Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Church Unity

Have you ever given a great deal of thought to last supper? Sitting with Jesus among the disciples is Judas Iscariot. Judas spent three years being trained personally by Jesus. Furthermore, Judas got to sit and eat regularly with Jesus as a friend. While the disciples were a unified team, Judas was never unified with them because his heart was far from them; he was a thief and had been plotting against them for a long time. Yet, at the last supper Judas is among them appearing to be a friend. Along with the other eleven disciples, Judas had worked on various ministry projects, ate, and traveled together for three years. To everyone who saw them, the perception had to be one of unity. Nevertheless, Judas was on his own mission with his own agenda. In spite of appearances, disunity was bubbling beneath the surface.

Having thought about it for a long time, I now realize that Judas not only betrayed Jesus but the REST OF THE TEAM as well. Imagine how much it must have grieved and angered each of the disciples to discover that Judas was never really one of them, even thought he pretended to be. For all the time they had spent together, Judas had a secret agenda in his heart. Did they feel betrayed? Did they feel lied to? Did they feel used? Did they feel foolish for trusting a friend who turned out to be an enemy? Did the subtle signs of divisiveness start to make sense in retrospect as they looked back over the previous three years? Did people bombard them with questions about Judas until they were simply tired of talking about it? Did gossiping people who liked Judas spread vicious rumors and lies about the other disciples, trying to make them responsible for Judas’ ruin?

From a Biblical standpoint, unity is to be pursued by churches for several reasons. (1) Jesus prayed for it often. (2) Without unity spiritual health and growth cannot be maintained. (3) Unity is fragile because it is gained slowly and lost quickly. (4) Paul repeatedly commands unity in churches (I Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 13:11; Eph. 4:3; Phil. 1:27).

Practically, unity is something that requires much skill to achieve and maintain. Since unity is so important to New Testament churches, it must be carefully defined and pursued in these critical areas:

There must be THEOLOGICAL UNITY in the church. This means that leaders and members agree on what they will and will not fight over. At PCC there are certain non-negotiables that we will go to the mat over. These include our doctrinal beliefs that are closely connected to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and are outlined in Seminar 101. On the other hand, there are less essential issues that we don’t feel the need to fight over, and therefore live with an open hand, and agree to disagree in an agreeable way.

Two of the biggest threats to theological unity are legalism (adding rules and doctrines to the Bible) and libertinism (removing moral limits from the Bible). These two issues are great threats to the truth of Jesus Christ and the church needs to defend against both. Jesus Himself faced legalism and libertinism against the Pharisees and Sadducees in His own day.

An example of legalism is found in the church of Galatia (i.e., the book of Galatians), and an example of libertinism is found in the church at Corinth (i.e, the book of I Corinthians).

There must also be RELATIONAL UNITY in a church. This does not mean that everyone has to wear matching T-shirts and go out together every Friday night. Neither does it mean that everyone has to like everyone else. But it does mean that people love one another and demonstrate it by being respectful, friendly, and kind in their interactions with each other, especially in areas where they differ.

There must be PHILOSOPHICAL UNITY. This means agreement on methods and style. Two people may love Jesus the same, but if one person wants a church to use liturgy complete with a robe-wearing pastor accompanied by a hand bell choir, and the other wants to worship with an acoustic guitar and a three-chord song to sing to Jesus for one hour, then somebody is going to get a knuckle sandwich.

In addition to Bible rules, the church family, like any family, also has house rules about how they do things. So a church must define itself and say, “This is how we do things” and seek to attract those who find it comfortable to be in that environment. Without common agreement on style, a church can quickly divide in factions that criticize one another and unify themselves only in the common cause of killing the church or each other.

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