Unity, Aggressively Effected
I do not need tell you that there are presently thousands of different faiths and churches and that this number is increasing each month. I also do not need to point out to you that these religions teach differently on a host of subjects, even including their concept of God. To some, this poses no concern, while to others, this is a serious matter. The fact of the matter is such religious diversity is wrong, but it is solvable. The answer is aggressively effected unity. First, let us appreciate the teaching of the scriptures pertaining to unity and division (see addendum):
"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (I Cor. 1" 10). "Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4: 3).
Division among those claiming to belong to Christ is a major cause of unbelief, said Jesus (Jn. 17: 20, 21). Paul, in both above references, commands unity and sameness among followers of Christ. After enjoining unity, Paul proceeded to show how such unity is attainable by teaching the seven ones. Consider his teaching:
"There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Eph. 4: 4-6).
Yes, there can be unity among God's people, but scriptural unity is the product of effort. There is only one Book upon which we are to base our beliefs and convictions and this one Book does not contradict itself, why, then, is there so much division in the religious world at large? Let us now do two things in our study: first, let us consider some biblical subjects and show how all can arrive at the same conclusions as to what is taught and, then, let us look at some matters that preclude biblical unity.
A look at some biblical subjects. These subjects are of serious consequence and man should respect what God has said.
The plan of salvation. It is evident that God has a plan of salvation as opposed to random ways in which different people are saved. Remember that "God is no respecter of persons;" hence, he does not require you to be saved in one way, and me to be saved in another (Cp. Acts 10: 34, 35, uniformity is seen in the Book of Acts, 2, 3, 8, 16, etc.). When one considers such books as Acts, a collection of accounts as to how people came to God, one concludes that faith, repentance, confession of Jesus' deity, and water baptism for the remission of sins is how the lost came (come) to God and experienced salvation (Acts 2: 36, 38, 8: 36, 37, KJV.). Belief, repentance, confession, and baptism are not works of merit, whereby one can boast (Tit. 3: 5). Belief, repentance, confession, and baptism constitute the way the lost receive God's saving grace (cp. 2 Cor. 6: 1). There is no excuse for teaching such doctrines as salvation by faith only. Demons possess faith only, but they surely are not saved (Jas. 2: 19, see following verses). The teaching that repentance does not involve change must be challenged (cp. 2 Cor: 7: 10, 11). To argue that one does not have to believe in the deity of Jesus is repulsive and denial of water baptism must not be tolerated (Rom. 10: 9, 10, Acts 22: 16).
The church that Jesus built. Jesus promised to build his church (Matt. 16: 18, 19). Moreover, Jesus' church became a reality (from Acts 2, the church is spoken of as a reality, see Acts 5: 11). The church is a spiritual institution that is designed to teach the gospel, edify the saved, and take care of needy saints (I Tim. 3: 15, Eph. 4: 16, I Cor. 16: 1, 2). The church is not a denomination, involving different human creeds. Paul taught in all the churches and he taught the same (I Cor. 4: 17). The church is presented as a necessary part of pristine Christianity (cp. Heb. 10: 25ff.). How dare some to teach that the church is unimportant, just a social institution, and a purveyor of the social gospel! Such false teaching and practice stands in the way of unity.
The life of the Christian. The scriptures show that scriptural baptism is only the beginning, it is the time when the old man of sin is put off and the new man is raised to walk in holiness (Rom. 6). How the Christian thinks, talks, works, partakes of recreation, and uses his money are all regulated by the scriptures (Phili. 4: 8; Eph. 4: 29; Col. 3: 22, 23; Rom. 12: 1, 2; Lk. 16: 1-13). The scriptures teach that a Christian can so sin to be eternally lost and forfeit God's grace (Gal. 5: 4, Heb. 10: 25-30). Notwithstanding, some religionists teach that, "The way a Christian lives has nothing to do with his salvation." "Sin," say they, "from murder, adultery, and lying, have nothing whatsoever to do with the spiritual safety of his soul." Such are false teachers and their damnable doctrine stands in the way of true unity.
Marriage, divorce, and marriage to another. As I prepare this material, society is falling apart. I say this based on the escalating event of shacking up and divorce among those who do elect to marry as opposed to living in fornication. Many religions have obviously rejected what the scriptures teach. The Bible states that conjugal relationships outside of God approved marriage are sinful, marriage is for life, and the only allowed cause for divorce is fornication (I Cor. 7: 1ff.; Matt. 19: 4-9). Those who are advocating marriage between two men are an abomination to God (cp. Lev. 18: 22). The only hope for unity is to expose, challenge, and refute such false doctrines and present what God has really said on the subject!
Book, chapter, and verse preaching that exalts the authority of God's word. It should be unquestioned that the Bible is the standard of authority in matters religious (cp. Acts 17: 2, I Pet. 4: 11). Man is forbidden changing the word of God in any way, through addition, taking away from, or perverting (Rev. 22: 18, 19; Gal. 1: 6-9). All have the God enjoined responsibility of speaking only as the oracles of God (I Pet. 4: 11).
Things that preclude biblical unity. To cause disunity is a serious matter, one that should have our attention (Prov. 6: 16-19).
Rallying around men. Beginning with the First Century, no small amount of division has been caused by men rallying around certain men (I Cor. 1: 10-13). It seems that some have to have their tangible objects to worship and elect their idol gods. Most denominations began as a result of some man attempting to draw people to him. Such is sinful!
Carnality and infantilism. Paul showed the Corinthians how that much of their division was the result of carnality and a failure to spiritually mature (I Cor. 3: 1-6). Again, the division was pronounced wrong and all contributors instructed to desist.
False, political unity. The Ecumenical Unity philosophy has done much to keep true unity from being experienced. The idea of unity being the mind-set to agree to disagree in important doctrinal matters is foreign to the Bible (I Cor. 1: 10). The teaching of Romans 14 is being abused both out of and in the Lord's church today. The particulars of Romans 14, herbs, certain days, and oinos, 2, 3; 5, 6; 21, were not matters involving right and wrong, as such and are seen in a special circumstance (Rom. 14: 14, 17).
The numbers fixation. Many religions and churches are primarily interested in one thing: numbers and how to keep them. Numbers can be important as they represent souls and potential. However, the primary interest and goal must be the souls of men and preaching the saving gospel to them (I Cor. 1: 18-21). It is sad how many religions have been reduced to social orders, teaching social matters. When some think of "church" today, they immediately think of parties, banquets, and day care centers.
Selfishness is the root cause for most division. The factious man of Titus 3: 10, 11, the man who effects division, is clearly presented as being selfish and self-serving. "I intend to have my way or else," is the thinking of too many. Many doctrines are not held as a result of serious study, but simply what the person wants to believe, be allowed to teach, and impose on others.
What is the solution to religious division and how can true unity be effected? The answer is respect for God, his word, and a realization of the responsibility to, " earnestly contend for the faith and be, " set in defence of the gospel" (Jude 3; Phili. 1: 17). We must do as the apostles and aggressively challenge error and present without apology the truth of the gospel (cp. Acts 15: 1, 2; 17: 1, 2). I close by reminding all of the words of David: "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity" (Ps. 133: 1).
Addendum: The verses in which unity is enjoined and division is shown to be sinful all pertain to God's people. Denominationalism is a human devised system that honors man. Division within denominationalism as such is not discussed in the scriptures, denominationalism as we know it today did not exist in the First Century.