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UNITY OF THE CHURCH

"Why are there quarrels and ill will and dissensions and schism and fighting among you?  Do we not have one God and one Christ, and one Spirit of grace poured out upon us?  And is there not one calling in Christ?  Why do we wrench and tear apart the members of Christ, and revolt against our own body, and reach such folly as to forget that we are members of one another

 

Unity of the Church

Galatians 2

 

Paul is no stranger to the problems facing the typical church congregation.  In this section he gives us a practical example of practicing the unity of the church while still remaining true to its doctrine.

 

Running in Vain

Gal 2:1-2 NASB  Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also.  (2)  It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.

 

Have you ever wondered if you are really doing the things God wants you to do?  Paul has the same difficulty here, and we may be instructed by his example.

 

Revelation

Paul’s first answer is simply this:  God (somehow) revealed that he should go up to Jerusalem.  But does God still use revelation this way?

*       He certainly does reveal His will for us in the Scriptures.  Sometimes this is in the general meaning of the Scriptures;  others find that certain passages speak to them in a powerful way, as if it is their special duty to be guided by such.

*       Sometimes He reveals His will directly.  Some of us seem to have this as an everyday occurrence.  Others might get once in a lifetime.  Some never have this at all.  There’s a lesson in faith in that, which is left as an exercise for the student.

*       Often, too, He works to reveal His will by His providences.  Have you ever noticed that He opened this door and closed another?

 

Checking with others

Not often mentioned, but usually a good idea, is to ask those who should know.  We seldom hear this advice, but it is very sound.

*       First, it is a form of mutual submission.  Not one of us is so wise as to ignore the wisdom of all of us.  Others may see it differently; take wise counsel as you may.

*       Next, note that Paul did this privately.  That way, if he had been in the wrong, neither he nor the church would be publicly disgraced – not to mention how much softer the blow when delivered one on one.

*       Today, we also have generations of Christians whose writings are still with us, that we may consult.  Often enough, the ones that survive are those of Christians of great strength and wisdom – which at least is conducive to humility.

  

No hurry

It took Paul 14 years to get to this point – a period which has some numerical-mystical importance.  Seven (days in a week) is often interpreted as being a complete period of time.  Paul has waited twice that.  We may see from this, however, that our impatience and desire for immediate answer sometimes must wait.  Why?

*       Some things take time to develop.  Patience is a virtue; perhaps that’s what God is teaching you.

*       There is also virtue in “waiting upon the Lord.”  When you do, you cast your future upon Him, not giving direction but waiting in hope. 

  

Sources and Solutions

Gal 2:3-14 NASB  But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.  (4)  But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.  (5)  But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.  (6)  But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)--well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.  (7)  But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised  (8)  (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles),  (9)  and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.  (10)  They only asked us to remember the poor--the very thing I also was eager to do.  (11)  But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.  (12)  For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.  (13)  The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.  (14)  But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?

 

“False brothers”

If everyone in the church were but pious, devout and humble, we’d have a lot less friction.  They’re not.  So it pays to know who might be the source of our troubles.  There are three we need to deal with as “false brothers”:

*       Frankly, there are some who are really sent by Satan.  You might as well face that fact.  But do not worry; you will soon know who they are, for by their fruits you will know them.

*       More common are the legalists – those with a Bible verse to end any discussion. 

*       We still have the hypocrites with us too.

 

Peer Pressure

More common than any of these are those who succumb to peer pressure.  Most of us are born followers, and sometimes we see things that way:

*       We worry about “who’s who.”  Will the wedding coordinator be offended if we have pink bridesmaid dresses?

*       We have those who care for appearance – above all else.  We should ask ourselves, “How would this look?”  Sometimes the answer should be, “It doesn’t matter.”

*       One form of this is, “How would this look to non-Christians?”  This often leads us to soft-pedal the truth.

 

Lack of clear thought

“Broad-minded is just another way of saying a fellow's too lazy to form an opinion”  (Will Rogers).  One of the reasons a church gets into a muddle is that they do not really have a clear doctrine.  It should be fairly clear that without same, any challenge will produce a confused, half-hearted response.  Be prepared; know what you believe. 

Buildings of brick with no framework collapse during earthquakes.  With no coherent doctrine, the church collapses too.  The difference between a fine building and a pile of bricks is doctrine;  when shaken, the world finds out.[1]

The usual reason for this is that a church does not emphasize the knowledge of the Bible.  That’s not just memorizing verses – it’s doing the Word.

 

 

 

What to do about church conflict

So what do you do about it?

 

Seek common ground

You see the example in it here:  the care for the poor.  The passage seems superfluous at first; it’s rather an obvious thing.  But do you not see that Paul and Peter sought out something in which to stand together?  When you do this, you have the beginnings of rational discussion – for you start in agreement.  This common ground minimizes the conflict, and separates out what needs to be resolved.

