Christian Unity is an important subject for the church and believers in general. I preached this sermon on this past Sunday, because I believe it is needed for both conservative and more liberal churches (in some areas). Christian unity should not be mistaken for ecumenicalism. Ecumenicalism is having unity with people who aren’t even Christians at all – which is not Biblical. However, the beauty of Christian unity is that whether you are a city slicker, country boy, old or young, quiet or loud, eat bacon or not, decide to esteem one day above another or not, or decide what color the church walls should be, we are all tied to Christ and are a part of His body. We each have different functions, and shouldn’t worry about if we are all the same or not. Our focus should be on Christ, and God has a purpose for each part of the Christian body like it talks about in 1 Cor. 12. Below is the outline for my sermon, but there were some things added, so I would recommend listening to it at this link:
If you’re like me, I’m sure sometimes you’ve been confused by how in the world two Christians can read the Bible and come up with two different conclusions. Is this ok? Is this a problem? Should we break up with believers that don’t believe the same we do?
I know I used to fall into the category of someone who would feel like they needed to quit visiting or fellowshipping with somone who I found out had a few differences with in how we lived out our Christian walk. I thought I could only be around Christians who were just like me. Because everyone else who didn’t believe like me was wrong! Well, I probably wouldn’t say that exactly, but it sure was in the back of my mind. This is a problem I have noticed with a lot of very conservative Christians. It is really how the worldview is in a lot of conservative groups that I have observed and been a part of, and is one of their weaknesses. If you are not just like them, or very close, you will not be able to be in fellowship with them very long. In more liberal churches, this is not a problem as much. However they go to the other extreme of not being discerning of true Christians or Christians living in sin. Which the Bible talks about how do deal with Christians in sin as well. However, as our pastor has pointed out, the list of things that make someone a Christian is not very long, and the list of things that make it to where you should break up with a Christian for a period of time (the goal is restoration) is not very long as well. It is definitely not as long as some may like to believe.
But how can there be so many opinions about dress codes, music choices, dancing, places we choose to go, or not go? Who is right? How do we find out? Or is that the wrong question to be asking?
In this article, I am going to be answering the question about how is it possible to read the same Bible, and come up with different views about different topics. Yet still have Christian unity, love one another, get along, and be in fellowship with each other. However, I must make some distinctions:
- Some things we can come up with different interpretations and still be Christians.
- Some things we cannot come up with different views and still be a Christian.
The Bible talks a lot about unity between believers and gives clear instructions on how we are to live with one another. Just a funny illustration that my old pastor used was that if we couldn’t get along with one of the believers down here on earth, we better watch out, because God may just put our mansion right next to theirs in heaven!
Aside from joking though, there are quite a few verses that talk about Christian unity. But first we must answer the question – what is a Christian? A Christian is one that believes in Christ, and has surrendered their life to follow Him. They must believe that Jesus died and rose again on the third day, that He is fully God and fully man, that he is part of the trinity, and that his blood alone is sufficient for washing their sins away. Not in good works, baptism, or anything else. Even though those things are good, we must not be trusting in those things to even add a bit to our salvation.
So if someone is not a Christian, that doesn’t mean we don’t visit occassionally with them. We need to be in the world, but not of the world, or spotted by the world, as 1 Cor. 5:9-10, and James 1:27 says. We have to be around people that are not Christians so they can see our lives and be a good witness to them. We don’t have unity though with unbelievers.
Here is a quote about this, (Tim Dukeman), “We’ve lost the scandal of Jesus being a friend to sinners. When Jesus asked the woman at the well for a drink, he was flouting social norms in a striking way. We just don’t see it because we live in a feminist society and Samaritans are not socially marginalized.
If you’re a liberal, you need to recognize that Jesus being a friend to tax collectors means that He would have been pals with Ku Klux Klan members, Islamophobes, Alt Right racists, Sexual Harrassers, white Rednecks, Hardcore Trump supporters, Wall Street Bankers, and homophobes. And in the context of those friendships, He would have authentically loved them, and called them to repent of their sins.
If you’re a conservative, imagine Jesus hanging out with welfare queens, illegal aliens, Social Justice Warriors, radical Muslims, and abortion doctors. And in the context of those friendships, He would have authentically loved them, and called them to repent of their sins.
If you’re not the slightest bit uncomfortable, then you don’t understand what it means that Jesus was a friend to sinners.”
