Summary: A sermon on barriers to unity (adapted from Daniel Overdorf's book, Rediscovering Community, chapter 10 Graciously United, pages 308-314)
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.”