Summary: We are not truly a "church" if we spend our time fighting. God blesses churches that are unified under His leadership.
"The Battling Baptists" ... that's the reputation Baptists have, according to Walter Shurden. Baptists are born fighters because they were born fighting. Early Baptists were known as law-breakers. Shurden writes, "They broke the laws in England and they broke the laws in America. And they broke the laws because they felt them to be unjust laws. They broke them because they felt that there was a law which transcended civil law; it was the law of Scripture."
Explaining these religious radicals, Shurden adds:
They did not buck the establishment ... culture, society, church, and state .... just for the sake of raw, red-blooded rebellion. Theirs was no adolescent kicking of the traces just to hear the clanging and clonging. They rebelled because they had a vision of something worth saving. They rebelled against the concept of a 'parish' church because they believed the idea of a 'gathered' church was worth saving. They rebelled against state enforced religion because they thought the freedom of the human spirit was worth saving. They rebelled against the priority of ecclesiastical institutionalism because they believed that the priority of the individual was worth saving.
Not only have Baptists spent much of their history fighting outsiders, but they have consumed much energy fighting among themselves. The result has been a reduced credibility, an impoverished witness, and a fragmented church.
While Baptists have both heard and acted on the message of salvation in terms of personal conversion and world-wide missions, they have not acted on the message calling for Christian unity, if they have heard it. Yet, the Bible that proclaims the message of salvation is also the one that also proclaims the message about unity.
In Ephesians 4:1-6, Paul makes a passionate plea for a united church. We need to hear these words again.
First Paul offers....
The Incentives for Unity
Why seek unity? Why not feud and fight? The "oneness" of the Christian experience...calls on Christians to cease fighting. Paul reminds the church of seven essentials that call for unity. We dare not ignore them.
1. One Spirit.
Is the Holy Spirit divided within into various contentious groups? Does the Spirit engage in a spiritual tug of war? Of course not. The Spirit is one, only one, not two, not three, but one.
2. One faith.
Is our faith a splintered faith? No! It is only one faith, namely, "Jesus Christ is Lord."
3. One hope.
Is Christian hope cut into many pieces? No! There is only one hope of our calling, namely to be committed Christians who incarnate the church God calls us to be, knowing we are his hope for a lost world.
4. One baptism.
While baptism may take different expressions today (sprinkling, immersion), disagreement on this matter did not exist in Paul's day. The mode of baptism was not a bone of contention among Paul's churches. Furthermore, even today most Christians agree that baptism is important though they may disagree about its expression and even its meaning. So, is baptism fractured and broken? No! Though greater untiy existed on this matter in Paul's day, still we believe in and practice baptism. Let there be no doubt, in this church baptism is by immersion and is essential to church membership.
5. One Lord.
Is Christ divided? Is He torn by competing natures and warring factions? No! Not Christ. Christ is one. He was and is the Prince of Peace. And he offers peace to us. A conflicted, divided person would not fit the profile of Christ.
6. One God.
Is God fragmented? Is He a divided house? Absolutely not! He is the one true living God who reigns over all of His creation.
7. One body.
In view of the "oneness" or unity of the Christian experience, should there not be one body, the church? Of course!
To have one Spirit, one faith, one hope, one baptism, one Lord, one God, and then to have a divided, weakened, and contentious church is to be guilty of spiritual hypocrisy. These elements of unity call us to oneness and unity ourselves as a church. The oneness of the body is not simply an attribute of the church; it is the very essence of the church.
The meaning of "oneness"
"Oneness" does not mean uniformity, as if Christians were clones of only one thinker in the church. "Oneness" does not mean the suppression of thoughts and feelings relative to certain issues in church life. "Oneness does not refer to the superficial silence of those who blindly and blandly go along in order not to rock the boat.
Christian unity is a gift of the Spirit. We cannot create it. The Spirit does.
But we have the responsibility to guard it and maintain it. While we cannot create the unity, we can do much to destroy it.