I believe one of the saddest jokes around is directly related to the church. You know, the one about leaving, that says, “Let’s make like a Baptist church, and split!” You might, perhaps, chuckle, but the truth this little remark holds is extremely alarming, especially to me, since I’m affiliated with a Baptist church at the moment. It’s no secret that the storied history of the Baptist denomination is not without its fair share of black marks: schism and division are riddled throughout the annals of, not only this denomination, but really every denomination we’re familiar with. This is due to the simple fact that while we proclaim, boldly and courageously, the name of Christ for the all the world to hear, we’re definitely not perfect, holy people. We’re merely sinners who’ve been transformed and saved by grace . . . but we’re still broken people, living in a broken world, among other broken people. And it’s because of this brokenness that discord and disunity invade the church.
To my recollection, nearly all of the apostle Paul’s epistles contain a passage or two on unity in the church, and how we’re to be “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Phil 2:2) He implores us to all “agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (1 Cor 1:10) Continuing, that “above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Col 3:14) This sentiment is also echoed by the apostle Peter, who says, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Pt 3:8) It seems to me that these sort of clarion calls to oneness in the church are neglected, or, at the very least, forgotten. And because our heart’s are naturally bent towards self-salvation and self-justification (just like the Pharisees were), we tend to focus on ourselves and what we’re doing — and if others aren’t doing things (“doing life”) exactly like us, then we think have to “fix” them. It doesn’t help that this culture in which we live is inundated with me-first ideologies and deeply narcissistic realities, which have become so ingrained in our psyche we hardly question them anymore. And that’s what’s sad.
But on the subject of disunity and discord, we mustn’t ignore the fact that the enemy of the church lies, not on the outside, but on the inside. Infighting and divisions give the church a bad name more than anything else in this age. The unregenerate see our discord and disunity, and who’s to blame them for not wanting a part of that? Who’s to blame them for not wanting people jumping down their throats every time they do something under a different conviction than someone else? And therein lies the crux of what I pray and long for all of us to grasp.
The schisms that attack the church, not always, but usually arise because of silly matters and trivial arguments, unimportant and insignificant concerns that have little weight in light of eternal verities. Too often, we fall into the Pharisaical trap of equating outward conforming to internal transforming, to the point where we focus on ours and everyone else’s outward actions, instead of concerning ourselves with the heart, with relationships. We trounce around, worrying about what movies other people watch, what sort of dress other people wear, what sort of music other people listen to, etc., etc. And while these are important, in their own right, we’ve forgotten what’s most important, we’ve “neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Mt 23:23) — that is, we’ve forgotten the gospel!
My encouragement to you, is that if you’ve been offended by another believer, if you have “ought” against a brother or sister in Christ, go to them and (either) lovingly disagree or correct the fault. (Mt 18:15–20) Do everything you can to keep the unity of the church; strive “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:3) Unity is the natural fruit of the seed of the gospel. If you’re genuinely captured and captivated by grace, peace and harmony among your fellow Christ-followers will be instinctive. “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Rom 14:19) At all times, we must keep the gospel front and center! The good news of great grace must be our primary (and only) mandate — and the secondary and tertiary things must know and keep their place. Our lives and relationships must be built and known for, not so much of what we hate, but Whom we love and serve and owe our everything, namely, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Stop the division. End your discord. Don’t let trivial preferences and personal convictions upset your eternal mindset. Even if you are on different sides of a particular issue, lay down your pride and pomp, and strive to meet at the corner — rather, The Corner, Jesus Christ. “Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” (Eph 2:20) Let us continue our pursuit of the Father, our “following hard after God” (Ps 63:8 KJV), in oneness and fellowship with others, keeping Jesus at the center and his gospel at the forefront. For, “there is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4:4–6) Let us always ascribe to this motto:
In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas.
In necessary things unity; in uncertain things freedom; in everything charity.