...the churches of Christ salute you! Rom 16:16

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by Raymond Stiner

Unity–such a small word, and yet such a powerful state of being that it was one of the things that David enjoyed when he said, "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity"(Ps.133:1). The apostle Paul instructed the brethren at Corinth, who had already begun to divide into various factions, that they should "all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Cor. 1:10).

Jesus even prayed for it in John’s gospel when he said: "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word. That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17:20-21). In this passage Jesus expresses one of the main reasons why there should be unity, and that was that the world may believe that God has sent His Son into the world. When there is confusion, strife, divisions, and disunity in any congregation or brotherhood of believers, it causes those of our neighbors to be cautious of our faith and positions. I’m sure that the cause of Christ has been hurt many times because of the disunity amongst brethren. A church in confusion and strife cannot hope very much to convert their neighbors. Such conditions effectually stop the ears of the people against any plea that the church makes. Your action toward your brethren speaks louder than anything you could say. Thus a church, by its strife and confusion, contributes to the damnation of those it should save

Division is an evil thing. It is not of God but is of this world, and the powers of this world. James wrote: "But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, and devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion, and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace" (James3:14-18).

We know that God hates division when we read the words of Proverbs where the wise man gave us an insight into the nature of God: "These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood. An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief. A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren" (Prov.6:16-19). The Lord classes a sower of discord among brethren with the worst classes of people known. Such an one causes disruption in the church and many times destroys the souls of men.

One of the sad outcomes of division is that many innocent and ignorant people are af-fected by it. The young people of our churches who live through a division of the church usually end up being so disgusted with the actions of those who call themselves Christians that they lose their faith, and when the time comes they leave the Lord altogether. This has happened many times through the years. I am not condoning their action but I can under-stand their disappointment in those who call themselves elders or leaders of the church, who strive against each other.

The division at Corinth was one of the reasons Paul wrote a letter to them. It disappointed him that they were developing factions among themselves. The members were divided because they were following men and not following Christ. He wrote: "Now I beseech you brethren by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you" (1 Cor.1:10-11).

As a result of this situation he would later write: "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" (1Cor. 3:1-3 ). From these passages we learn that division hinders or prevents spiritual development, for those who are responsible for the factions have not developed beyond the stages of babes in Christ, no matter how long they have been members of the church.

Causes of Division

In looking back on the history of the church we find many things that cause division and I think that it is worthy to mention a few of these things.

Personal Problems – Sometimes disturbances between two or more brethren over business affairs or other personal affairs, which are in no way related to the affairs of the church, have been carried out to such an extent that it flows over into the church, and involves the entire congregation.

Instead of allowing such matters to finally get into the church, the church should demand and if necessary propose a rightous settlement of the affair. If either of the parties are not willing to do the right thing, withdraw from them. This was the situation at Corinth when Paul rebuked them for going to law against a brother, and that before the unbelievers. He wrote: "I speak to your shame. Is it so that there is not a wise man among you? No, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?" (1 Cor. 6:5). Do not let personal matters divide the church.

Selfish Ambition – Sometimes we find that division has come about because of a dogmatic spirit, or as a result of a person who seeks to have his own way in all things without regard to the rights and wishes of others, even in matters that are of no special consequence. He becomes nagging, and domineering, and distasteful to those who are spiritually minded. Closely akin to this character is the one who has ambitions to be a leader. One who asserts himself as a leader will often pull factions after him as did Diotrephes in John’s time: " I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore if I come, I will remember his deeds, which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church" (3 John 9-10). Yes, many divisions in the church have come about because of men just like Diotrephes who refused certain preachers to come into their midst, not because they came bringing error but because they did not want to give up their position of preeminence.

Opinion – Christianity is essentially a religion of faith. "We walk by faith and not by sight" (2 Cor.5:7). And faith can be no broader than revelation, for faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Faith is the basis of all acceptable obedience to God. Faith is not only the belief in the fact that God is, but also the confidence in his Word to carry it out to the very letter

When people depart from the faith, by accepting some false doctrine, it is because someone has established an opinion as truth. Opinion cannot be a ground for church fellowship because it lacks authority as well as stability. If it were possible to unite on opinion today, someone’s opinion might change overnight and then where do we stand? Any act of worship based on opinion is sin as Paul would say: "and he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Rom.14:23). I’m sure you have never heard of a congregation being divided over someone trying to set aside the Lord’s Supper altogether, but many have divided over their opinion with regards to the distribution of the emblems.

