Daniel Overdorf- A few years ago I visited a couple in their home. Both husband and wife had lived most of their lives apart from Christ and His church. Their marriage- a second marriage for both- had grown rocky. The 50 year old husband faced a frightening battle with cancer, and neither partner was handling it well. Their desperation led them to consider their spiritual needs. A friend invited them to church, and they came. The first Sunday they arrived late, sat in the back pew, then bolted for the door before the closing son ended. As weeks passed, however, they moved toward the middle of the auditorium and remained after the service long enough to mingle. After a few casual conversations about the weather, work, and local sports teams, I asked if I might visit them to talk further about their faith. Reluctantly they responded, “Yes, we would very much like to have that conversation.” I sat in their living room, sipped sweet tea, and attempted to make them comfortable with more talk of weather and baseball. After 20 minutes and a refill of tea, I steered the conversation toward spiritual matters. “We’ve enjoyed having you at church. Is there anything about Christianity, Jesus, or the church that I could help you understand?” The husband responded with carefully measured words. “Jesus is attractive to me but I struggle with the church. My grandmother sometimes dragged me to church when I was a kid. What I remember most are the arguments I’d hear in the parking lot and hallways. One person didn’t like the preacher, another defended the preacher, another piped up with suspicions about the church treasurer. It was the same arguments, over and over, year after year.” The wife nodded her head to her husband’s words. “Even today,” he continued, “I drive down the street near our house and come to 10 different churches with 10 different names on their signs. And the people in those churches barely talk to each other. People all around them are dying and going to Hell- or so they say they believe- but they just spend all their time arguing.” He then dropped the generic “they” and challenged me with many questions along those lines. Not letting me speak, he finished with this question “Why should I believe what y’all say when you can’t agree on what to tell me?” Silence. I stared at my tea, and shifted in my seat. I stammered through an answer that did not satisfy me any more than it satisfied them. Thankfully, this couple continued working through these questions, and we celebrated their baptism into Christ. But How many remain separate from Christ and His church because they have similar concerns?
“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.” Ephesians 4:3-6, NIV. “Keep” in the Greek means, “guard, hold, or preserve.” God calls the church to preserve the unity that He included in His original design.
The NT consistently warns Christians against any behavior that threatens this unity. “idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:20, 21, NIV. Much of this is a barrier to unity in the church that is why these people will not inherit the Kingdom. Disunity was a problem in Corinth church that is why Paul said this at the beginning of letter, “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.” 1 Corinthians 1:10, NIV. The apostles and early elders guarded the unity of the church, such that schism was regarded, not as a virtue, but as a vile sin.
If God designed and desires a unified church, why have so many congregations- not to mention the church universal- grown fragmented?
Thesis: Scripture identifies at least 4 causes of disunity
Read James 4:1, 2, NIV.
The most common cause of bickering within communities is the selfishness of the members. Many elevate their own preferences and opinions above the needs of others, and above the needs of the community. At the heart “I want it the way I like it.”
Daniel Overdorf- A few years ago my son Peyton came home from Kindergarten and made an announcement. “Dad, I’ve figured out what ‘good fighting’ is.” My ears perked. What- particularly for a 6 year old boy- could constitute “good fighting”? He explained, “Good fighting is when you fight for the other person to get their way.” Picture a church where someone stood up in a meeting and said to someone who had a different opinion, “I want us to do what will put a smile on your face.”
An unhealthy exaltation of human leaders
Christ stands central to the teaching, worship, focus and authority of healthy, unified churches. When churches place primary focus on anyone or anything else, they fragment.
“My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” 1 Corinthians 1:11-13, NIV.
This mistake has made a mess of church history- exalting human leaders to a status and level of authority that only Christ should hold. Human leaders certainly hold some authority, and they deserve our devotion (discussed a few weeks ago), but they hold this authority and deserve this devotion only as they point people to Jesus, and not when they replace Jesus. “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1, NIV.
Read 1 Corinthians 3:3-9, NIV. When leaders cooperate with one another and submit to each other and to God, God brings growth. As a result, people unite as “fellow workers.”
A Focus on Matters of Lesser Importance
Read 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, NIV.
Wait a minute, everything in the Bible is important. Yes, but some matters of faith hold greater importance than others: if matters of “first importance” exist, logic requires that matters of secondary importance also exist. What constitutes matters of first importance? Vs. 3 and 4. This reveals the essential matters of Christian faith: the authority of Scripture (according to the Scriptures) and Jesus’ deity (He is the Christ), substitutionary death, and triumphant resurrection.
With many who claim to be of the Christian faith we hold these things in common. I can say this without any reservations: If from another community/ church that does not believe in these matters of “first importance,” get out and don’t go back.
As we place emphasis on these things, we will find greater unity with others. This keeps us from holding to a standard so strict that we cannot associate with others who have different understandings of secondary matters.
This will not solve all matters of disunity and separation but it is a start. Now I am not ready to endorse anyone or any group who simply hold to matters of “first importance.” If I agreed with them I would be with them. Also, notice I said matters of lesser importance and not matters of no importance.
But what I am saying is how can we influence others without communicating with them. We find in Acts 18 that Apollos was a dynamic preacher of the gospel but he only knew “the baptism of John.” Priscilla and Aquila hear him speak and they disagreed with him over this matter. So what did they do? “They invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” Acts 18:26, NIV.
Read 1 Corinthians 12:21- 22, 25- 26, NIV.
Healthy bodies consist of healthy parts that rely on and support one another. A hand- though it serves an essential purpose- functions not by itself but as part of a body. Separate from the body, the hand is useless, it withers and rots. Each body part remains alive as it remains connected to and functions in accord with the others.
Healthy families and healthy communities require significant effort. If a person felt no need for community, that person would not put forth the necessary effort. If people do not need one another, why love? Why forgive? Why serve? Why participate? Why support? Why encourage? Individualism results in a scattered, unconnected people who relate with one another only when convenient and only when it meets their individual needs. Such associations offer little in the way of authenticity or support, and they do not last. Unchecked individualism develops into a cancer that kills the church, the biblical family and the nation.
Antonio Torrence- We are living in a culture of selfishness and individualism. We are living among a people who frequently say, “I don’t need anybody. I can make it out here on my own. I can do it my way and exist by myself.” That’s why we are witnessing an ever-growing rate of self-help programs, self-empowerment books, and self-motivational speakers. We are busy trying to become self-made people-doing things on our own. Movers and shakers are trying to become self-made millionaires whether it’s by making deals on Wall Street or dealing out dope on street corners. We see women choosing to raise children without fathers, results of the ‘I don’t need a man’ attitude. We see men too proud to commit to a monogamous relationship because they want to selfishly play the field. Even when some of us get trapped in our sick bed, we want to be left alone in our afflictions. Our pride causes us to close our doors to visitors and others that want to help. We don’t want anyone feeling sorry for us, “stay out of my business.” We feel that we can get through our troubles by ourselves.
Some in our society are very direct and say that they do not need friends, family or even God. Imagine on the Day of Judgment this person will go before God and God will say, "You said you did not need friends, family or even me. I will grant your request. I will put you in a place where you will be all by yourself and you can do it all on your own without even me. Since I don't want to push myself on anyone, your will be done." And this person will face a godless eternity!