As I pointed out earlier, there can be no unity with those who have the wrong Jesus or elevate something else to be equal to Jesus, and neither can there be unity with those that substitute faith in Jesus Christ alone with something else, for there is only “one faith.”
One of the great damaging factors in the ecumenical movement is this idea of trying to portray love as great and doctrine as evil. Certainly there is a danger in stressing doctrine because doctrine without love leads to legalism. Doctrine without love is, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 13, “a clanging symbol, a noisy gong.” The Ephesians were rebuked in Rev. 2 that while they had doctrine, they had left their first love, and they were warned that if they did not change, their lamp stand would be removed, which it was.
While we must temper our doctrine with love, that does not mean that love by itself is superior. Love without doctrine leads to liberalism, and that is what occurs in these attempts to bring all churches together. There is only one faith – that which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Paul said in Gal. 1:8 But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we ha ve preached to you, let him be accursed. And to emphasize it he repeats this in verse 9. There can be no tolerance on this issue. There is one faith and any other brings damnation.
Paul’s addition of there being “one baptism” adds clarification to what he means by “one faith.” There will be disagreements on hard to understand Scriptures. Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians was to pursue unity and quit being fractured over minor issues which was caused by there selfishness and lack of love. The “one faith” here is dealing with the fundamental issue of the gospel.
Over in Romans 6 Paul explains this “one baptism” in terms of our unity in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul explains that our water baptism is our identification with Jesus Christ and our testimony of our faith in Him alone for salvation. Among the points Paul makes in that chapter – if you were baptized into Christ Jesus You were buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead… so you too might walk in newness of life. In the same way you also became united with Him [in the likeness] of His resurrection. Your old self was crucified with [Him,] and your body of sin done away with that you should no longer be slave to sin, because he who has died is freed from sin. Verse 8-11 summarizes the gospel well, 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. This comes by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Our water baptism identifies us with Jesus Christ and declares to all our faith in His gospel. Can there then be unity with anyone that denies this gospel? Can we call those who deny this gospel brothers and sisters in Christ and join with them in evangelism? Of course not. They need to be evangelized because they are not of the same faith. It is for this reason that we, as a local manifestation of the Body of Christ, are so careful about who we do what with. This is why we will not be participating in the Ralph Bell crusade other than to provide counselors that can lead people to faith in Christ.
Doctrine must be tempered with love, but we cannot eliminate or even tone down doctrine. Can two walk together unless they are agreed? (Amos 3:3). Of course not. Can we walk with those that are walking down and calling others to walk down a different path than the narrow one that leads to life (Mt. 7:13.14)? Truth can be patient, gentle and kind, but it cannot be tolerant and accepting. Truth must act to bring its light to bear and eliminate the darkness of Satan’s lies and deception. We are to speak to the truth with love (Eph. 4) and we are to always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15).
There is one body, one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and “one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”
The culmination of our unity is seen in our relationship with God the Father. Paul has spoken about each member of the trinity – not to divide, but to show the unity we are to have is a reflection of the unity that exists within the Godhead. Each has unique roles in the over all plan of redemption but it all works together. That is what Jesus prayed for that we would be one even as they were one (17:22). The Father was in Jesus and Jesus was in the Father. So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another (Rom. 12:5).
The true church is the unified because we are all under one God who is sovereign (over all), omnipotent (through all) and omnipresent (in all).
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