Sunday, August 19, 2012

Unity Through an Established Leadership

[Daily I discuss theology with Protestants. This post is compiled from my responses to discussions about unity in Christ.]

Most Protestants claim that since unity of doctrine seems utterly impossible among Christians, that we must take Christ's command to unify as some type of spiritual unity in heart, but not in unity of scriptural interpretation. 

I say, not so, that is not what Christ commanded and the Bible is overwhelmingly against such a notion.

Here I present a few texts (among hundreds) that would help refute this idea that we cannot be doctrinally united. Christ's intent included doctrinal agreement when He commanded unity.


Ephesians 4

Christian unity isn't an option for Christians. It is not something we can put on our spiritual wish list and hope God does a miracle in our lives to suddenly unite us. This is a command by Christ that is just as vital as other moral commands in scripture. 

Because most Christians realize its importantance, we symbolize the meaning of God's words and default to the passive position of "Well, I guess we can unite in love and service because uniting in doctrine and under one head is just.... impossible." 

Is that opinion supported by the Word of God and the testimony of His Apostles? Look at parts of Ephesians 4:1-16---not just specifics but the overall thrust:

Therefore I ...implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. ...

Notice that the unity described here is not an invisible unity. Note also that it does include doctrinal unity.We are to be (not "will hopefully become", or "try to do if possible and keep your personal doctrines of faith") but we are commanded to be unified. 

Walking as Christians means that we are unified! "Be diligent to preserve unity of the Spirit." That doesn't mean have good, loving, gentle feelings about others. That's a good thing, but that is not the unity of the Spirit.

Remember what Christ told his Apostles recorded at the end of the gospel of John when Christ was about to enter the grave? His last plea was for His Apostles to be unified in truth and Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come and recall to the Apostles minds' all He had taught them from the beginning so that they could be unified in Truth!

The Holy Spirit's unity is not about feelings or an invisible spiritual oneness, it is a real, tangible, doctrinal unity. This unity is to be in the physical body. Christ set up a real Kingdom when He was on earth, not an invisible one. This Kingdom was to be one in both physical body (organization), under one Lord (Christ) with one faith and one baptism. Yes, all this could be rendered symbolic. But if you read on... you will see that it was certainly not. (Verse 11 begins:)

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

To make this one body, one faith, one baptism, possible, Jesus gave us leaders--not symbolic, but true, real leaders in a true, real church. It is through these God-appointed leaders that Christians are equipped for living Christianity. Christ gave us church authorities that we can attain the unity of faith.

Notice that it doesn't say that through love we will attain unity, but through leadership--apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors--it is through this physical, organizational structure God set up that we will attain unity. And of equal importance notice that it is through God-ordained leadership that we will get knowledge of the Son of God and become mature!

Let's read that again to make sure we got it right..... "He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers ... until we all attain... the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man..." And just to be utterly clear that we are speaking of unity in doctrine, St. Paul writes in verse 14--that "as a result" of this leadership:

...we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

We build ourselves up in love, in unity, in body, in Spirit, in hope and in faith THROUGH God's chosen Apostles and leaders.

Matthew 18: 15-17
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.....  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 

Here, it would be hard to argue that Jesus is setting up an invisible, spiritual church based on a non-doctrinal unity.

The text describes a Christian who is sinning. How does one know what sin is except for what has been taught through God’s Word? If everybody gets to follow his or her personal convictions or their consciences I think this command would be written differently.

Jesus’ command would have been, “if your brother does something you think is sinful, pray for him, discuss it with him showing him what your interpretation of scripture is. Then allow the Holy Spirit to work in his heart and be at peace, your mutual love for Christ will keep you unified in spirit. Everyone is to tolerate other’s spiritual maturing.” That would be today’s answer.

But Christ did not command us in that fashion. He told us that if we see another brother sin, (this assumes moral agreement among Christians) we are to go to him in private and council him.

The scary part of this is that it is not left up to you to decide if you love him enough in your heart to not offend him in the confrontation. Neither does the command give us Christians the excuse that you are embarrassed, shy, don’t want to get involved. Jesus tells us that we are our brothers keeper quite clearly right here. Just do it. Get involved in your brother Christian’s life. It is your business... Jesus just made it your business.

If your Christian brother doesn’t listen, you are then let off the hook. You’ve done your duty and say "peace, godspeed" to him and go.


That is not what Jesus command says. He says take two or three witnesses back to the person you saw sin and confront him again. Then, if he still refuses to listen.... what are we to do then?

Jesus commands that we take it to the church.

This assumes an established, visible church with leadership. If there is any way around this command being to an organized religion, tell me, because I can’t figure it out. How do you take someone you think is sinning to a group of people who are not organized and have differences of opinions about theology, what sin is,  or even who’s a true Christians?

You can’t take a sinner to a chaos to find repentance.

To establish that the church is the final authority in matters of sin (which is the foundational reason for doctrines--to define faith an morals) Jesus commanded we take the sinner to the established, visible church:

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Please note that Jesus establishes the church, not scriptures as the final authority.

So later when Paul tells us to be one in Body, one Lord, one Spirit, one faith, one hope and one baptism (part one, Eph. 4) it is under God’s ordained leadership and the religious structure already set up by Christ that Paul tells us that we have unity.

This unity is build upon the rock of Jesus and His established authority. Unity is based upon obedience to that authority and if you see a brother sin you are to go through these steps--the final authority being the established church.

This is a church that is:

  • A visible organized church
  • A church with clearly established authorities 
  • A Church that has agreement on doctrinal issues of sin and morals
  • We are obligated to take our brother to that established church if we see him sin 
and ...

Finally, if our Christian brother refuses to listen to the church (rather, he claims he must follow his own conscience) Christians are to treat him as a gentile and tax collector.

We could discuss how Jesus tells us to treat our enemies, but that is another subject. At the very least, Jesus tells us they are no longer a part of His established church nor to be considered a Christian. They are now outsiders and are to be kindly won back to the faith as an outsider who has rejected God’s authority.

These are Jesus’ words. Jesus has an established, visible church. And we are to be obedient to it, for it is the final authority. Under Christ's authority we can be unified.

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