Category Archives: Christian Unity

Harmony in the Church

11:16 AM Commenting on harmony in the church, Howard Marshall (New Testament Theology, p. 347) writes:

Such harmony could arise in two ways. One possibility is that there is considerable toleration of different points of view, so that people do not fight over differences of opinion on nonessential matters. The other possibility is that people are united because they are in agreement about how they should think and act.

Our generation will not get back on track until it hears this message loud and clear. Let’s say, for example, that you are in a traditional Baptist church and have a desire (which you share with your pastor and others) that the church move forward toward what all of you consider to be a more biblical ecclesiology, in this case a plurality of elders (“elder-led congregationalism”). This desire, if pursued, is likely to lead to divisions in the church if carried out selfishly – that is, if you fail to consider the other person’s needs rather than just your own. So, although you are convinced that having multiple elders is a healthier and more biblical pattern for the church than a single pastor, you are not interested in fighting to get your way. In seeking to introduce change to our churches, there can never be any irritation or ridicule toward someone with whom we might disagree. We must banish from our mindset once and for all both censoriousness and contempt.

At the same time, it is still possible (and, I think, both desirable and needful) that every congregation consider carefully what the Scriptures teach “about how they should think and act” (as Marshall puts it). I think this is what Paul means by “having the same mind” in Phil. 2:2. He is referring to a disposition of like-mindedness whereby we bring to the table an attitude of unity, cooperation, amity, and harmony. This is a far cry from putting our brains in park or neutral. And it is certainly no excuse for sloppy thinking. There must be agreement in the congregation that the Word of God comes first, and that whatever course of action is decided upon must be dictated by conviction and not simply by convention. We would all do well to remember that it is our duty to have biblical convictions, and that it is our equal duty to allow others to have theirs. But I’m talking about convictions, not blind allegiance to tradition.

So, what do you think?

(From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels? and  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?. Used by permission.)

Changing in a Grace-Filled Way

1:02 PM This week in our Greek 3 class we exegeted Phil. 4:1-9, a passage full of references to the need for unity and cooperation in the cause of the Gospel. I want to say from the start that I have tremendous respect for my students who are trying to effect changes in their churches. I deeply appreciate the fact that they want to go about the process in a way that is conducive to unity and does not fight against it. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do think it is wrong to force change without at least doing our very best to build a consensus. Commenting on harmony in the church, Howard Marshall (New Testament Theology, p. 347) writes:

Such harmony could arise in two ways. One possibility is that there is considerable toleration of different points of view, so that people do not fight over differences of opinion on nonessential matters. The other possibility is that people are united because they are in agreement about how they should think and act.

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Ground Zero Mosque and Humility

From Dave Black Online:

I am deeply grieved over the push to deny the rights of Muslims in this nation to build a mosque near Ground Zero. It almost looks like the identity we assume as “Christian Americans” is as important as the Gospel message we communicate. I submit to you it’s not a kingdom mentality. What is a kingdom mindset? It’s an attitude of gentleness that affirms the values and dignity of others, even those who are different from us. It’s an attitude of humility that considers others as better than one’s self. It’s service without any strings attached. It’s washing the feet of our enemies. It’s service motivated solely by the love of Christ.

Christians with this attitude towards their Muslim neighbors are the most powerful weapon in God’s arsenal. It’s an attitude, by the way, whose origins are supernatural. How can we live this kind of life? I believe it’s only possible through continuous self-examination and confession. We need to see where we need to be, repent, and get up and go. For my wife and me, it is our continual prayer every day for God to save the souls of the lost. May God teach us that all the blessings we enjoy as Americans are only temporary and conditional. May He help us to see how late the hour is and how urgent it is that we respond with obedience to His radical call to love even our perceived enemies.

(From Dave Black Online, used by permission.  Dave Black is author of Energion titles The Jesus Paradigm and Christian Archy.)

On Social Labels

From Dave Black Online:

It’s human nature to employ social labels. We love to put people into our little boxes according to race, social status, level of education, country of origin, etc. — and the labels on the boxes determine to a great degree how we think about ourselves and how we treat others. Everyone we know generally fits into one of these boxes. Occasionally we place people in the wrong box. I think this is true of people who have a formal education. We assume a particular person has greater knowledge of the Scriptures if he or she has a theological degree from a Bible school or seminary. In fact, some of the most biblically illiterate people I know have degrees in theology. I believe that God wants to transform our social interaction completely. Jesus taught that external labels have so significance in His kingdom. It’s not that the title “Dr.” Black is inherently sinful. The problem is when we see other people as doctors or students or Republicans or Democrats or home-schoolers or government-schoolers or males or females rather than as siblings in the family of God. This is the upshot of Andy Bowden’s latest blog post, which I am very grateful I stumbled upon this morning. On the surface there is probably nothing harmful or positively evil in referring to me as “Dr.” Black. The danger is when we allow our titles to keep us from each other. When this happens, the tail of social convention wags the dog of Christian unity.For what it’s worth, I could care less about formal titles. The early church did without them. And they did just fine. Look at the way they called each other by their first names — Paul, Peter, John, Barnabas. They seemed to truly believe that the kingdom of God is flat. Titles that emphasize status differences are neither necessary nor healthy. Why not just call each other by our first names or — if an epithet is necessary — by “brother” or “sister”?

