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?
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)
- “Make every effort to keep the UNITY of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1)
- “agree with one another so that there may be NO DIVISIONS among you and that you may be PERFECTLY UNITED in mind and thought.” (I Corinthians 1:10)
These are NOT suggestions… they are marching orders. This is the overriding objective of the church.
In John 17, Jesus didn’t PREDICT unity. He PRAYED for it. He pled for it. And He prayed for unity because He knew that would be the one main difficulty for His church.
If it was so critical an issue that Jesus made it a key priority of His prayer, we need to be His servants to pursue it. But how? Well, there’s three ways that people have tried obtaining unity:
1st – there have been those who have pursued the “box of crayons” approach. They have tried to simply say that every church who claims to be Christian Church is one. It doesn’t matter what they believe. All that matters is that they CLAIM to belong.
Of course the problem with that approach is that, if we followed it to its logical conclusion, we would be forced to accept certain cults (i.e. Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons and others) who claim to be Christian but who hold a perverted view of God and Christ, and often add to God’s Word to establish their claims.
That’s not going to work.
2nd – there have been those who’ve tried focus on the doctrines that the majority of churches agree with and use that as their standard of unity. Essentially (they say) we could just boil it all down to the lowest common denominator and what we could essentially agree on would be the basis of unity.
In religious circles this is called “ecumenicalism”