GOD'S PLAN FOR RELIGIOUS UNITY
I Corinthians 1:10-13
I Corinthians 1:10 says, “Now I plead with you brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” This command of God is that true Christians and all who profess to be Christians are to keep the unity of the faith in the bond of peace by being completely joined together in the same mind and the same judgment. What Paul commanded the church in Corinth equally applies to all congregations who profess to be one of Christ's churches today.
Time and church history have revealed that this is the most difficult command in the New Testament. Many don't understand what unity includes or what they can do about it. The church in Corinth failed to keep this command. The divisions there arose from Christians aligning themselves under different religious teachers: Peter, Paul and Apollos. This, in substance, is what has caused the hundreds of divisions in the Christian religion. The religion of Christ down the centuries has failed to keep this command for the same reasons that brought division in Corinth. In the brotherhood of Churches of Christ today there are several divisions. It is much worse in the denominational world with literally hundreds of divisions. This command is universally disobeyed. The sin and folly of such divisions is evident because Christ is incapable of division. The Bible teaches that Christ is the one Head of the church, and thus there can be but one church. As there is one Master Teacher, there can be but one set of divinely approved teachings. We must follow Christ and no one else. The importance of Christians seeing eye to eye and walking hand in hand was expressed by Jesus in a prayer to God. Jesus prayed, “I do not pray for the apostles alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they all may be one in Us, that the world may believe that you sent Me”(John 17:20, 21).
Because of that prayer and His concern that disunity will cause many people to miss heaven, the best thinkers in our brotherhood have come to the conclusion that as difficult as it is to be of one mind and one judgment, this command to keep the unity of the faith in the bond of peace is not an impossibility. Moreover the best Bible scholars in our brotherhood believe that a careful study of God's word reveals that God has a plan that will unify all who profess to be Christians, and if we will follow His Plan it is possible for all preachers and Christians to agree on the scriptures and live together in peace. .
God's plan for unity demands adherence to three great fundamental principles which are clearly revealed in the word of God. When Christians ignore or reject any one of these three principles, disunity and division are the result. Hence, it is important that Christians fix these three rules of conduct firmly in their minds and write them on their hearts. Principle number one says, “All Christians are to teach and practice what God Says, without addition, subtraction or modification.” Most all disunity among the followers of Christ is caused not by what God has said, but by what He has not said. Principle number two says, “Christians are allowed to use human judgments that do not add to or take away from what God says.” Sometimes God speaks in such general terms that we must use human opinion to carry out His will. Principle number three says, ”Christians are forbidden to use unscriptural opinions in the observance of the Christian religion.” . Unscriptural opinion are forbidden because they add to or take away from what God Says.
These are the foundation rules for Christian unity, and I commend them to your consideration. Christ, the only Head of the church, will hold preachers and other Christians accountable for disobedience to these rules. Those who violate principle # 2 on the use of human judgments are just as guilty as those who violate principles # 1 on What God Says and # 3 on unscriptural opinions. . Most of the division in Christendom in the 21st century have been caused by violating principle #2, regarding the use human judgments. Christians have no right to object to anything that other Christians have a right to do. The dictates of a man's conscience alone does not determine whether a matter is right or wrong. Only God's word can do that. These three rules clearly teach that Christian unity depends on the understanding of two important matters: WHAT GOD SAYS AND WHAT MAN THINKS. In the next two divisions of the message I will elaborate on these two crucial subjects.
Let us now give our attention to WHAT GOD SAYS and its part in maintaining Christian unity. Deuteronomy 29:29 says “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever that we may do all the things of this law.” In Deuteronomy 4:2 God said, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take away from it...” In Revelation 22:18,19 God similarly says if anyone adds to what He said in that book, He will add to him the plagues written in the book, and if anyone takes ways from what He said in the book, He will take away his part from the book of life. 2 Timothy 4:1,2 says, “I charge you before God and the Lord Jeus Christ,
preach the word.” These scriptures verify the truthfulness and authority of principle # 1. Christians are to observe this rule in all the work and service the Christian religion is to render to God in this world. The work of the church covers such a large area, I must speak very briefly.
