Unity By The Spirit

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Eph. 4:1-3

Are you “eager to maintain the unity fo the Spirit”?

We all need to ask ourselves this question. I’ve always heard unity preached through the years. But I wonder if we really want unity in the Church. Do we really want unity with those brothers and sisters we disagree with?

I want to note the translators of the ESV version chose to capitalize the word “Spirit” in verse 3. Most every modern Bible translations follows suit. In other words, verse 3 is referring to the Holy Spirit. This means, the unity of the Church is brought and worked out by the Holy Spirit.

What makes this interesting is the fact many churches are divided when it comes to the Holy Spirit and his work today. How is it that the very means of unity of the Church now has become the means of division?

A recent article on The Exchange speaks of a time after WWII where there was an explosion of missionary agencies that brought together different traditions in hopes of reaching the lost in our world. This brought together Charismatics with Cessationist in efforts to reach the world.

“Mission agencies of all kinds became new voices – InterVarsity, the Navigators, Youth for Christ, Young Life, and Campus Crusade, to name a few – bringing young people together in new kinds of missions and understandings. This generated inter-church activity, mixing those from Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal communities, breaking down walls.” – Brian Stiller

The Holy Spirit brought together people hungry to see lost people saved. Because of their faithfulness God moved in a huge way. A way that many said did not happen and could not happen. People’s doctrines were shook up.

“Into that mix came missionaries returning home and giving accounts of healings, deliverance from demonic oppression and miracles, this often to churches that assumed such manifestations had ceased. Deeply divided churches were about to discover what they had in common.” – Brian Stiller

What they had in common was the power and the work of the Holy Spirit in the world.

It is said, there are no atheist in foxholes. In other words, in the midst of war, in the trenches where the battle is most fierce, everyone begins to pray. When it seems all is lost many being to pray to the god they don’t believe in.

It is the same in the mission field: there are no Cessationists in the front lines of the mission field. In the mission field you will find out you are praying healing and miracles. When faced with a real enemy you will be praying to cast out demons. You’ll want to see God move in a miraculous and supernatural way. In the mission field there are no Charismatics or Cessationists. There are only people of God living out the kingdom in a powerful way.

Paul tells us humility, gentleness, and patience, as we all strive towards unity.

Are you eager for the unity of the Spirit?

Church Unity Is More Important Than ‘Being Theologically Correct’?

Photo by Olga Delawrence on Unsplash

“Father…I do not pray just for these disciples only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word. I pray that they all may be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one with us. This way the world may believe that you have sent me.” ~ Jesus (John 17:20-21 Paraphrase)

The Christan Post came out with an article quoting Andy Stanley, “Church Unity Is More Important Than ‘Being Theologically Correct.‘” Using the verse from John 17 where Jesus prays his disciples would be one, as he and the Father are one, so that they may one together.
Stanley said it is significant Jesus prayed for unity for his disciple above other things, for example, being theologically correct. But I am wondering if Andy Stanley has read the previous verses where Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in your truth…” I think Andy Stanley massively downplays having the right doctrine here. Each church needs to strive for the right teaching of Jesus and to continuously reform to achieve it. Even though I thinking Stanley goes a little too far, I do understand his sentiment.
What usually divides us is not the core of the faith. It is usually peripheral doctrines concerning baptism, communion, the work of the Holy Spirit…etc. Others are divided by worship styles, liturgy, and style of preaching.
I am not saying we shouldn’t have diverse practices or even diverse beliefs. What I am saying, is, these should not divide us when it comes to our mission in this world.
Notice Jesus’ prayer. He says in essence, “Father, I pray my disciples will be united in us so that the world may see and believe in me.” In other words, our unity should be a sign to the world of Jesus’ ministry and kingdom on earth.
I’ve often heard from skeptics about the plethora of churches that exist in our culture. Which one is right? Who is wrong? Why does this church belittle that church? Why are Christians always fighting?
Our disunity has damaged the image of Jesus in our churches. When we no longer live out the unity that is found within the Godhead, we no longer bear the image of that Godhead. Our witness falls apart.
My suggestion for churches that differ in the secondary doctrines of the faith, that we agree to disagree, charitably, and work together to rebuild the image of the unity God in our communities.

Seek Kingdom

Opera stars were a thing, believe it or not. John Maxwell told this story:

In recent years, opera superstars Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti have enjoyed singing together. They’ve done it frequently, but prior to their first performance the three world-class tenors had never sung together on one stage.
The November 1994 issue of Atlantic Monthly reported that prior to their performance in Los Angeles, a journalist tried to press the issue of competitiveness between the three men. But they quickly disarmed him. “You have to put all of your concentration into opening your heart to the music,” Domingo said. “You can’t be rivals when you’re together making music.”

What a powerful statement. What Domingo said was essentially, we are too busy working on music, the language of the music, the movement of the music, the beauty of the music, that they could not be rivals if they were to perform the best that music can be. Together, they can bring out the best music the world has seen.

Imagine what the Church could do if it had the same mentality. Imagine, if every church was so busy seeking the kingdom of God, living the kingdom of God, and building the kingdom of God, so much that rivalries are not even thought of. If all the churches were truly working for the kingdom of God, there would be no rivalries amongst local churches.

But alas, we are still fallen creatures. We still have pride issues, envy issues. We need to remember the work of Christ in our hearts to weed out these fruit of the flesh and to grow in our spirit fruits of the Holy Spirit. It is a daily sacrifice to live for Christ. It is a daily sacrifice to live in unity in Christ.

Let’s seek out the kingdom of God with such fervency that the lines that divide us blur with our love towards one another.

How Do We Work With Others – Part 1

In a recent post, I pointed to an article on The Gospel Coalition’s website titled, “When Should Doctrine Divide?” I wrote that our different traditions should not keep us from partnering together for the good of our city.
But, the question remains, how are we to partner with other churches of other traditions? Gavin Ortlund gives us four guiding questions to ask as we partner together.

  1. What kind of partnership or unity is in view?
  2. What kind of partnership or unity will best serve to advance the gospel?
  3. Do I naturally lean toward a separatist or minimalistic spirit?
  4. Even when I must formally divide from other Christians, is the attitude of my heart gracious, humble, and inviting toward them?

In this post, I will talk about the first two.

What kind of partnership or unity is in view?
Ortlund talks about relational partnerships among groups and individuals. But, this works also with churches. When partnering with other traditions, it helps to understand the other traditional distinctions that different churches have. You don’t want to partner in a baptismal service if you disagree on immersion versus “sprinkling.” You don’t want to partner in an “End Times” conference if you differ regarding the Millennial reign of Christ (unless of course it is meant to be a multi-view conference). But, you may be able to partner together for a Good Friday service creating a meaningful experience to highlight a Christian holiday celebrated by most Christians.

What kind of partnership or unity will best serve to advance the gospel?Ortlund rightly says this is a hard question to answer. And even more, that we need the Holy Spirit’s help to answer it. Many churches would first ask the question, “How will this advance my church?” But, the real question is, “How will this partnership advance the gospel?” We need to start thinking in terms of kingdom growth, not church growth. How will our partnership best serve the community? How will they see the light of Christ best in our partnership?

Doctrine Divides

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “doctrine divides,” doctrine has become a bad word. But, pick up a KJV Bible and you will find the word doctrine 56 times. Our modern translations simply translate the word as “teaching.” Doctrine is not a bad word. And division is not entirely bad.

The reason we have differences of doctrine between the many different traditions is beyond the scope of this post. But, at the least, the reason is that the Bible is a hard book to understand. And we are a fallen people prone to error even when reading and interpreting the Bible. In another light, the differences of doctrine are proof we take the Bible seriously, and that’s a good thing.

