I am going to be taking a break from the daily blog until after Thanksgiving. But come back daily for an excerpt from my book “Bring’em Back Alive”.
In the book of Jude, we read words that could have been written in last month’s Christianity Today:
In the last days there will be people who don’t take these things seriously anymore. They’ll treat them like a joke, and make a religion of their own whims and lusts. These are the ones who split churches, thinking only of themselves. There’s nothing to them, no sign of the Spirit! (Jude 1:18-19)
As I noted in Bad Christians, we believers love to talk about multiplication (church growth) but we really only seem to understand division. The Bible offers no excuses for being part of any division within the church. Paul makes a succinct point (he tended to do that) about division in the church at Crete:
But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:9-11, niv)
That warning about self-condemnation humbles and quite frankly frightens me. Paul does not mince words. To paraphrase a popular T-shirt slogan: “What Part of NO [Division] Do You Not Understand?”
About ten years before his letter to Titus, the apostle wrote a difficult letter of rebuke to the church of Corinth. The Corinthian church, as we say, had “issues.” Among the problems: gross sexual misconduct, intellectual arrogance, division among the body, and false teachings of basic doctrines. Giving the same list of concerns, I would suspect a typical congregation’s ranking of the offenses today might look something like this:
Prioritization of Behavior Requiring Correction and Total Condemnation
Sexual Misconduct 75%
False Teachings 20%
Intellectual Arrogance 3%
Can’t you just imagine the board meeting in Corinth before Paul’s letter arrived? Just like in the movies, these Corinthians conveniently speak contemporary English:
Corinthian 1: “I am worried about the unity of our body.”
Corinthian 2: “How can you possibly be worried about that with all this sexual sin going on? You are just as big a sinner as them if you don’t agree!”
Corinthian 3: “Well I agree. We have an obligation to split the church to purify it and get rid of these wicked sinners!”
Corinthian 1: “But can’t we be united in the love of—”
Corinthians 2 and 3: “NO!”
The manner in which Paul addressed these same issues is instructive. Remember, he was fearless in confronting any issue, anytime, anywhere. Yet his first appeal was not to stop the sexual immorality or false teaching. He first addressed division.
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. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? (1 Corinthians 1:10-12)
I like the way the last phrase is rendered in the New Living Translation, which asks, “Can Christ be divided into pieces?” That is literally what we do when we divide a church. Pride and the desire to be right tears to pieces the unity that our Lord commanded. His Word is clear. Division within the body of Christ is sin. Jesus’s teaching about unity is indisputable.
The night before He was to be betrayed and turned over to His accusers, Jesus prayed. His prayer is recorded in John 17. First the Lord prayed for Himself, then the disciples, and then for all believers. Below is a portion of Jesus’s final prayer for you and me just hours before He was arrested to be tried and crucified. Take a moment to absorb the context of this prayer. When you know your time is short, you will say only what is most important and allow the superfluous to fade away. Christ knows exactly what is coming, and it stands to reason that this final prayer would reflect what weighed most heavily on His heart. It was a prayer for unity.
I pray also for those who will believe in me through [the disciples’] message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23, niv)
I am not a big proponent of shoveling guilt on the brethren. There are others far more skilled at that task (And I have met many of them). But I must say we have really dropped the ball on this one. I am sobered when I reflect on the agony that Christ endured after praying that prayer for us to be unified in Him. I realize the critical importance that He placed on Christians modeling unity to reflect His presence to an unbelieving world. In my half-full optimism, I must admit we can’t be flawless. But even if I were a half-empty pessimist, I am quite sure that we can do better.
It is becoming increasingly apparent to me why Jesus placed unity at the top of His prayer list for the church. Our heart-wrenching lack of unity is a deterrent to faith for those inside and outside of the church. I received a letter lamenting how faith is perceived by family members outside the church.
My husband is the only Christian in his family—we’ve been told on several occasions that we’re crazy to pursue our “religion” when this is the kind of thing (wounding each other) our “brothers and sisters” do to one another. They want absolutely nothing to do with the body of Christ. Quite frankly, sometimes neither do we.
We have allowed Satan to gain the beachhead in the spiritual war for church unity. I suspect that the war- room strategists from Hades agree with the statement of General Napoleon Bonaparte: “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” I am pretty sure the demonic leadership is well pleased with their progress on this battlefield.