And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
— Ephesians 4:11–16 —
Few things are more important for growth as a Christian than learning how to walk in unity with others. And, at the same time, few things more confused than discussions about unity in the church today. Indeed, how many seek Christian unity without the foggiest idea of what Scripture says about the church, and thus they seek unity in the church with definitions and desires formed without the light of Scripture.
Still, unity in the church is a goal that biblical churches must pursue. Jesus prayed for it (John 17), and Jesus died for it (Ephesians 2). And thankfully, Scripture speaks of it in passages like Ephesians 4. Therefore, consider ten truths that we find in Ephesians about what church unity is and is not.
- Unity is a gift from God.
- Unity is maintained, not created by man.
- Unity grows over time.
- Unity is most opposed by pride and self-interest.
- Unity is a uniquely Christian adornment.
- Unity requires a doctrinal center – the gospel.
- Unity does not mean uniformity.
- Unity depends on grace and gifts.
- Unity grows when it is stretched, pressured, and even threatened.
- Unity glorifies God and attracts unbelievers.
Here is a long-form piece that came from our recent sermon series on 1 Corinthians. While many commentaries do not recognize the trinitarian nature of 1 Corinthians 1–2, Paul highlights doctrines related to each member of the trinity in order foster unity in the church at Corinth. May the Lord grant doctrinal unity to his church, as its members tether themselves to his triune gospel of grace.
What do you do when a church begins to fight? What do you say when members of the church begin to take sides and misrepresent the other? Where do you turn? What truth(s) do you recall? How do you bring peace to a divided church?
Sadly, many faithful followers of Christ find themselves in churches divided by various doctrines and competing practices. In one church I served controversy broke out concerning the doctrines of election, regeneration and faith, and the extent of the atonement. Or at least, those “doctrines of grace” appeared to be the problem. From my vantage point, those problems were merely used to protect a deeper, darker problem—the baleful commitment for various groups in the church to maintain control over what their church.
Commitment to self-interest in the church is all too common. It appears in modern churches who fracture over various worship styles, and it appears in ancient churches who sought to identify themselves with certain charismatic leaders. It appears on the pages of church history and it is found in Scripture itself, especially in the book of 1 Corinthians. Continue reading
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.
— Ephesians 2:13–17 —
Racism. Elitism. Sexism. Ageism. Ethnocentrism of all stripes. The world is filled with hostility. One race enslaves another, one caste condescends toward another, one generation mocks another. In every age, in every region, among every people strife marks humanity.
For all the talk about equality in our world today, there is no such thing–not if it is brokered by sinful humans. For how often do those who fight for justice become unjust when they are given a place of power? As Jesus said, the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over you (Mark 10:42), and when the Jews had power in his day, they did the same. The politicians and prophets of this age talk of world peace and equality for all, but with hearts filled with strife such promises are only societal hallucinations (Mark 7:21–23).
It won’t work. It hasn’t worked. Something more is needed to unify people.
How the Cross of Christ Makes Peace
In Ephesians 2:11–22 Paul gives the answer to what will unify people. It is not an endless search to find common ground or become colorblind; peace on earth comes from God in heaven. Only through vertical reconciliation with God, can lasting peace be found in the community created by Jesus death and resurrection. Speaking of this very reconciliation, Paul says three things about the way Jesus and his bloody cross brings peace.
At Together for the Gospel this week, Kevin DeYoung preached a powerful message on the unity, authority, and power of the preached word. The title was “Never Spoke a Man Like This Before: Inerrancy, Evangelism and Christ’s Unbreakable Bible” (it will be up online soon).
In his closing remarks, Kevin quoted a section of Hughes Oliphant Old’s comprehensive The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Church (the section can be found on the Pyromaniacs blog). Writing about the powerful ministry of John MacArthur, Old observed that MacArthur’s effectiveness in the pulpit has little to do with oratory skill (although, Old does admit that MacArthur has some effective means of keeping his audience attention). Instead, and to the credit of MacArthur’s view of Scripture, Old writes “Surely one of the greatest strengths of MacArthur’s preaching ministry is his complete confidence in the text.” Continue reading
Tomorrow night, our church, Calvary Baptist in Seymour, Indiana, will begin its Wednesday night journey through the Bible. We will begin by looking at the Bible as a whole. While preparing for our time, I came across this statement about the unity of the Bible from the ESV Study Bible. It is a succinct and compelling word about the wisdom of God in Scripture, telling one harmonious story with a plethora of divergent voices.
Scripture is no ragbag of religious bits and pieces, unrelated to each other; rather, it is a tapestry in which all the complexities of the weave display a single pattern of judgment and mercy, promise and fulfillment. The Bible consists of two separate collections: the OT, written over a period of about 1,000 years, and the NT, written within a generation several centuries after the OT was completed. Within such a composite array one would expect to find some crossed wires or incoherence, but none are found here. While there are parallel narratives, repetitions, and some borrowings from book to book, the Bible as a whole tells a single, straightforward story. God the Creator is at the center throughout; his people, his covenant, his kingdom, and its coming king are the themes unfolded by the historical narratives, while the realities of redemption from sin and of godly living (faith, repentance, obedience, prayer, adoration, hope, joy, and love) become steadily clearer. Jesus Christ, as fulfiller of OT prophecies, hopes, promises, and dreams, links the two Testaments together in an unbreakable bond. Aware that at the deepest level the whole Bible is the product of a single mind, the mind of God, believers reading it theologically always look for the inner links that bind the books together. And they are there to be found.
As you read your Bible, ask God to show you the unity and diversity of this rich tapestry of his redemptive history and revelation.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss