Unity of Believers

I don’t know how many of you have seen the movie Woodlawn. It is a Christian football movie based on the forced breakdown of segregation in Birmingham Alabama in 1973. This high school football team was forced together but ended up uniting in Christ, then came together and had an amazing year. It showed what Christian unity can look like, even in the segregated south.

Yet even though we saw these Christians come together across racial lines and develop a powerhouse football team, this unity didn’t impact the church. In 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote an article that declared 11:00 AM on Sunday mornings the most segregated hour of the week. That was definitely the case in Alabama in 1973.

Although it might be a little better now, speakers at the last Mosaix conference I attended on multiethnic ministry shared how this is still a problem here in America.

Do you think this pleases God?

We are continuing our series on the non-negotiables of the faith. We have addressed the authority of Scripture, the Trinity, Jesus’ divinity and humanity, regeneration (or being born again), and eternity.

This week we are going to look at the unity of all believers, or what the creeds call “one holy catholic (small “c”) church.”

There are over 30K denominations in the United States, and over 40K denominations worldwide. This doesn’t sound like unity to me.

But this isn’t just a new problem. In Galatians 2, Paul shares that he confronted Peter because what he was doing was dividing the church. We see it a bit in Romans as well. But the topic of unity is clearly addressed in the book of Ephesians.

The context for the call to unity in Ephesians is seen in chapters 1-3. The theological call to unity starts in chapter 1. In Christ all things have been brought together under one head, Jesus.

Chapter 2 says that Jesus destroyed the barrier between us and the dividing wall of hostility was broken down. There is only one body, made up of all people, Jew and Gentile, coming together as fellow citizens, all members of God’s household.

This is seen in Galatians 3:26-29, and it is also seen in the same way in Colossians 3:11, 15.

We are members of one body, Christ’s!

This is spelled out more clearly in chapter 3:

“This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” Eph. 3:6 NIV

Then things move to application.

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Eph. 4:1-3 NIV

What are the signs of a follower of Jesus? We are to seek complete humility (thinking of others before ourselves). And there is an expectation that the fruits of the Spirit will be seen in us.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Gal. 5:22-23 NIV

Ephesians 4:2-3 says that we are to be gentle with others, patient, bearing with one another in love, and to keep unity in the bond of peace. These are 4 fruits of the Spirit.

Then we continue on in Ephesians 4:

“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.” Eph. 4:4-6

The word “one” is used 7 times. Seven is the number of completion or perfection. And in these verses we see the Spirit, the Lord, and the Father.

The one Spirit leads to one body (unity) and one hope. In the one Lord (Jesus) we have one faith and one baptism. And there is one God and Father who is over, through, and in all.

This comes from the Preacher’s Commentary on Ephesians by Maxie Dunnam (p.198) on the one Lord, faith, baptism “The fact is that the whole sentence expresses one fundamental: we all belong to the Lord; faith is the inward disposition of the heart, and baptism is the outward sign by which we are united in one Lord.”

The unity in the body is to be sought as there is complete unity in the Godhead.

And the gifts we are given are for building us in unity.

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Eph. 4:11-13 NIV

The goal of us filling our roles is so that we may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith. It goes on to speak about us growing up into Christ who is the Head, bringing the whole body together.

And the idea of unity in the body was important enough that it was Jesus’ prayer for us as believers today in John 17:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their 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---so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:20-23 NIV

Jesus’ desire is for us to be united as the Trinity is united. May we be one as They are One. And the result of our unity is to bring glory to Jesus, that the world might know Him.

So why do we work to divide? The reason we are doing this series on the non-negotiables of the faith is to recognize that there are only a handful of theological stances that should force us to divide.

So what drives us to divide?

Sin… I am not saying here that our beliefs are sinful (although in some cases they might be), but the reason we have gone through the series on non-negotiables is because most other theological divisions (besides sin) have had godly people argue scripturally on different sides.

We want to seek to be faithful to God in all things. We desire to be obedient to scripture. But whether it is baptism, free will and the sovereignty of God, views on the millennium, charismatic gifts, or other things, we want to give grace in areas where we (possibly) have strong views that are different than others. We want to love in all circumstances. And in grey areas, we don’t want the sin of pride to set in and cause us to divide when we can have unity in diversity.

If God has called us, and if we understand who we were without Jesus and how blessed we are to accept His salvation, then we should desire for the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us in the freedom we have received through our regeneration into new life.

And what this life looks like is one of humility, patience and gentleness. It bears with one another in love. Why are these important? Because we aren’t going to agree on everything. So rather than letting pride and impatience take over, we need to allow the Spirit to do what only the Spirit can do.

We are to love, and to share the truth in love.

If we had time, we could continue to dig into the rest of Ephesians 4 through 6 to see further what it looks like to be guided by the Spirit, but that would be beyond the scope of this series.

For us, we want to look at the call to unity. What are we doing to unite the body of Christ? Well, here at the Elm Street Community Church we are a part of Churches Unite as a way for the church to come together in worship and fellowship.

We are in agreement with the non-negotiable, and although we may not agree on every theological point, we are working to make Jesus’ prayer a reality here in the Twin Cities area.

We are also working with Shining Light Ministries to bring together like-minded churches (again, in agreement on the non-negotiable) in acts of service to reach out to the Twin Cities community in Jesus’ name.

Our churches may do things differently, and be called to different purposes in the Twin Cities area, but we understand that we are a part of the larger body of Christ.

The reality is, this takes work.

It takes people realizing that unity in the body of Christ is more important than our personal agendas as long as we agree on the non-negotiables.

I know that this series has brought out some questions, and we welcome them. We welcome dialogue. The hope is that we can have loving and respectful conversations in other areas where we don’t see things the same. The hope is that we can have Christian love for all people, especially those we don’t agree with on every topic (or any topic).

And if you’re here and you don’t see eye to eye on us with the non-negotiables, we love you too, and you are welcome here!

We want to honestly seek to love God and everyone together in love. And as we have seen, this is only possible with the help of the Holy Spirit Who lives in all believers.

So come, Holy Spirit, come!

and guide us to the truth found in Your word. May we love one another as we seek to follow Jesus, and may He do what only He can do so that we can come to complete unity in the faith. With man this is impossible, but not with God.

May it be with unity as it is with salvation as seen in Matt. 19:26 NIV:

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’”

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