25. The Basis Of Christian Unity

Introduction

The Psalmist of old sang, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Psalm 133:1. Never has there been a greater need for this blessing than today Religious confusion abounds and the unity for which Christ prayed in John 17 is not apparent.

The solution to religious division is not simple. That which has been centuries in the making cannot be wiped out by a single stroke. Yet, who dares suggest that the prayer of our Saviour cannot become a reality?

THE CAUSES OF DIVISION

Before a positive basis of unity can be established, the causes of division must be removed. Let us note some of them. First, ignorance of God’s word is a contributing factor to division. Many years ago the Prophet wrote, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Hosea 4:6.

Today, nearly every home has a Bible, but too seldom is it read. General ignorance of the scriptures makes the common man the prey of false teachers who promote the doctrines of men and sow the seeds of discord. Many are unable to distinguish between truth and error because they do not know what the Bible teaches.

A second cause of division is a human tendency to follow men rather than God. Paul admonished the Corinthians to follow him only as he followed Christ “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1.

While we cannot get along without leaders and teachers, we should not follow them blindly since Jesus declares, “If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” Matthew 15:14.

Some are even taught that they should allow their pastors to do their religious thinking for them. It is argued that the Bible is too difficult for the common man to understand. This is not true. Paul speaks of “the simplicity that is in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:3.

The gospel is so simple that it produced a unified body of Christians over 1900 years ago, even though most of these people were relatively uneducated.

Certainly, we should be capable of understanding the inspired words of the Holy Spirit. Let us follow religious teachers only to the degree that their doctrines coincide with the scriptures.

Underlying most religious divisions are the doctrines of men. Division comes from a lack of agreement over things taught. Of two opposing teachings both cannot be completely right.

And since we are to “keep as the pattern of sound teaching.” 2 Timothy 1:13, we dare not compromise with false teaching. Division, resulting from a conflict of truth and error, is actually caused by the doctrines of men which have begotten the error.

Human creeds and confessions of faith are yet another factor in religious division. They are the embodiment of the doctrines of men. Of course, not everything taught in creeds is error, but that creeds contain much error is evident when we observe that no two of them are alike and that most of them are contradictory.

Human creeds crystalize false doctrines and stand as a great barrier to religious unity.

No denomination will accept without alteration the creed of another. But if each religious body will surrender its creed and unite with Christ upon the one source of authority recognised by all, the Bible, a great stride toward unity will have been made.

Denominational names are still another cause of religious division. Initially, most such names were used for the purpose of distinguishing one sect from another, but to many these human names have become so sacred that they are held in higher esteem than the name Christian.

But no single denominational title will ever be accepted by all striving to follow Christ. If unity is ever to be attained, these names must be forever forgotten.

Finally, religious division is caused by denominational organisations. This has already been suggested by the mention of denominational creeds and names. Not only are the creeds and names opposed to Christian unity, but the religious bodies of which they are a part are also a barrier.

Some have suggested that all denominations might combine their forces into a gigantic denomination, with each body maintaining its distinctive creed and name. This would be a union, but not unity.

Unity implies a likeness of thinking and action which could not be true with the above plan. The hard, cold fact remains that unity can never be attained until the whole denominational system with its various organisations which have been responsible for perpetuating division is a thing of the past.

THE PLAN, UNITE WITH CHRIST

The mere removal of the causes of division will not produce unity. A positive basis of agreement must be found to replace the present system. Many past unity efforts have failed because they sought to unite men with one another instead of uniting them first with Christ.

Christ is our common denominator. We may never completely agree with each other, but we should be able to agree with the Saviour of mankind.

Unity with Christ implies complete acceptance of his absolute authority. He himself declared, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Matthew 28:18. With the words, “Therefore go” Matthew 28:19, Jesus then delegated that authority to his apostles.

Their teachings as well as those of Jesus himself are found in the inspired New Testament books. Therefore, to unite with Christ we must accept the complete and sole authority of the New Testament writings.

All of us who believe that the Bible is divinely inspired recognise that the New Testament is authoritative. We agree that the things written therein are truth, and while we may not agree upon every small interpretation, so long as we will speak in the words of inspiration and leave our own opinions out, we may find unity on the word of God.

Acceptance of the authority of the New Testament, in turn, implies that we will strive to duplicate the pattern of apostolic Christianity which is revealed in those twenty-seven books.

Paul presents the platform for unity when he declares, “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; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:1-6.

Here are seven things upon which we may unite. Underlying them all, Paul states is love. For regardless of how much agreement we may attain on doctrinal points, there can never be true unity unless there is a love which makes us want to be one.

We have little difficulty in accepting the fact that there is but one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, and one God. Even in its present divided state the religious world largely agrees upon these matters.

But this same passage also teaches that there is but one body, one faith and one baptism. Since we are informed in Colossians 1:8, that the body is the church, we must agree that there is but one church, the undenominational body belonging to Jesus Christ.

We must recognise that since there is but one faith it does make a difference what we believe and teach and that only that faith based on God’s word is acceptable. Furthermore, we must acknowledge that there is but one baptism.

Since that baptism is described in the New Testament as being wrought by immersion in water, only when we accept that form may we have unity with Christ and hence with one another.

Unity of the faith cannot be accomplished without our duplicating the church of the first century. To do this we must teach the way of salvation as taught by the apostles, showing that when penitent believers are immersed into Christ, they procure his atoning blood which washes away their sins.

We must duplicate the congregational organisation of the early church which was devoid of any hierarchy, and which recognised Jesus as its only head.

We must worship as did the primitive Christians, in Spirit and in truth. (The organisation and worship of the church will be discussed further in succeeding lessons.)

We must perform the same work performed by the primitive church, that of serving man and saving him from sin. We must wear the name Christian, without denominational prefix or suffix, as did the first-century disciples, being in truth undenominational Christians.

And we must conduct our personal lives in such a way as to reflect the glory of Christ and cause our fellow men to recognise us as a people called out of the world of sin. When we have done these things, we will be one with Christ, and united with all who have united with him.

IF THE WORLD DOES NOT UNITE

The above plan for unity may seem unattainable. Certainly, it is unlikely that everyone will agree to accept the authority of the New Testament, even though most might do so.

However, this need not prevent individual disciples and congregations from uniting with Christ. To the degree that we are one with Christ, we have attained unity.

If a congregation duplicates in teaching and practices the pattern of the early church, it is helping to promote the unity for which Christ prayed. But when that congregation departs from the primitive pattern it is contributing to religious division.

And what of the individual? How may he promote the cause of unity? Suffice it to say that he cannot do so while engaging in those things and being a part of those organisations which make for division. Neither can he do so by living completely apart from a congregation of fellow Christians.

He should seek out a group of simple New Testament Christians who practice the things revealed in the Holy Word and who are content to be undenominational disciples of Christ.

He should not rest until he has found such a congregation, and when he has found it, he should labour with his fellow heirs of life eternal to make Christian unity a reality for others.


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