Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Biblical Church Unity

"All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers." Acts 1:14, ESV

After Christ ascended back to heaven, 120 early believers are obeying Jesus’ command to wait for the Promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit. While they wait on the Lord to fulfill his promise, they are unified and persevering in continuous prayer. We will focus on their unity.

1. Defining Biblical Unity. The believers in the upper room are described as being of “one-mind,” or in “one accord.” The Greek word used here is homothymadon, made from the words homo (same) and thymos (principle of life, feeling, thought). It speaks of a group acting as one; together, unanimous, of one mind (Mounce, Verbrugge). The idea is a group of believers having one mind, focus and purpose, and acting or participating together in that focus.

Notice that this is not simply the lack of bickering, gossip, etc, but an actual participation in body life. You don’t have to be actively seeking to destroy the church’s local work to not be in unity; a lack of like-mindedness in the purpose and goal of the church and/or lack of participation in the life of the body is to work against the church, and therefore to work against Christ!

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.                 Jesus in Luke 11:23

Christ is now in heaven, but is still active through his people, the church, by the Holy Spirit (which is what we see played out in Acts). The kind of unity pictured and called for in Acts and other places in the New Testament involves both like-mindedness AND participation in what Christ has commanded his people to do. These two components of unity are therefore very important in the life of the church!

 Do we agree concerning Christ and what he has commanded us to do?
 Are we participating together in obedience to Christ?

2. Biblical Examples of Unity (homothymadon). Acts 1:14 is not an isolated incident of unity in the context of participation. Rather, this word is used in Acts to show the united church acting together in prayer (here in 1:14), worship in the Temple (2:46-47; 5:12), prayer to God after Peter and John were released from jail (4:24), and sending out Judas and Silas with the decision from the Jerusalem council about Gentiles not being forced to be circumcised (15:25).

Branching out from the book of Acts, Paul also uses this word in Romans 15:5-6:
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6

The Scripture's Call For Unity:
This kind of like-minded participation in the life of the church does not flow from our flesh naturally. Rather, local churches must pray and work towards unity:

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.   Ephesians 4:1-3 “henotEta”, oneness of the Spirit

Other Scriptures call the church to unity:

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. 1 Corinthians 1:10
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11
complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:2-8

3. Local Church Application.  This unity requires a death to self and change of thought/focus – from me, or my family, to Christ’s work in his church. It requires humility. Scripture calls members of local churches to agree on God’s will in Christ Jesus and actively participate together in obedience to the mission of the church.

This means participating in the inward life of the church and the outward mission of the church.

A. Unity in the Inward Life of the Church:

 faithfully gathering with the church,  (you can agree with Hebrews 10 all day long, but if you fail to participate by gathering with the church, you are not in unity with the church or Christ who gave the command)

 singing praise,

 receiving the preached word,

 generous giving to support the church’s work,

 using gifts to edify the body, (you can say till you're blue in the face that you believe in the present ministry of the gifts of the Spirit, but if you fail to pray for the believers - asking God to empower you to minister the gifts to them - this is not the unity shown in Scripture)

 sharing meals with the church in fellowship,

 participating in the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper

B. Unity in the Outward Mission of the Church:

 being a witness in the gospel word, and

 sharing Christ’s love in the gospel deed.

Again, agreeing with these things is not unity - not Biblical unity anyway. Remember the 2nd component of biblical unity!  Agreeing AND participating.

Personal Application:  Are you humbling yourself to be likeminded with your local church? Are you actively participating in the inward and outward life of the church? Or are you disobeying Christ and working against his ministry through the church? Let us repent and be of “one mind” and “one accord” with the church!

4. What Biblical Unity is NOT. Jesus’ Prayer in John 17. Greek, heis, “one.”

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. John 17:20-23

Biblical unity is NOT the world’s idea of unity. Much more than joining hands around a campfire singing Kumbaya.

A. Biblical unity does not compromise TRUTH (John 17: 8,14,17). It’s not saying that everyone is right. It’s not joining together and never mentioning what we believe. No unity without truth. We must agree on essential doctrines of the faith. Doctrine does not divide us, the flesh divides!

B. Biblical unity does not compromise HOLINESS (John 17: 16-17,19). It’s not saying that it doesn’t matter how we live, let’s just unite. There is church discipline. (Matt 18:15-20; 2 Tim 2:19) But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” 2 Tim 2:19

C. Biblical unity does not compromise MISSION (John 17:18). It’s not being distracted from our purpose of making disciples of all nations (Mat 28:19-20) in order to focus only on meeting physical needs (becoming more humanitarian focused for the sake of ‘unity’ with other groups).

In this small snapshot of the early church, which is reinforced by teaching in the rest of Acts and the Scripture as a whole, we learn to humble ourselves and be like-minded, actively participating in the life of the church – obeying Jesus together. We learn to devote ourselves to prayer together, waiting on the Lord to empower us for the mission to which he’s called us. The risen Jesus is active today! He has called his church to come together in unity and prayer; looking to him, receiving his Spirit, and working in his strength to fulfill the mission: taking the gospel witness to the ends of the earth! Let us repent of our pride, and failure to embrace the community of the believers. Let us look with faith to the risen Christ and join together in one mind in seeking and obeying him, for God’s glory in the earth.

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