If you differ with others on the way a certain thing is to be done, carefully examine your view and determine if indeed it is a matter of faith or simply an opinion between you and others. With people it is very probable that custom, through long time use, has become very sacred. Be sure your stand is not governed by custom, or you put yourself in the class of the Pharisees whom Jesus rebuked for following the traditions of men rather than the commandments of God.

A Departure from the Truth – One of the main causes of division is when men depart from the truth and follow the ways or teachings of men. Paul wrote to the Corinthian brethren who were divided: "Now brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that ye may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘do not go beyond what is written.’ Then you will not take pride in one man over against another" (1Cor.4:6 NIV). Isn’t this what happens in division? Men go beyond what is written and follow after teachers who will tickle their ears and tell them what they want to hear.

Inactivity – In every congregation there is a certain amount of vitality which must, and will find expression in some way. Inactivity promotes discontentment, and the spirit of discontentment grows into a spirit of unrest and dissatisfaction with each other. Nagging develops, ill feelings are generated and strife is the inevitable result.

If the members of the church do not have something else to fight they will fight amongst themselves. So the leaders of the church need to keep the members busy fighting Satan and not each other by providing work for each to do.

When Is Unity Possible?

Unity is only possible when certain things are accepted and in place. Insomuch that we all should want unity let us look at some of these things.

It must Be Desired – One wonders sometimes whether some congregations even want unity. It seems that some members delight in turmoil. But before unity can be obtained or maintained the desire must be strong enough to lead to an effort in that direction. This desire must be strong enough to hold our personal preferences in check. Paul wrote to the Ephesian brethren: "I therefore the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called. With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuf-fering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace"(Eph.4:1-3). Unity is something we must endeavor to keep.

When We Take the Bible as Our Only Guide – Should there be unity on any other basis than the Bible, it would not be the unity of the Spirit. Unity of the Spirit is that unity that comes as a result of following the Spirit’s teaching. John wrote: "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). Fellowship between two people can only be truly experienced when both parties are following the teaching of the true guide for spiritual life which is the Word of God. Brethren we must also be careful that we don’t take the scriptures and twist them to our own destruction. That is, to take the scriptures and make them say something that we want them to say and allow us to do what we want to do. The scriptures are not to be privately interpreted as the instruction of Peter declares: "Knowing this first that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation" (2 Pet.1:20)

We must Deny Ourselves – In our social relations, were it not that we deny ourselves, and have due regard for the ideas and conveniences of others, there would be constant friction between people. In your relationship in the church, be very careful not to disrupt the unity of your congregation or the brotherhood because you are out to prove a point or to establish a new idea that is foreign to the principles of truth which we have always accepted as being the will of God. For the sake of unity we may need to back off of some of our personal opinions and take only a thus saith the Lord.

The church, which entertains, encourages, or fellowships one who divides churches contrary to the doctrine of Christ or retains in her fellowship one who does such is failing to obey a positive command of the Lord. And that is to "mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple" (Rom. 16:17-18). Little attention is paid to the Lord’s command in this area. Though he might be a personal friend, you must not sacrifice the peace and unity of the church on the altar of personal friendship.

Paul wrote to Titus and said, "Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that have nothing to do with him. You can be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self condemned" (Titus 3:10-11 NIV). This is pretty plain as to what to do to a divisive person.

Unity is worth working for and doing all that we can to establish in our local congrega-tions as well as our brotherhood. The unpleasantness of division is known to anyone who has been a member of a congregation where factions exist. At times these factions will run over into the home where it divides husbands and wives, children and their parents, friends and loved ones. For the sake of unity, it is time for us to give up what we think the Word of God might imply and accept only what we know the word of God teaches on any given subject. –Box 4, LeContes Mills Pa. 16850



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