But this is not the focus of this message. Right now we are talking about Christian unity. Unity is much more than visiting or being around someone – that is what we do with unbelievers from time to time. It goes deeper than that. Let’s read some verses that apply.
“9He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.
10 He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.
11 But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.” 1 John 2:9-11
This verse is talking about hating your Christian brothers and sisters in Christ. It is talking about someone who says they are walking in God’s ways, or enlightened to God’s truth, and say they are a Christian. They look the look and talk the talk – sometimes really well and convincing! But this verse says that just the fact of hating your brother makes you in darkness.
In 1 John 3:10 it says, “10 In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
11 For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.”
Also, if you read 1 John 4:20, it says, “20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.”
The context of John 4:20-21 is talking about discernment. In verse 1 it talks about trying the spirits whether they be of God. Also, later, it talks about discerning between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. But right in the middle through the end of the chapter, you see John coming back to the main point – “We love him, because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19 It’s like John is saying, “be discerning, but don’t miss the main point – and that is to have love!” You know, if we do everything right, and think we are discerning the right and wrong things in this world, and have really high standards, that’s not going to get us as far as we might think. In the end, it all boils down to whether we were doing it out of love for God and others, or if we are doing it to look good, keep our status, be a good witness, etc. In fact, I heard someone say that a lot of the people that have had ministries and organizations dedicated to “the issues of our day” or discernment ministries, that many of their children have walked away from the faith or what they were taught. That is they said, and what I believe too, because the people from these ministries weren’t focusing on Christ. They were more focused on the issues than what really matters. And I would add too, that I believe when you focus more on Christ than “issues” that there will be more love – because God is love!
1 Cor. 13:1-3 says, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
Think about this for a moment. If we speak glowing words about God and His righteousness, but don’t have love, it’s worthless. If we speak to many people, explaining the word of God, understand the “deep things” – the mysteries – if we consider ourselves to be a stronger Christian because of the things we do or don’t do compared to some other “weaker, or not as far along Christians,” because of things that we believe that they may not see, we are nothing. Even if we remove mountains by faith, if we live poorly so we can bless others, or even sacrifice our lives, if we don’t have love, we are nothing.
When you look at and judge someone elses life, it is good not to base it off of how they look. The Bible says, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 It does not say the world will know that we are the disciples of Christ by the way we dress. It doesn’t say they will know that we are following God by what we decide to allow, or not allow. It says that we will be known by how much we show love. By how much we decide to love on someone, no matter how “different” they are from us. When you are looking at someone to decide if they would be a good close friend, a spouse, or look at your fellow church members, what is most important? Is it how they look? Their standards? Their choices in certain areas, like if they should eat bacon or not? No. The most important thing you should look at is their character and love, which comes from within – not without. Here is a good observation from Israel Wayne, from Family Renewal Ministries, “I’m overhearing an Orthodox Presbyterian pastor and a conservative Mennonite leader discussing election and Monegism vs. Synergism.
It’s respectful and gracious. Praise God! Wish we could learn from each other like that more frequently.” When we respect each other’s beliefs, even if we disagree, but both love God and are Christians, that is what we are looking for!
Someone may be like, “yeah I love my brother in Christ, but I’m not going to talk with him, and I’m going to avoid being around him” – how is this love? Love cannot be shown by silence. Love is an action that comes from the heart. James 2:16 says, “And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” Words without action don’t really profit at all. They are worthless. Therefore to say in word you love someone, but in action reject them, then that is wrong.
Someone may say, “well, since they don’t believe like I do, then they must be unsaved, so I can get out of these verses, and quit fellowshipping with that person I don’t like!” Which this is untrue as well. There are two passages that we will look at about this matter.
Matthew 18:15-17 says, “15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”
Thus we first see that if we have a problem with someone, we don’t just say that they aren’t Christians right away. You first talk with the person. If you can’t get it worked out, then bring someone with you. And if things still don’t get worked out, then bring it to the Church. However, Proverbs 25:8 sheds some wisdom on this, “Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame.” Be sure you are right before God, and are certain you are blameless in the matter before you just bring someone before the church. You may get put to shame, and if you don’t repent, then Matthew 18:17b says “…let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” This is the Biblical order before just saying about a brother, “well, he’s not a Christian” before going through the biblical process. And it may come back on you. But the end goal is not to forever cut that person out of your life. We are to hope that they pray and repent, and not be like Jonah, and be glad about their judgement. Which I should also add that this verse says “let him be unto thee as an heathen man.” This does not mean they aren’t a Christian, but just at the moment by you, they should be treated as one. And that means prayer and love shown to them so they repent.
The next verse that talks about breaking up with fellowship with a brother for a period of time is in 1 Cor. 5:11, “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.”
As you probably notice here, the list is very small of what things that you should break fellowship with a brother for. Also notice that this is in the context of the church to excommunicate with this person for a period of time until repentance. This is not something, once again, that necessarily an individual would decide on their own about. It would have to go through the church for them to decide. We get the point then, that God really doesn’t like brothers and sisters in Christ to be at odds or out of fellowship with one another. It takes a lot of effort, and for very few reasons to quit on another Christian – but only for a period of time. Also, when making judgements on someone, remember another word of caution by Jesus, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” John 8:7 Let’s not forget to look at ourselves first, like Proverbs warned, before trying to point at someone else.
There may also be someone else that says, “the Bible says that we will know someone by their fruits. Therefore, if they’re not doing what we think they should, then they aren’t Christians, and we can quit fellowshipping with them.” However, we always have to compare Scripture to Scripture. In Matthew 7:16-20 it says, “16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” So what is a fruit? Is it anything we don’t agree with? Is it external standards that we define? No, in Galatians 5:22-23 it says, “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” Notice, once again, that the first fruit is love – because it is the greatest thing, and should be the motivating factor when doing things!
1 Peter 4:8 says, “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” That means even if someone has sinned against us, we should not rejoice in it. We should be more worried about the person, not the offence done to us.
Psalm 133:1 “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” So is unity agreeing on everything, or can we have unity just because we are looking to Christ together? I would say that unity is when we focus on Christ, not our differences. The Bible allows for differences between believers, as I mentioned earlier. Romans 14:4 says, “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.” Romans 14:5-10 says, “5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.
9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.
10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”
We see from these verses that God doesn’t want to focus on our non-essential differences. We already found the very short lists in the Bible of what are essential (i.e. Salvation, and a few specific sins), and we saw that we should not be quick to break up fellowship, or on our own without the churches help most of the time. So we see that the main focus is Christ. When we love Christ, we will love our brother, and want to be around him….even if he is different. We will want to help each other out and worship Christ (as long as we are both saved) despite our differences. Christian unity is not making others start or stop doing things just because we are offended by it. We need to respect each others freedom in Christ, and trust that when God wants to, he will show that other person they are wrong – if indeed they are wrong. On the flip side, we should respect others and try not to do things that will offend a “weaker brother.” But sometimes, we must still do what our conscience says we should do, and not tiptoe around everyone all the time. And other Christians should respect that. As Romans 12:18 says, ” If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” Sometimes it is possible, and sometimes somebody will be offended.
I believe one of the reasons God puts Christians in a church, and makes it difficult to have enough reason to break off fellowship with other believers, is so we can learn to get along with other sinners, and with those who don’t believe like us in every detail. God allows for differences in applications of His Word where he isn’t as clear. That is because he knows every circumstance and person’s background is different. God has standards we should live by, and sin is always sin. However the different applications of how we apply more vague principles in God’s Word that don’t specifically talk about certain issues down to a “T” He allows for different applications of the same principles. Just like in Romans 14 it says that one man will esteem one day above another, and another every day alike. The Bible isn’t ultra clear on this issue, therefore Paul says to that every man should be fully persuaded in his own mind, and that we shouldn’t judge another man’s servant. There are some things that I always wondered, “why doesn’t God just make this issue clear in His Word?” I believe one reason is that he wants people from completely different backgrounds, different ways of doing life, and different applications to learn to get along with one another. He allows for some differences in application! If you have a city slicker, a country boy, and someone from a foreign country, all with different backgrounds, dress, music tastes, preferences, and mindsets, yet they all love one another because they all love Christ, this is how the world knows that we are His disciples – our love! Because we are different and still love, that is our greatest witness! The heathens would have a hard time doing that! And once you learn to love your brothers and sisters and Christ, it will be much easier, and less hypocrital when you say you love a lost soul, and try to reach them for Christ as well. I believe our church does pretty well with Christian unity compared to some other conservative churches I have been a part of. We have many people from different backgrounds and styles, yet we can all focus on Christ. Let’s continue following Christ together and let Him lead.