Unity is not Uniformity
My interactions with Christians the last few weeks has been, troubling. What do I mean by this? Well, in that last two weeks I have been told that I am not saved, that I am a narcissist, that I am a liar, and that I am a false “prophet” among other things far too colorful to be appropriate for this website. These visceral disagreements have become significantly more intense as of late, more personal. This has occurred with everything from politics to theology and church practice. There is not a thing that this attitude has not touched and it is beginning to really really bug me. This is not just because I’m not a fan of being accused of being or not being things based on a person’s impression of me, but also because it’s wholly unchristian. For goodness sakes, the dialogue I’ve had with atheists lately has been more civil! That’s NOT ok!!! So, I think it’s important to cover 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, it reads
“10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
In Corinth during this time, the church was in a tumultuous state. Sons were sleeping with their mother’s (no joke), temple prostitutes had acquired influence within the body, and fighting over almost anything was a serious problem. The Corinthian Church was a mess and Paul was writing to them trying to get them on the right course again. One of the first issues he tackles is the issue of division. In dealing with this, first Paul is setting the rest of the book within the context of unity and making it clear the divisions in the body of Christ are not of God. From the text itself it is apparent that some of these divisions were being caused over theological differences. The reference regarding who is following whom leads us to that conclusion (as the naming of an authority was an attempt to make a claim based on the esteem of the person they are “following”). What is interesting here is that even Christ being mentioned in this way appears to be an issue for Paul (since he lists it with the others and gives us no indication that it is any better). This appeal to authority based on the leaders they follow is an attempt to win an argument from a position of power.
I have been guilty of this SO MANY TIMES. Nevertheless, I am beginning to see that this approach is completely incorrect for carrying a dialogue, especially with other Christians. If this were written today, Paul likely would have mentioned a host of people from John Piper and John McArthur to Andy Stanley and Rick Warren. Paul makes it clear that we are to be united in the same mind and the same judgment. This does not mean that we bully each other into the line of thinking that suits us, or that we believe is biblical. It does not mean that we run off every Bible verse we have stuffed into our brains to lash out at people that we disagree with. This means that we rally around the things that we do agree on, the big things, the things that actually matter. It means that we have a genuine affection for those we disagree with and for those that disagree with us (Rom. 12:10). It does not mean we run around making declarations that such and such are not biblical when we’ve never actually understood what such and such actually are. The pinnacle of arrogance is the assumption that you understand the opposing side’s argument. The only person who has walked the earth capable of getting away with this and not be arrogant is Jesus…you are not Jesus…so stop.
It also means that we do not make estimations of a person’s salvation based on our opinion of a text. We are told that we can tell true Christians by their fruit and that fruit is listed out in Galatians 5:22-23 as; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. The fruit listed here does not include a perfect articulation of Calvinist doctrine, or a creationist interpretation of Genesis 1, nor does it include a vote for a particular kind of candidate. It speaks to how we relate to our fellow human beings and brothers and sisters in Christ. Realize this…it is far harder to act in a consistent manner towards people than it is to hold to a doctrine or idea. This is why how we love one another is the greatest measure of our current standing in Christ, not our doctrine (though the two usually walk hand in hand).
Many however neglect this and in their quest for the “truth,” they neglect to remember that the fruit of the spirit does not include aggressive confrontation and an attitude of conflict. In fact there is a list right above the fruit of the spirit that Paul calls the “the works of the flesh.” And in this list includes enmity, strife, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions. This tells me that many in their pursuit of doing a good thing (trying to speak truth) do it in a fleshly way, a way devoid of the fruit of the Spirit. Hear what I am saying here…I do not believe that these people (at least most) intend harm, but in their zeal they become blinded by their knowledge and ego and become puffed up. I have an intimate knowledge of what this is like because I have been there and still working this out with the Lord. To work through this it is necessary that we as Christians focus on what has united us (that being Christ) not trying to tear it apart because it doesn’t match our interpretation, again this is arrogance.
Charles Spurgeon wrote something that every Christian (most notably those who quote him the most often) need to read on this topic.
“Where the Spirit of God is there must be love, and if I have once known and recognized any man to be my brother in Christ Jesus, the love of Christ constraineth me no more to think of him as a stranger or foreigner, but a fellow citizen with the saints. Now I hate High Churchism as my soul hates Satan; but I love George Herbert, although George Herbert is a desperately High Churchman. I hate his High Churchism, but I love George Herbert from my very soul, and I have a warm corner in my heart for every man who is like him. Let me find a man who loves my Lord Jesus Christ as George Herbert did and I do not ask myself whether I shall love him or not; there is no room for question, for I cannot help myself; unless I can leave off loving Jesus Christ, I cannot cease loving those who love him.” (The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. XII, 6).
George Herbert (for those that do not know) was a baby baptizing, collar wearing Anglican, and yet Spurgeon referred to him as a brother of the faith despite their differences theologically. This is telling considering we have people questioning the salvation of other professed Christians on a regular basis. Perhaps it is time to dial back, and to think on the difference between unity and uniformity. Are we commanded to unity (coming together over major tenants of the faith) or are we commanded to uniformity (complete and total agreement across the board). Considering how diverse the early church was I highly doubt that uniformity was the call of Paul and others. No, they called us to unify, to love one another despite our differences in real ways that the world could actually see. I leave you with this, by a Christian apologist and philosopher Francis Schaffer, he writes,
“It is in the midst of a difference that we have our golden opportunity. When everything is going well and we are all standing around in a nice little circle, there is not much to be seen by the world. But when we come to the place where there is a real difference, and we exhibit uncompromised principles but at the same time observable love, then there is something that the world can see, something they can use to judge that these really are Christians, and that Jesus has indeed been sent by the Father.” (Complete Works, vol. 4, 201, emphasis added)
I hope this finds you all well my friends and that you have taken something away from this…I know I have.
With Love in Christ