The work of the church falls into four entirely different classifications or areas of service: Worship, Evangelization, Benevolence, and Edification. The best thinkers in the Christian religion have concluded there are five acts of Divine worship: Prayer, the Lord's Supper, Singing, Giving, and Preaching. In John 4:24 Jesus said, “God is a Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” To worship Him in spirit is to worship Him sincerely from the heart, and to worship Him in truth is to worship as He has directed. in the New Testament. In regard to all these acts of worship, we should use great care not to add to or take away from what God has s said on all these matters.
Another work of the church is Evangelization which is preaching the gospel to the lost. Jesus said in Mark 16:15, 16, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned.” God Himself has laid down the conditions of forgiveness. Let us use great caution and not add to or take away from what God requires of people to become Christians. They are faith, repentance, confession and immersion.
Another important work of the church is Benevolence which is supporting and caring for orphans, widows, the needy and others who cannot help themselves, whether local or distant. James 1:27 says, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” This is one of those general commands which requires the use of human judgment and opinion. The method of doing this work is not stipulated.
The last work of the church is edification, which is the building up the church, educating Christians, and the bringing of Christians to completeness in Christian character. Jesus said, “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 I have commanded you. ”(Matthew 28:19,20). What God has said in regard to all of the four church works should be obeyed without addition, subtraction or modification.
We have studied what God Says about the Christian religion; now let us study what man thinks and when human judgment can be used and when it cannot be used. It is in this area of human judgment and opinion that most all division and disunity take place. In Acts 20, Hebrews 13 and I Cor.14, God exhorted Elders in every church to shepherd and protect the church from teachers who introduce unscriptural and harmful opinions that cause division and disunity. There are three different kinds of opinions used in the Christian religion. They are expedient opinions, indifferent opinions and unscriptural opinions.
The first are expedient opinions. In John 16:7 Jesus said to His disciples, “It is expedient that I go away.”(Old King James Version). The New King James Version renders this passage, “It is to your advantage that I go away.”An expedient opinion is an advantageous opinion. It a good, helpful and beneficial opinion. Examples of expedient opinions are song books, church buildings, individual cups in the Lord's supper, full time preachers, the use of radio and television to evangelize, baptizing in baptistries and having Sunday school classes. We are commanded to worship, evangelize and edify, and all these opinions are useful, good, beneficial, and they help us carry out His commands.
The second are indifferent opinions. In Romans 14:2 we read of an indifferent opinion. Paul said, “One believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables.” He then commands Christians not to despise vegetarians and commands vegetarians not to condemn meat eaters. In verse 5 of that chapter Paul said, “One person esteems one day above another; esteems every day alike. Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind.” In some matters Christians do not have to agree, but have a right to their own opinion. An indifferent opinion is an unimportant opinion, an opinion that is unimportant to God and has nothing to do with being faithful to Him. Christians have the right to their own opinions about holidays and should not be criticized for their opinion. Furthermore, God does not care how we take up the collection, if we are for or against circumcision, or who does the baptizing, or if we choose to help another congregation who has a television program, or how we choose to take care of the poor. . He commanded us to care of them but did not state the method we should use. These are all indifferent opinions and should never divide the followers of Christ.