(David Alan Black is author of Energion titles The Jesus Paradigm and Christian Archy, as well as co-editor of the Areopagus Critical Christian Issues Series. This extract from his blog is used by permission.)

Unity and Diversity

From Dave Black Online:

In theology class recently we discussed the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel. Let me outline what I said. (Much of what we discussed was based on an essay I wrote several years ago for a somewhat obscure journal called the Criswell Theological Review. The essay is titled “Structure and Style in John 17.” If you would like a copy, let me know.)

The church consists of people who know God personally through Jesus Christ. These people come from many different cultures and backgrounds. There are as diverse as diverse can be. Yet they are all one, united in the very same way that Jesus is united with His Father. What does this unity look like? This is a question to which scholars have given many different answers. What is absolutely certain is that unity does not mean uniformity. It has nothing whatsoever to do with bland sameness. It involves a unity of spirit, an identity of purpose, and a commitment to brotherly love. One evangelical scholar argues that the church is like a huge army marching under different regimental banners. It is not supremely important what regiment we belong to. What matters is that we all follow the commanding officer.

I resonate with this analogy. For many years now I have reenacted the American Civil War. Each regiment has its own customs, flags, esprit, and idiosyncrasies. Yet despite the fact that the army marches under many different flags, each regiment is expected to obey the commanding officer and work together as a unit.

As followers of Christ, we must never forget that Jesus came into the world to inaugurate the kingdom of God. In this kingdom, national and tribal allegiances are unimportant. They are superseded by our loyalty to our Commander-in-Chief. If, by a miracle, unity ever became a “first order” category in our Bible-believing, evangelical churches, evangelism might become our one overmastering passion. I am told that as a Baptist I must fight for Baptist distinctives. Some would go further. They would say that I am not to eat the Lord’s Supper with those who hold to “wrong doctrine” — pedobaptism, for example. How avidly we cling to our distinctives! But our supreme aim can NEVER be to exalt our own regiment. The Commander asks us to follow Him. And if we make that our aim, surely we will realize that the things that unite us in the kingdom are much more important than the things that divide us.

In a word, evangelicals are to be a people who are united for the Gospel. The kingdom of God transcends every manmade barrier we can erect — race, education, gender, color, background, nationality. Think of the leadership of the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1). They had a Cypriot (Barnabas), a dark-skinned man (Simeon “the black”), a North African (Lucius from Cyrene), an aristocrat (Manaen, a member of the Herodian family), and a Jew (Saul of Tarsus). What made their joint leadership possible? I dare say that the “fellowship of the Spirit” (Phil. 2:1) was more important to them than their obvious differences. That humble attitude paid handsomely. The congregation at Antioch became a missionary sending church, as every local church should be.

I believe that most churches today could do a great deal more to encourage this outlook. We can hold city-wide meetings with other congregations, or we can combine services with the church next door, or we can come together for prayer meetings. Perhaps this would help us catch a glimpse of the true catholicity of the church. It is necessary to emphasize that we must depend completely on the Holy Spirit if we are to achieve such unity. The Spirit was given to us, not to make us comfortable, but to make us missionaries. It was the Spirit who drove Paul and the other early missionaries to “struggle together in one soul for the faith of the Gospel” (Phil. 1:28). It is He who dismantles our pride and enables the lovely fruit of the Spirit to take root in our lives. This, I believe, is what Jesus prayed for in John 17 — a church whose fellowship was real and vibrant, and a church devoted to evangelism.

When the Spirit is freely welcomed among us again, who knows what the results might be?

P.S. I should note that I do not reenact the Civil War because I seek to glorify that war or any war for that matter. Quite the opposite. I seek to educate the public about what life was like in the encampments of the period.

David Alan Black is author of The Jesus Paradigm and the forthcoming book Christian Archy from Energion Publications along with 20 titles from other publishers.  This extract from his blog is used by permission.

Scandalous Example of Christian Unity

Dave Black is participating in a discussion at The Gospel in 3D.  He adds this story:

Allow me to tell you a story, Bro. Lionel. Not long ago I heard about a congregation of mostly home-schooling families. The church was, of course, age-integrated (no Awana, no youth group, no children’s church, no VBS), elder-led (and no elder received a salary), and focused on edification during their meetings (rather than on “worship”). My kind of church exactly! One day they heard about a very traditional Baptist church across town that needed help with their Awana program on Wednesday nights. Seems they didn’t have enough adults to listen to the children recite their memory verses. Do you know what that age-integrated congregation of home-schooling families decided to do? That’s right. They said, “Well, we’re not doing anything on Wednesday nights. Why don’t we go over and help them?” And that’s exactly what they did.

Scandalous!

Indeed!