Summary: Several 100 yrs ago, Augustine said "In faith unity. In doubtful things, liberty. In all things love". How can we apply that concept to our mission as a church?
OPEN: There’s a Methodist minister named J. Gordon Melton who has an interesting hobby. He collects lists of church denominations in the United States... and his research has revealed there are 1517 different recognized denominations in USA. He includes all kinds of groups, including cults such as the Mormons and the Jehovah Witnesses. Additionally there are a few "peculiar" groups in his list such as:
· "The Church of the Mystery of Universal Wisdom". They believe they can communicate with aliens and they seek guidance from flying saucers.
· "The Embassy of Heaven" (Strayton, Ore.) considers all earthly governments illegitimate and issues its own license plates for cars. No word as to whether Oregon accepts their license plates as legitimate.
· "The Nudist Christian Church of the Blessed Virgin Jesus". Now, I’m not quite sure what all this group teaches… but I’m pretty sure I could recognize them from a mile away. They’d be the ones with no clothes on.
· And the last one that caught my attention was "The Church of God Anonymous". They’re kind of hard to find since they’re (pause) anonymous.
Those are some of the “odd ducks” in the list. But in that list of 1517 denominations there are groups that we would probably consider to be more “normal”.
• There are 88 denominations that call themselves Baptist
• 42 call themselves Methodist
• 22 call themselves Presbyterian – and the list goes on and on.
APPLY: Now contrast that reality to these statements out of Scripture:
Philippians 1:27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel
Ephesians 4:3-6 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
1 Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.
AND OF COURSE:
John 17:20-21 "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
Now, I find those Scriptures intriguing. They all basically say the same thing: the church SHOULD be ONE. This should be our objective… this should be our passion.
BUT do you think that we’ll EVER attain that goal?
Well, the early church had problems getting it done.
The church had been in existence for somewhere between 3 or 4 years when God had Peter baptize Gentiles without having circumcised them (Acts 10). This created such a furor amongst the Jewish believers (who were all circumcised) that had to hold a big gathering in Jerusalem to hash it out (Acts 15).
At that meeting, Peter and Paul gave testimony of what God had already done amongst the Gentiles. They were so persuasive that the leaders of the church sent out a letter to all the churches telling them that Gentile converts did not need to be circumcised to be saved.
DID THAT SETTLE THE ISSUE? Oh no! From that day on, a group of “circumcisers” went from church to church telling Gentile converts that they were NOT saved unless they submitted to circumcision.
This became such a divisive and troublesome issue that a major portion of Paul’s letters spent time combating this heresy.
So, even the early church couldn’t attain unity.
Does that mean we’ll never get it done?
Does that mean we shouldn’t try?
There are those who would suggest it. They look at the all the different denominations and they conclude you’ll never get it done… so why try?
ILLUS: I read one man’s sermon that compared all the disunity in the church to a bunch of crayons. He maintained that all the varying denominations had their own particular colors and distinctions… but in the end they would all go back into the same box.
Now I found that to be a very colorful illustration (get it? Colorful… crayons... you can groan now). But I also found it to be very unbiblical.
Scripture repeatedly commands the church to pursue unity
- “stand firm in ONE spirit, contending as ONE man for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27)