Unity, Fellowship, and the Line in the Sand. . .

Posted on May 8, 2011

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There is perhaps no greater need for Christian unity, than exists in the world today. Local churches are often disconnected from one another, and even sometimes look at the church down the street with suspicion. It seems that we have become territorial, and other churches are viewed as competition. Certainly it’s easy to be “unified” when everyone believes the same thing, but what about when beliefs begin to differ. Many Christians feel threatened by different viewpoints, and tend to turn them into major theological debates. We have a tendency to view everyone with a different viewpoint as a heretic, thus we want to “correct” their thinking. The truth is, not every difference of opinion is a heresy, and sometimes we need to be a bit flexible in what we “allow” other Christians to believe.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about merging the many different denominations, to do so would simply cause confusion, and hinder everyone’s ability to worship. Our God is a God of order, so we need to minimize confusion. I firmly believe that individual churches need to maintain their autonomy, but there is no reason that we can’t work together when necessary, in an effort to grow God’s kingdom, without being suspicious or territorial. I am certainly no stranger to differing viewpoints, consider my background. I was raised Presbyterian, and got saved at 23 years old when the Baptists “caught” me. I began to attend an independent Baptist church, which I eventually left to join a Southern Baptist church. I was educated in an independent seminary, and now serve as a pastor of a Southern Baptist church, but I also fill the pulpit of a non-denominational church as necessary. The other pastor in our church was raised methodist, and began his ministry in the Methodist church. He was educated in a Lutheran seminary, but is now a Southern Baptist pastor. I have no doubt that the Body of Christ is called to be unified, but how far should we go in accepting differing viewpoints? Well, there is a line in the sand, so to speak, and we’ll get to that in due time. First; however, we need to look at what unity really means.

Galatians 3:26–29 (NKJV)

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Biblically speaking, our unity is derived from a common bond in Jesus Christ. Meaning that once we are saved, than we all have equal standing with God, as we are all joint heirs, equally sharing the inheritance. This Scripture means nothing more or less, it is simply a picture of a unified church. It is a church that breaks down societal barriers. This leads us to our next point, in which we define fellowship.

Now if you have been around church much in your life, you probably think that fellowship equals food. We eat to have fellowship, and the more food there is the better the fellowship. We measure the quality of fellowship by the size of the feast. However, that is not the Biblical definition of fellowship. Consider the following Scripture.

1 John 1:3 (NKJV)

3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

1 John 1:6–7 (NKJV)

6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

7 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 cleanses us from all sin.

If you are a born again Christian, then your fellowship is with God. And. . . only those who are born again can have fellowship with Him. Our fellowship with each other, is dependent upon our fellowship with God. Jesus Christ is the common bond which gives us fellowship with one another. The only prerequisite to fellowship is a relationship with Jesus Christ. Now this doesn’t mean that we are to isolate ourselves from the unsaved world, certainly we will have different types of relationships with the unsaved. It simply means that deep fellowship is only possible among Christians.

Where do we draw the line? How much of a differing opinion is enough to disunite, and break fellowship? Certainly the New Testament writers spent much time correcting false doctrine, and warning against false teachers. They warn us not the tolerate them in our midst. The difference is, they are not talking about genuine Christians, the people they are referring to are imposters, and they seek only to destroy God’s church. Remember, the only prerequisite to fellowship is a relationship with Christ. Look at Jesus’ words.

John 13:8 (NKJV)

8 Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

If Peter were not going to allow Jesus to “clean” him, then he could have no part with Jesus. Only those who are cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ will have a relationship with Him. In his letter to the Galatians Paul warns about those who would preach a false gospel. These people have not been cleansed by Christ.

Galatians 1:8–9 (NKJV)

8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.

9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.

There are many differing opinions among God’s children that do not alter the Gospel message, they are simply opinions. It is when one begins to preach a gospel other than what the Bible teaches, that we are to break fellowship. To be able to discern the difference is why we need to diligently pray and study the Word of God.

2 Timothy 2:15 (NKJV)

15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

This brings us right back around to apologetics. We need to know the Scripture well enough to be able to defend it when necessary, and to know when to keep silent. When the time comes that we must defend the Biblical doctrines, we should heed the words of Peter, and do it in “meekness and fear.”
1 Peter 3:15 (NKJV)

15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;

We are not to be contentious and pick fights, instead we are to honor God in all that we say and do.

Colossians 3:17 (NKJV)

17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

The time has come to put aside minor differences and petty arguments for the greater purpose of sharing the Gospel with a lost world. If one is truly a brother or sister in Christ, then there is no reason that you shouldn’t join forces and pool resources to spread the Gospel. We, the church, have a choice in how we choose to engage in this spiritual war which we are fighting. We can fight as disconnected small armies with limited resources, or we can be a large army under the unified command of Jesus Christ. The choice is ours, and in the end we may just have to sacrifice our pride.

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