Unity in the family of God is not automatic. Paul implores the brothers and sisters in every congregation to do the difficult work of striving for unity.
Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:2-3).
The church is called into unity with God and with one another through Jesus, who is Himself united with the Father. The church must now labor to keep it, in the bond of peace. How?
Last time, we highlighted the attitudes that promote unity. Now, let’s look at a the terrible costs of unnecessary division.
There are numerous things that, while they have to do with practical and financial matters on the surface, also have everything to do with the ability of the body of Christ to accomplish the Lord’s work in a given area. Division creates and perpetuates small, struggling congregations. Unity creates and perpetuates large, healthy congregations.
A small, struggling congregation is focused almost entirely on keeping the doors open and the lights on. A large, healthy congregation is blessed with enough resources to accomplish bigger jobs like supporting foreign evangelism, inviting special speakers, and hosting gospel meetings.
A small, struggling congregation finds it exhausting to keep up with the physical needs of the membership. Every single member must be involved in every aspect of ministry. One person finds himself teaching every class, leading songs three times a month, organizing funeral food, writing cards to visitors, taking meals to shut-ins, and cleaning bathrooms alone. A large, healthy congregation is blessed with enough workers to maintain the building, rotate worship duties, and respond to the needs of the saints.
A small, struggling congregation has few who are capable of preparing and presenting Bible classes to children. Sadly, this perpetuates a vicious cycle in which young families hesitate to attend because there are no quality classes for young people. A large, healthy congregation encourages its members to teach children’s Bible classes, thus putting adults on track to become shepherds, while producing strong Christian young people who are equipped resist Satan.
There’s nothing wrong with starting small; Paul planted the gospel in Europe with one businesswoman’s family whom he found at a riverbank prayer meeting. But the book of Acts describes growth. A small group of people must light a fire and become faithful to evangelize. Sadly, many small congregations became small because unnecessary division whittled away their numbers and stole their joy and strength. Statistics show that small congregations are getting smaller, while large congregations are getting fewer. Christians seeking to raise their children and use their talents in the Lord retreat into far-flung enclaves, and the landscape of faith across the country grows bleak. This at a time when the US population is soaring.
Is this really the legacy we wish to leave for the next generation?
Perhaps two or three small congregations within driving distance will pursue unity, put aside their minor differences and assemble together as one, to mount an effective work for the Lord. Of course, ruling families will have to relinquish control. Ornery members will have to behave. Traditionalists will have to reevaluate their practices in the light of actual Scripture and open their minds to helpful changes.
This leads us to the greatest thing churches stand to lose when they divide unnecessarily—credibility in the community. Jesus prayed for unity among His followers:
I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me (John 17:20-21).
When a congregation is consumed with strife, the community concludes there is no truth to the gospel, for God’s followers cannot even stay together. We must not allow disputes over whether or not Adam had a belly button jeopardize our ability to share the light of truth with a lost and dying world! “By this all men will know you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). –John Guzzetta