On Which Beliefs Must Christians Be United?


One cannot read the prayer of Jesus in John 17 without being touched by His profound desire for unity. In no less than seven places of that chapter, Jesus speaks of Him and the Father being one and of the need for His followers to be one with Them. The context of the prayer was a plea for unity. The passage recognizes that there should be unity within God's people but that the world would not be part of the unity of God's people. In only one other place in the scripture does the New Testament speak nearly as intensely of unity and one-ness: Ephesians 4: 1-6. That passage says:


"I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."


To ignore that there is some exclusivity in that passage is to totally shut one's eyes to the plainspoken Gospel of God. When the apostle Paul speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit said that there was one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God, it simply was not possible for there to be more than one of any of them and for God's word to still be true. This passage both unites those who are of the "ones" he is speaking of, and separates those who are not of the "ones." Jesus said that His cause would be divisive, not always unifying (Matthew 10: 34-38; John 17: 9, 11, 15, 16). The division between the one body (church) and the world would be so sharp that the world would hate Christians (John 15:19 "If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.") Let us return to the divisive aspect of Ephesians later on. For now, let us look at the unifying power of Ephesians 4: 1-6.

In the Lord's church, there will always be some matters of preference that we differ on. Some congregations prefer that the communion occur near the beginning of the Sunday morning worship service, while others have it near the end or on Sunday night. Some congregations sing three songs before the sermon while others have a virtual song fest before the preacher ever begins. But the essentials--the ones, if you will, to use Paul's terminology--that the Ephesians 4 passage specifies are:


These are the things on which we must agree as Christians if we are to fellowship one another. Above are stated the seven (interestingly, a New Testament "complete number") central beliefs of the church. When we look at the implications of those seven, we see the things that make Christians different from the world. And we see what sets the true Way (Acts 9:1), church of Christ (Romans 16:16), body of Christ (Ephesians 1: 22, 23) and church of God (1 Corinthians 1: 2) apart from the denominational world. When we get very far afield from these seven central beliefs and make those excursions a test of fellowship, we are in danger of binding what Christ did not bind or loosing what He did not loose.


Important realization: Unity is not uniformity. I Corinthians chapters 12 and 14, Romans 12: 3-8, and Ephesians 4: 11-16 describe how members of the body of Christ will have different talents and abilities, and how Christians should work together to allow expression of those gifts without creating confusion. We will not all be just alike.


A happily married couple is united, but they are far from identical. Rather their abilities and even their physical makeups make them a fantastic duet rather than two solos.


Unity is powerful. The people of Genesis 11 at the tower of Babel had unity--Even the Godhead said that there would not be anything that would be impossible for the people if the matter was not addressed (Genesis 11: 6). But it is possible to be united and yet not be united in truth. Unity without truth is not just insufficient; it can be dangerous. The Jim Jones movement which culminated in mass suicides in Guyana had unity, but not truth. Hitler had unity for a time in Germany, but not truth. The unity of the church today depends upon every member being a Bible scholar. Every member should study his or her Bible (II Tim. 2: 15). Only by the power of our Biblical knowledge can we keep the teachings of the world on the outside of the church and the teachings of the Gospel on the inside. When we look at Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane, we see that He emphasized the importance of unity in the truth (John 17: 8, 17).


The Ephesians 4: 1-6 passage is a definitive one, and one that some people find uncomfortable because it seems to exclude the possibility of "many roads leading to heaven." It is a unique compilation in scripture of "one this and none of anything else" pronouncements. But each of the seven specifications is found in other places in the Bible. It is the collection of exclusive statements in one place that is unique, not the existence of them anywhere else in scripture.




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