BLOG: Words That Unite

Written by Melissa H. Stautman, LMT

Today we are focusing in on…

1 Corinthians 1:10-17
I exhort (appeal to) you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.

Paul hears that the Church at Corinth is in chaos and is divided. He “exhorts” this local church to be united. This really is a universal call to all Christian churches for a particular reason.

Christian unity in a local church manifests the knowledge of Christ, and therefore becomes a unity that, in fact, evangelizes the lost.

Pastor Steve Wilson

Even Jesus speaks of desiring that the church is united and “perfected in unity,” so that the world may know Him.[1]  When Paul says that he “exhorts” the believers in Corinth, he is saying that he wants to come alongside them and help them to accomplish Jesus’ specific will for the church. Having a specialized ministry for every need or really great small groups will not create the evangelizing unity that Paul is calling for. Only true church unity serves this purpose. 

Paul was not talking to the world. He was talking to believers (“brethren”, a.k.a. Christians). He was encouraging them to start acting like they were actually “called into fellowship[2]” by God. He reminded them that how they behaved in the church and out in the world was not a reflection on themselves but a reflection of Christ to the world. People were watching them and trying to get an idea of what Jesus was like.

It is a light to the world to see a Christian church come together, saying the same thing about sin and salvation. It’s a tragedy to hear someone say, “Why in the world would I want to be a Christian because they never seem to able to get along with anyone?”

Why would an unbeliever want to follow Christ if they looked at a believer’s life?

Far too many times, the answer is, “they wouldn’t!”. We have to see what we are showing the world of who Jesus is. Paul is trying to tell us that we have to start this “unity” behavior in the church with our brothers and sisters first.

In a Christian church, there is no room for contrary truth. It will only bring division and hinder growth. There must be unity.

I come from a Christian tradition where the congregation, instead of the elders/pastor, was given a democratic authority to make decisions about the local church itself. I now know that this is unbiblical. These meetings were fraught with angry, unkind and divisive words thrown at each other. These un-Christian, unloving attitudes were never challenged or corrected. As a young person living in the parsonage, I witnessed many a nasty confrontation between church members, followed by instructions to “just turn the other cheek” or, “we have to show Christian love.”  No, we are not to tolerate disharmony. It’s not because its ugly and makes people feel bad, but because it is a wrong reflection of Christ. We have to consider this behavior sinful and address it for the sake of unity.

Doctrinal Unity

Paul’s letter is a larger calling for the members of this individual church to say the same thing when it comes to doctrine.  He wanted them to focus on the bigger picture, which would necessarily fix the bickering. This doctrine, ground in common conviction of the truth of what it means to be a Christian, was his goal. Doctrinal truth needs to be clear, and members of a church must agree. 

Our church has a doctrinal statement that says what we (the members) must say together and agree upon to be in fellowship (membership) with one another. These things are considered essentials. You won’t see things on the list like the music we prefer or our philosophy on organic snacks for the kids. You will see things like…

What we believe about…

  • God
  • the Bible
  • Man and sin
  • Christ and salvation
  • the work of the Holy Spirit in us
  • the Church
  • Christ’s return

Defending the Sheep

We will not break from these essential and agreed upon statements for the sake of unity. There are those people who will, for their own reasons, join a church and outwardly say that they agree upon the doctrinal statements. Then when they start to feel comfortable in the fellowship, they begin to express their differing opinions among friends. Our pastors and elders will deal with and defend our doctrinal statements where they find people within the church trying to sow seeds contrary to our beliefs.[3] I’ve seen that type of division-making stopped dead in its tracks. It is a tremendously secure feeling to have shepherds that actually protect the flock from divisions.

Individual ‘Jesus-Moments’

These uniting doctrinal statements are considered essentials. These truths are an irreducible minimum by which you can call someone a Christian[4]. Churches today are running from unifying doctrinal statements because they don’t want to exclude anyone and hamper their church’s growth potential. They want everyone to come in and have an individual Jesus-moment, but that’s not what God wants.

Organizational unity is membership.

A church gathers with order and has certain guidelines to move the community together. This necessarily means there are order-makers (leaders) that express the expectations of Jesus Christ and correct those who will not walk in line with the direction the leadership has established[5]

Wholly Submitted

We all profit together and shine as a light to the world when we are wholly submitted to a local church. That whole-hearted submission, with its submission to leaders and adherence to biblical doctrine, is outwardly expressed to the watching world by membership and regular attendance in a local church. You can’t say you belong to a Christian body and uphold its beliefs if you aren’t willing to affirm your commitment through membership and submission to those called to lead.

What does it look like when you are doing church God’s way?

  • a body that gathers together regularly[6]
  • the necessity of an expressed doctrine
  • an expectation that those who assemble together under these truths will always seek to submit to them

These three combined statements actually constitute the definition of the word membership.

Clear doctrine and a church body that can hold fast with help from its leaders is the only church united for Christ. All others are built on sinking sand (Matthew 7:24-27); taking precious saints down with them. Our pastors will give an account for how they shepherded us in this unity. If they lead us or encourage us in rugged individualism instead of unity, then woe to them.

Opinions

Paul drives deeper in his call for unity when he says, “…and there be no divisions among you.” The Greek word for “divisions” leads us to know that he was talking about “differing opinions.” The church cannot function as a whole with differing opinions as it relates to doctrine and behavior. Some people will say one thing with their lips and have opposing thoughts in their head. Paul is calling, not only for unity in words of doctrine but of the opinions surrounding that doctrine. I can’t say, “I believe God saves, but I also feel like everyone gets to God and salvation in different ways.” The doctrine of my church (and surely of all Christian churches) states that salvation is by faith alone, through Christ alone. Divisions or schisms eventually reveal themselves in subtle, and sometimes glaring, hypocrisy; and they will destroy the church.

The Unity That Honors Christ

“Paul is calling for a local church that knows what it believes, says the same thing and confesses the same thing. He’s looking for a local fellowship with shared opinions personally and a shared expression corporately on all the things that are essential to what it means to be a Christian and the implications of how we live out our faith. That is the unity that honors Christ.”

Pastor Steve Wilson

As for new believers in a church or those who haven’t thought about investigating the doctrine of their church (yet), someone may ask you what your church believes on a particular matter (divorce, birth control, capital punishment, etc.). You may not know the answer. That’s okay. Pastor Wilson encourages us to push away from the fear of not having the answer ourselves and lean on the unity of the church. You could tell that person who is inquiring that even though you don’t personally know (yet) what your church believes, you are committed to the belief that your church and its elders hold. This doesn’t make you dumb. It makes you an expression of unity in Christ’s church. I tell you God is pleased with this. I don’t know about you but I’d rather someone think I’m a puppet than to have God say to me, “You were a hindrance to my kingdom and my people.”

There is no way that you or I could think through every matter that could possibly come up in life. We ought to be thankful that we have a local church that is thoroughly grounded in Christ-centered doctrine and fully equipped with saints that have thought through many similar issues and how to rightly apply scripture.  For this to be successful, we will not only have to trust Christ, but we will also have to trust those Christ has put over us in the local church. If you say, “I just can’t do this,” then you need to understand that God can make you able because it is His desire.

Romans 15:5-6
Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Don’t try working for this unity because you can’t attain it. Pray for this unity because only God can create it in you for His church.

Next week we will look at Words That Divide.  Feel free to listen ahead.


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[1] John 17:22-23

[2] 1 Corinthians 1:9

[3] Romans 16:17-18

[4] Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, shared in Biblical Doctrine: Student Notebook, pages 18-19.

[5] 1 Thessalonians 5:11-14, Hebrews 13:17

[6] Hebrews 10:25