Summary: 27th in a series from Ephesians. Our attitudes are the key to preserving unity in the church.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably noticed that there has been a lot of press lately about various church denominations that are facing possible splits over theological issues. Perhaps the most publicized battle recently has been within the Episcopal Church here in the United States following the election of an openly homosexual bishop. But I’m convinced that though they receive far less publicity, fractures within local bodies of believers are far more prevalent. I’m sure that most of us here this morning have either been part of a church split or know someone else who has been involved in one.
Although many church splits seem to occur because of theological disputes, I’m not so sure that the disagreements on doctrine aren’t merely a smokescreen to cover up a more fundamental problem. That’s why I was really interested in an editorial in the January/February 2005 edition of Berita Magazine, a publication of The National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF) Malaysia. Here’s an excerpt from that editorial:
In the past, doctrinal issues and heretical teaching were the main reasons for church splits and divisions. The scenario has changed over the years. Today, the main cause is most likely – the conflict of personalities. A church on the verge of splitting may appear to be fighting over controversial issues, but in reality, it is the protracted struggle, clash or opposition between personalities, ideas, and interests of strong-willed individuals that are tearing the church apart...
A church split usually finds its roots in our passion to make ourselves – our needs, our opinions, our group, our goals, our theology – the centre of our egoistic pursuit. It is the “I” factor; the self-centeredness and individualistic mind-set that cause the separation. The attitude of many Christians is that unless something represents their views, or conforms to their positions and beliefs, it is not acceptable.
I guess by now we shouldn’t be surprised, but the Apostle Paul addressed this very situation in his letter to the Ephesians. Let’s read together our passage for today as we continue our journey through Ephesians.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Ephesians 4:1-3 (NIV)
Paul is obviously very concerned about the unity of the church. As he makes the transition from his description of what God has done for us in the first half of his letter to how we need to respond to God’s work in our life in the second half of the letter, he begins by stressing the need for unity in the body as we apply these life principles.
In this passage, there are two very important principles that as first glance seem to be somewhat unrelated. But the more I looked at them this week, the more it became apparent that both of these principles work hand in hand to preserve unity in the church.
1. My practice does not determine my position, but my position does determine my practice.
I really enjoyed recently talking with Dana Yentzer about some of his experiences growing up in a small town. When his father became the mayor of that town, you can imagine what it must have been like for Dana. Because of his position as the son of the mayor, the standard of behavior that was applied to his life by others, right or wrong, was much higher than they applied to other boys his same age in that town. Now Dana had done nothing to earn his position as the son of the mayor. In fact, I might suspect that he didn’t really relish that position much at all. His position was totally and completely outside his control. It was strictly a function of his father’s action. But that position certainly had a great impact on the way he attempted to live his life.
In many ways that is similar to our position in Christ, the main difference, of course, being that we certainly do relish our position in Him. And it is that position in Him that ought to determine our practice. Let’s take a look at both sides of this first principle:
• My practice does not determine my position
...of the calling you have received...
Obviously in just a moment we’re going to focus on this whole idea of living a life that is worthy, but I think it’s important that we first determine what it needs to be worthy of. When Paul writes of our calling, it seems to me that he is once again summarizing everything he has written about in the first three chapters of Ephesians. It includes all those spiritual blessings that Paul describes there – everything from being chosen by God to being filled with all the fullness of God.