Summary: A look at what makes a healthy and unified church.
The Church - Unity
October 4, 2015
A man died and met St Peter at the gate. Peter asked, “Would you like a tour?” The man said, “Sure.” So, Peter led the man down a long hall with many doors. They stopped at the first door and Peter opened it and said with a whisper, “These are the Pentecostals.” He quietly closed the door and went to the next door. As he opened that door, Peter whispered, “Here are the Baptists.” Again, he quietly closed that door, and this went on door after door.
The man was confused. Finally, Peter whispered, “This is the last one I’ll show you.” He quietly opened the last door and whispered, “Here are some non-denominationalists.”
Peter shut the last door, and led the man back to the pearly gates. He asked Peter, “Why did you have to whisper?” Peter replied, “Because each group thinks they are the only ones in heaven.”
That will lead us into our discussion for today. My focus is pretty specific. It’s about First Baptist Church. It’s about who we are and who we will be. So, the focus is not so much about us against other denominations, it’s really more about us against us. It’s true in most churches, we can easily get caught up in things that are not essential.
The 16th century Lutheran theologian, Rupertus Meldenius wrote ~ “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”
That’s a great reminder for us. What is essential? Where is our starting point for a church to maintain unity? Meldenius reminds us it’s in the essentials.
For the past 3 weeks we’ve been looking at the church, and the call for unity. For 3 weeks we’ve looked at the passage from Paul in Ephesians 4:1-6. Paul is calling for oneness in the church. He urges us to demonstrate 5 virtues — humility, gentleness, patience, love and peace – which will help us to maintain the unity of the church.
He spoke of our common oneness in the church. We are ONE body, with ONE Spirit, with ONE hope . . . having ONE Lord, ONE Faith, ONE baptism and ONE God and Father who is over all and through all and in all.
Today, I want to start unpacking what the church is supposed to look like. If we are to maintain the unity, how do we accomplish that? It’s not always easy. So, where do we start? I spoke about the 5 virtues last week, but I believe it starts with Jesus and our relationship with Him. If He is Lord of our lives, then we are called to be obedient to Him. In Mark 12, the following took place —
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that He answered them well, asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:28-31
That last sentence should strike us. There is no commandment greater than these.
So, our call is to love the Lord our God with everything that we have — heart, spirit, mind and body. Nothing is excluded in our love of the Lord, nothing! I’m quickly moving through this . . . Next Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Assuming we love ourselves, we are called to love those around us. That does not mean we get to pick and choose.
We don’t get to say I don’t love that person because they are . . . white / black / red / too skinny / too big / not the right theology / too liberal / too conservative / too open minded / too closed minded (you can fill in the blank).
It also means our actions must be predicated on love. It means we have to find ways to love one another. If we don’t love one another, what are we then doing to one another. In my eyes we are destroying one another. When talking about the royal law, James said it very well —
28 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. – James 2:8
So, the bottom line is a call to love God with all that we have and to love our neighbors. Those are the great commandments and royal law. So, what does all of that mean when we are relating to one another? Especially when we might even disagree with one another. What then do we do?