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.
This is excellent advice from a leading evangelical scholar. Let’s say, for example, you are a leader in a traditional Baptist church and have a desire (which you share with a few others) that the church move forward toward what 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 needs of others 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 having 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 “being of the same mind in the Lord” in Phil. 4:2. 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.
I’m hopeful that all of us, but especially the 20- and 30-somethings in our churches, might be willing to be nothings in God’s great kingdom-building program, and that we will refuse to overemphasize the “distinctives” that divide us rather than the faith that unites us. It is my constant hope and prayer that we will adopt a big-hearted and grace-awakened approach to kingdom work without legalism, traditionalism, manipulation, negativism, bitterness, and perfectionism. The quality of our churches depends on it. Paul wrote about putting away childish things when we became adults (1 Cor. 13:11), and that includes mindless adherence to ritual. The readers of Hebrews were sternly chastised for their inattentiveness to God’s Word and to their responsibility for spiritual growth (Heb. 5:11-14). It is folly to limit our understanding of the faith to what we learned when we were spiritual infants.
Friends, we have so often failed on character, we have so often failed on kindness, we have so often failed on love. But there is nothing weak or effeminate about grace. At the same time, the church must always be reforming itself. It is just as easy to fail on truth as it is to fail on love. So let’s be patient with each other, remembering that there are some things that will never clear up until we grow up, and others not until we go up.