What Makes a Unified Church?

Feb 02, 2018

What Makes a Unified Church?

Dr. George Robertson

 

Our study of Acts during Sunday worship has yielded many observations about the early church. Recently, we observed that the church is meant to be a refuge for Christ’s disciples. In order to be a refuge, the church must be unified. In the same way division in a home makes for unrest for those who live there, division among the church will surely cause unrest for those who come there to be refueled and sent out for mission.

 

The first characteristic of a church which provides healing for wounded warriors and nurture to return them to the battle is unity. These early believers in Acts were “one in heart and soul” (Acts 4:32). That is, they were not only emotionally bound to one another, they maintained the same theological convictions and priorities.

 

My theology professor, David Jones, taught us that unity in the Scriptures is not necessarily organizational unity. The common idea today is that organizations cannot be truly unified until they share the same constitution and bylaws. The result, at least in church circles, has been a lot of theological compromise. Everyone must reduce their convictions to the lowest common denominator to the point they stand for nothing biblical.

 

Dr. Jones taught us that biblical unity is defined by truth, purpose, and love, which may or may not also include a common organization. Let’s look at each of these more practically.

 

Truth

These disciples in the early church were united in their commitment to one truth, that which was expressed in the Apostles’ teaching. In other words, they were united in their commitment to the Bible. We cannot have true unity with any religious group unless they are committed to the Bible as their ultimate authority for life and salvation, which is the foundation for unity in this church. Anyone and everyone is welcome to attend here, but members are those who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, which is to say in effect, “I am wholly committed to what the Bible commands as the way to be saved and to live.”

 

That being said, it does not mean we have to agree on every interpretation of every part of Scripture. Agreement of this sort is not necessary for membership in this church nor is it necessary for fellowship between churches. Sometimes to clarify this point we make distinctions between essentials and non-essentials. An essential for Christian fellowship would be belief that the blood of Christ is necessary for the forgiveness of sin. A non-essential would be infant baptism.

 

We must especially tolerate each other’s convictions on non-essential points of doctrine and be patient with maturing Christians’ theological mistakes as long as we are ultimately committed to the authority of God’s Word. People will thrive, grow, and heal in a place where God’s Word is supreme.

 

Purpose

Secondly, we must be united in our purpose. Our purpose as a church must be what the Bible prescribes. At the church I pastored in St. Louis we said it like this: “We are to be not for ourselves, but for Christ, the new community, the St. Louis community, the national community, and the world community.” In Augusta we said our mission was to “Restore people and rebuild places through the gospel of Jesus Christ to the glory of God.” Both of these are different ways of saying the same thing: our purpose is to glorify God and disciple the nations.

 

There are 5 major actions we do as a part of this purpose:

  1. Worship
  2. Study the Bible
  3. Discipleship & Evangelism
  4. Fellowship
  5. Mercy

These 5 major emphases make up the core of our purpose as a church. Everything we do ought to have some focus on one of these.

 

Competing purposes cannot withstand. If you wish to push a private worship agenda, or use the church to make business contacts, or advance your political agenda, you cannot be unified within the body of believers. We unite around a common truth, the Bible, and around a common purpose, the glory of God and the salvation of the nations. If you wish to find fellowship in your individual calling to glorify God and reach the world for Christ, this is a place for you.

 

Love

Then very importantly, the Church must be a place where you find true love. A quote often misattributed to Augustine says this: “In essentials unity. In non-essentials liberty. In all things charity.” Our unity with one another must not be based on political party, income, skin color, looks, abilities, pedigree, past or present problems, or lack thereof. Our unity with one another in the Church must be based on love for Christ in each other. This must be a place where Christians, mature and immature, can learn and grow in the safety of a loving environment.

 

One way we express this love is through generosity. Our first inclination when we think of generosity is in financial terms. While the Bible does call us to give generously in view of all we’ve been given in Christ, another way to think of generosity is in terms of presence. Sometimes the most generous thing you can give someone is your time. You might call it the ministry of showing up.

 

When we come to worship, we are ministered to not only by the music, the liturgy, and the preaching of God’s Word, we are ministered to by one another. As we look around, we see others sharing the same hopes and struggles and their presence gives us comfort and confidence. You have a responsibility in your own walk with Christ to show up for worship each week but you also have a responsibility to your brothers and sisters to be present, and in so doing, you minister to them greatly.

 

In a unified church, we admit we have all kinds of imperfections, wrinkles, and problems but we realize the Spirit of the risen Christ is here. The doors of membership to this church are as wide as the gospel itself and the gospel itself is for all who accept Christ as the only way they can be reconciled with God.