Scriptures

Church Unity

Introduction

In our state of religious confusion, the nature of the church mentioned in the New Testament is apt to be obscured. In this  lesson we shall work to discover what the primitive church was like. Our concern is not with present day denominations, but with the divine body described in the Bible.

NAMES OF THE CHURCH

All things of value have names. Although some would say that names are unimportant, we can easily see that this is not true. Can you imagine a husband thinking it unimportant that his wife would wear another’s name? The Lord is just as vitally concerned with the titles of His church and His people.

The names by which the body of Christ is called are descriptive terms rather than proper names. We discover several such expressions applied to that body. The most common is ‘the church’, an expression derived from a Greek word meaning ‘the called out’. The church in the New Testament sense is composed of those who have been called out of the world of sin to become the people of God.

The term is used in several ways

1. In the universal sense to apply to all of the saved people throughout the world.

2. In the congregational sense to refer to a group of disciples working together in a congregation.

3. To an assembly of Christians called together for worship.

‘Church’ is often used without any additional identifying phrases. Sometimes, however, other expressions are added to more completely describe it. Thus we read,

‘Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.’ Acts 20:28

Since Christ purchased the church with His blood, ‘God’ evidently refers here to God, the Son, or Jesus Christ. The word ‘God’ is a term of deity and applies to the Son as well as the Father. ‘Church of God’ is used several times in the Scriptures.

In Romans 16:16 we read,

‘The churches of Christ send greetings.’

The plural is used since a number of congregations are referred to. That the church belongs to Christ we further know since He declared,

‘And upon this rock I will build my church.’ Matthew 16:18

Again, the church is His body.

‘Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.’ 1 Corinthians 12:27

In Ephesians 5:22, 23 Paul shows that the church is married to Christ as a wife is married to her husband. When possession is shown the church should wear His name as the wife wears the name of her husband. The glory and honour belong to the Son of God, not a religious teacher or reformer, regardless of how great he may be.

Other phrases designating the church include

1. The church of the firstborn, Hebrews 12:23

2. The kingdom, Hebrews 12:28

3. The way, Acts 19:9, 23.

4. The household of faith, Galatians 6:10.

TERMS APPLIED TO DISCIPLES

Two expressions identifying the early followers of Christ are found in Acts 11:26.

‘And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.’

A ‘disciple’ is a follower. All who follow Jesus are His disciples. The term Christian became the name worn by these people. As the name indicates (Christ-ian) a Christian is a disciple of Christ. Thus Peter declares,

‘if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed.’ 1 Peter 4:16

Never do we read of Peterite Christians or Paulite Christians. Neither today is the Lord pleased with denominational prefixes which are added to His name.

Disciples are also called saints.

‘To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints.’

‘Saint’ means ‘holy one’ and since all Christians are to be holy, all are therefore saints. Canonisation by a religious organisation is not necessary. Other expressions applied to God’s chosen are brethren, Colossians 1:2, priests, 1 Peter 2:5, 9, and heirs, Romans 8:17.

The many bodies, many faiths, and many baptisms of our day were unknown in the first century. The prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17 was that His disciples might be as united as were He and the Father.

The blessing of unity had been recognised many years before by David when he declared,

‘How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!’ Psalm 133:1

Yet even in apostolic times efforts were made to divide the church. Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

‘I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?’ 1 Corinthians 1:10-13

This unfortunate division came because some were following and wearing the names of men rather than Christ. If we were to follow any man, who could be greater than Paul? Yet Paul denounces the wearing of his name. Much religious division could be removed if all human denominational names were discarded in favour of those expressions found in God’s word.

Likewise, unknown in the primitive church were the denominational organisations and creeds which serve to perpetuate division today. The early Christians maintained unity because they were content to accept only those teachings which gave been revealed to us in the New Testament.

May we too strive for religious unity by letting Christ be our only creed and the Bible our only guidebook.

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD."

Isaiah 55:8

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