Gavin Ortlund asks the question, “When should doctrine divide?” over at The Gospel Coalition. He warns of two extremes many people take when partnering with other churches of other traditions: doctrinal minimalism, and doctrinal separatism.

Some would discount doctrine altogether, saying it is too divisive. They would say we should all come together regardless of tradition or creed. But, you would need to draw the line somewhere. There are churches who claim to be Christian but are wholly outside confession Christian of the last 2000 years. The extreme of doctrinal minimalism would lead us to partner with religious traditions that are antichrist or even with secular institutions that have contrary to the gospel of Christ.

Separation of the traditions is often lamented. I’ve even asked the question of why there are so many Protestant churches. But, sound doctrine is important. And sound doctrine separates one from unsound doctrine. For example, the Reformation itself was a separation from what the Reformer believed to be unsound doctrine concerning the nature of how one is saved. But, the extreme of doctrinal separatism would cause one church to fail to partner with other churches in the area to reach those who are in need. The larger issues of the city would be missed because we were too prideful to partner with churches that disagree with our doctrine.

When partnering with other churches, we need to avoid these two extremes. We need to work together in ways that do not minimize our traditions and respects them.

Two Heads Are Better Than One

“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22

The old adage, “two heads are better than one,” is true in most situations. Unless you’re trying to decide what restaurant to go to. But in ministry, this truth runs the whole of Scripture.

God said that it was not good for Adam to be alone.

Moses sought out leaders from the people to help him judge the people of Israel.

The kings of Israel would surround themselves with “wise men.”

Jesus sent out the disciples two-by-two.

Paul never worked alone. And when he was alone he didn’t want to be.

You can see over and over again, in Scripture and history having many advisors often leads to success.

So, let’s take a look at the current monochurch culture that we live in. We have many different churches, with many different types of services, with many different types of organization, leadership styles, and administrations, big churches, small churches, different worship styles…etc.

We live in a culture where you can find any church that will suit your style. You can find whatever flavour you want. The consumer-driven culture as gave us cool churches, cooler churches, and the coolest church to choose from.

And yet, much of the population remains unchurched, unreached, and not interested.

If the church is to succeed, maybe we should look to Scripture (Pr. 22:15). Maybe, the “two heads are better than one” adage can be used to succeed in reaching the lost in our communities. If we put our collective heads together, with our years of experience in ministry, it is possible we could reach our communities with the gospel more effectively.

A multichurch culture brings together multiple perspectives about how to meet needs, reach goals, and solve problems. A multichurch provides alternative views that can be more insightful, and deeper than a monochurch culture offers.

 

“You keep using that word…”

In studying the topic of partnership and working together I found myself writing different phrases that mean the same thing:

Churches that partner together.

Churches that work together.

Partnering churches.

Churches who work alone.

To simplify my writing and note taking I am creating new words: multichurch, monochurch, and cochurch.

These aren’t the only ones I am sure to create in my lifetime. I don’t expect much publicity, or recognition pertaining to these words. Most people don’t remember who coined what word. Who coined the word megachurch?

If there is a megachurch, is there such a thing as a microchurch? Or are there only churches and megachurches? Anyways…

Let me define these terms and how I am going to use them.

Multichurch: an association of churches in an area partnered towards a goal or set of goals. This is different than a denomination in that several traditions will be in the same multichurch. Also, I did not want to use the word “ecumenical” because it tends toward a larger body, a global body. My focus will be more localized within a city, town, or area. I will also make use of “multichurch culture” to describe the paradigm I am promoting: a culture where local churches work together for evangelism and outreach.

Monochurch – a church that does not work with other churches, and may even work against other churches. These churches are sceptical of other traditions. Some may even see these churches as heretical. Monochurch culture refers the current culture within the Church today.

Cochurch – an individual church that exists within a multichurch (much like the word coworker). The church is partnered with another church or group of churches. I may not use this word as much as the others.

Tell me what you think? Do you think these words are adequate? Do you think they’ll catch on?