Another more serious type of opinions are unscriptural opinions, and they are notorious for dividing churches, dividing individual Christians and cause disunity in general among the followers of Christ. One opinion that has divided millions of Christ's followers is the use of various forms of
entertainment in the public worship of God, including organ music orchestras, pianos, guitars etc It is entertaining to many to hear this special kind of music. It is really for the worshipers and not God. We don't go to church to be entertained. but to worship God. Where in the word of God are we instructed to entertain the worshipers of God? The use of instruments were not used by the apostles in the early church, and were not used for the first 500 years of church history. Why? That is self-explanatory. If instrumental music has spiritual value, I wonder why the inspired apostles did not see that and include them in Christian worship? But they did not, and they were accustomed to instruments in the Jewish religion. Instrumental music was not authorized to be used in Christian worship. No one can disagree with the statement that the use of instruments in worship was an addition to worship as given by God and were not commanded by God.. I love all kinds of musical instruments and enjoy listening to them. They are very entertaining, but I do not go to church to be entertained. I go to worship God, and I don't think God gets anything out of listening to an organ. The people like to hear the instruments, not God. Christ did not provide for entertainment of worshipers in His worship.. I realize many will strongly disagree with me on this point, but entertainment in God's worship has caused disunity among followers of Christ all over the world. In the brotherhood of Churches of Christ, acapella music alone is used We use our vocal cords as the instruments and sing and make melody in our hearts to the Lord; and it is beautiful music indeed, as well as appealing to the ear. Entertainment is most certainly something that has been added to what God Says about sacred music in worship.. The apostles were accustomed to instruments in Jewish worship, but they did not use or authorize its use in Christian worship. Why? It is self-explanatory.
. Another unscriptural opinion the doctrine of transubstantiation in
the observance of the Lord's Supper. God never said that the fruit of the vine and he bread become the literal body and blood of Jesus, which is the doctrine of transubstantiation. Moreover, in I Cor. 1 Paul forbad Christians to call themselves after names of Peter or Paul. God never commanded infants to be baptized, only penitent believers. God says, “there is one immersion”(Eph. 4:5). He did not say there is one sprinkling or pouring. God does not say that salvation is by faith only, and God did not say that Christians could worship Him by using idols or statues of Mary, Peter and other saints. Rather, God said, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols”(I John 5:21). All those things t have been added to the words which God has spoken through His Son and the inspired apostles.
I preached this sermon some 45 years when I was preaching in Ranger, Texas. There was a woman present that morning who was not a member of the Church of Christ, but was a member of another religious
organization. She was s present from a distant city quiet by accident. A wedding for a member of the church was to be held on that Sunday
afternoon, and she was a friend of the family. She attended our Sunday
morning service out of respect for the family. I didn't know until several months later the effect that this particular sermon had on that woman. I was told she left the church building in tears and went to her hotel, threw herself on the bed and wept openly. She promised herself that she would not rest until she made a study of the Bible to find out if what she heard that morning was true. Many months later I was told that this woman after much study, obeyed the gospel and was immersed into the Lord's church. This shows what just one sermon can do. It also shows that God has a plan for unity in the religion of Christ. This woman responded to God's Plan for Unity, and it shows that His plan will work. This woman came to understand His plan that morning, and it changed her life and her religion. She felt that she was contributing to the religious disunity and disharmony that plagues Christianity, and she corrected that mistake by leaving the church of which she had been a member for many years. I hope that this plan sets as well with you as it did with her. I encourage one and all to investigate the matter for yourself.
I. GOD'S PLAN FOR UNITY DEMANDS ADHERENCE TO THESE
1. Preach revealed things with addition, subtraction, modification.
2 Human judgments are allowable that do not add or take ways
from what GOD SAYS.
3. Unscriptural opinions are forbidden because they add to or take away from what GOD SAYS.
II. WHAT GOD SAYS
1. Worship(,Prayer, Lord's Supper, Singing, Giving, Preaching.).
2.Evangelization(Local, Distant, Conditions of Forgiveness).
3. Benevolence(Orphans, Needy, Local, Distant}.
4. Edification(Preaching, Teaching, Public, Private)
III. WHAT MAN THINKS—Acts 20:28, Hebrews 13:17. Icor. 14:40.
Expedient Opinions Indifferent Opinions Unscriptural Opinions
Song books Circumcision Instrumental Music
Church Buildings Collection(How?) Transubstantiation
Individual Cups Orphan Homes Human Names
Preacher(Who?) Number of Songs Infant Baptism
Radio(Yes or No) Holidays Sprinkling
Baptistry The Baptizer Worship of Mary
Television(Yes or No) Vegetarianism Bowing to Statues
John 16:7,I Cor. 6:12 Rom. 14:5, Gal. 5:6 Matthew 15:9