In the last two articles, we discussed the importance of unity in the body of Christ. Jesus granted Christians unity with His Father, and He demands that we work hard to be united with one another. Unnecessary divisions damage the cause of Christ.
Two cats tied together by the tails possess a certain kind of unity, but not the kind believers enjoy in Christ. While unnecessary divisions should be avoided at all costs, there are reasons to recognize rifts in Christian fellowship.
Unity in Jesus does not include welcoming into fellowship members who persist in flagrant sin. Paul wrote:
There is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead so that the one who had done this would be removed from your midst… In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
Such a man has no unity with Jesus. He no longer submits to the headship of Jesus. Putting him out of the church simply confirms what he has already done to himself. Really, this is not dividing the body; it is a doctor saving the body by excising a cancerous tumor. Furthermore, handing him to Satan is the best way to get his attention and bring him back into unity with Jesus, so that in the end “his spirit may be saved.”
I would hope this is a rare occurrence. Christians struggle with sin daily, as they mature in Christ. I’ve heard of churches “disfellowshipping” members who missed a Wednesday night, reasoning that such behavior is sin which must be publicly repented of before fellowship can be restored. This harsh approach tends to be abused by prideful men (3 John 9-10) who overlook their own sins and shortcomings (Matthew 6:14-15, 23:2-12); and it is out of touch with the patient nature of our Lord (John 8:1-11, Luke 7:36-50, James 2:13). We must encourage and rebuke one another in love (Jude 22-23, Galatians 6:1-5, Romans 15:14) to help one another get to Heaven. There will always be some on the church roll who lack faith (1 Peter 4:17, Matthew 13:24-30); we can leave final judgment to the Lord who reads the heart (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).
Twice we’ve read Paul’s plea for unity. Paul next describes the basis of that unity:
There is 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 (Ephesians 4:4-6).
Believers share unity because they are sons of the same Father, dreamers of the same hope, and followers of the same faith. Denominationalism has created a situation in which many people claim to be followers of Jesus, but have little idea what the faith demands. They do not read the words of Jesus; instead they follow a man-made creed. Think, for example, of the number of churches solemnizing gay marriage or calling the “one baptism” meaningless for salvation.
Followers of Jesus read and obey the words of His apostles, who were chosen and authorized to teach and record the inspired words of Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20, John 12:48, 14:23, 16:15, 20:21, 2 Corinthians 5:20, 1 John 4:6, etc). It is our duty to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) and be sure we are following apostolic truth. John said,
Many antichrists have appeared … they went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out so that it would be shown that they all are not of us (1 John 2:18-19).
Anti-Christian teaching prevents unity because it directs people through “a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6-9) to “a different Jesus” (2 Corinthians 11:4). “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house and do not give him a greeting” (2 John 10). False teachers will bring “doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1-4) and will “introduce destructive heresies” and “many will follow their sensuality” (2 Peter 2:1-22). Whole congregations will take the bait, and “wanting to have their ears tickled, will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth” (2 Timothy 4:3). Such threats require a stand for truth “so that those who are approved may become evident among you” (1 Corinthians 11:17-20).
Not all disagreements are cut and dry. Even then, Paul stuck around to convince his brethren. It is instructive that Paul would address the Corinthians as “those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1:2) while rebuking them for such serious errors as sexual immorality, lawsuits against brethren, and abuses during the Lord’s Supper.
There is a balance to be found. Believers reading the same Bible and doing their best to apply it in all good conscience, will still find some things they aren’t sure about. I disagree with my own wife about the implications of a few passages of Scripture! I have changed my mind on various matters, which means the JG of today disagrees with the JG of yesterday. If believers must be in lockstep on every minor matter, they will not need to build church buildings; phone booths will be large enough. –John Guzzetta