If you don’t do this, things can become rather nasty in a hurry.  This method allows only “us”;  the opposite method starts with “them and us.” 

 

Do not yield

It’s a delicate line.  You don’t want to violate what your conscience prohibits – but you don’t want to have an argument about it either.  So it’s importance to see the difference between permission and commandment.  In this section, they’re arguing about things like dietary law.  If you’re the one who is opposed to this restriction, it’s important that you don’t give in – but it’s also important that you allow the other fellow to follow his conscience too.

Want an example?  Take the “coat and tie” issue.  I’ve known some that hold that a man must wear a coat and tie to church; anything else is disrespectful.  I don’t see it that way – but since I permit and they do not, I make sure to make sure it’s not an issue.  I still don’t wear one, but I don’t debate it either.

 

Confrontation

So when do you confront someone?  I suggest three tests:

1.      Is the harm being done readily apparent?  Can it be seen that allowing this to go on is hypocrisy or sin, for example? 

2.      Is the harm being done immediate?  Or is it something that can wait until the next elders’ meeting?

3.      Is the harm being done irreparable?  Is it something that can be prevented, but not easily fixed?

 

 

 

Dead to the Law

Gal 2:15-21 NASB  "We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles;  (16)  nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.  (17)  "But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be!  (18)  "For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor.  (19)  "For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God.  (20)  "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.  (21)  "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly."

 

Satan’s attack

Legalism has long been a fruitful avenue of attack for Satan.  A good example is the history of the Temperance movement – so important at the time; looking back, we see its legacy and should be warned.

But perhaps a more mundane example might help.  Your author was once an elder in a small church, for which I ask forgiveness.  In the course of events the board of elders decided that no music should be played during communion.  This decision resulted in much anguish;  various people at various times felt aggrieved, rejected, insulted or left out.  Ask the question:  just how important is this?

 

How important is this?

Very.  Paul repeats to us the foundations of the faith, which are touched here:

         By the law – Jewish or moral – we are convicted of sin.  But there is no hope of justification by keeping any law.  To claim that we can is to proclaim our moral perfection.

         But the law that declares us a sinner cannot justify us before God.  Only faith in Christ can do that.  Is it not true that the cure usually doesn’t resemble the disease?

         And as a result of this justification by faith, Christ now lives in me.

 

Is it important?  If you died today, where would you be tonight?  Heaven, or hell?  Is that important?

 
 
"The work of the church is missions
 
What has been called "the Great Commission," the task of evangelizing the world, was given to the church and thus became its great work.
 
The New King James Version   
Matthew 28     
28:19
Go therefore  and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
28:20
teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.

The Three-Fold Mission of the Church
  • Evangelism

  • Edification of the Saints

  • Benevolence

 ___________________________________

Evangelism:

  

The phrase "work of evangelism" refers to the primary mission of the church to spread and teach the gospel to those who are not Christians.  We see in the Scriptures that its scope is universal, just as the problem of sin is universal (Romans 3:9-12, 23).  Jesus commanded the apostles to preach the gospel to the entire world and to teach those that they converted to follow their pattern:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  Matthew 18:19-20

 

Edification of the Saints

   The first mission from Ephesians 4:12, "for the equipping of the saints" is sometimes known as edifying, or building up the saints.  This refers to the many tasks that a church undertakes to foster the spiritual growth of its members.  Some of the many facets of this goal are:

  • Grow in grace and knowledge of truth (II Peter 3:18).
  • Become more like Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:15)
  • Produce and assume the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25)
  • Putting on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18)
  • Abound in love "in knowledge and all discernment" (Philippians 1:9)

Included in the many church activities to help us reach this goal, are worship and study services.  The writer of Hebrews instructed:

And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching."  Hebrews10:24-25

Assembling together is one of the many ways we help to promote love and good works in each other.  The Bible also teaches of singing as being another way that we edify each other:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."  Colossians 3:16

Benevolence

The work of benevolence, ministering to the poor and needy, is a task that is been emphasized throughout the entire Bible.  When God condemned the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, one of the primary reasons was because they not only neglected the needy orphans and widows, but even took advantage of them (Isaiah 1:17,23; Jeremiah 5:25-31, 7:5-7; Zechariah 7:8-14).  Therefore, it is no surprise that we find this work again emphasized in the New Testament church:

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.James 1:26-27

"And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith." Galatians 6:9-10

 

The universal church has been given a threefold mission or work, as was most concisely taught in Ephesians 4:12.  For each of these works, we observed a unique nature, scope, and division of labor.  We found that both the local church and individual Christian have responsibilities, and sometimes they are different in scope or nature.  However, as each Christian and congregation does their individual part, then the entire universal church progresses towards completion of its tasks, although the work is distributed across both space and time.

 

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Pineland M.B. Church, Inc. * 205 SE Old County Camp Rd. * Madison, FL * US * 32340

Email: pinelandmbchurch@lycos.com