Episode 43 – What Should Separate Christians? #Unity, part 2 (+The Pope Who Exhumed His Predecessor, Tried, Found Him Guilty, and Cut His Fingers Off!)
In Genesis 45, which we are reading today, something profoundly important happens that will determine the next 400+ years in the lives of God’s people, the descendants of Abraham. Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, and tells them to go get their father Israel (Jacob) and bring him to Egypt. Unbeknownst to all of them, the family of Israel would stay in Egypt for hundreds of years, and bloom into a great nation – a nation of slaves – who will be rescued by God through a murderer with a speech impediment named Moses. Job chapter 11 introduces us to a new friend of Job, Zophar, and he is a bit of an idiot from the start. That may sound unkind, but Zophar’s first words (to a man who has just lost his entire family -other than his mean wife – and all his possessions) are insults (calling Job a babbler and ridiculer) and false accusations. Zophar accuses Job of declaring himself pure in God’s sight, and then urges Job to repent. The only problem is that, according to God, Job hadn’t sinned, and had nothing to repent of. There are a lot of Zophars in Christendom – they sound very spiritual, and they say some good things, but there is venom on their tongue and they often accuse the innocent. Let’s not be Zophars! Mark 15 is focused on the crucifixion of Jesus, the most unjust occurrence in all of human history – in our favor. In Mark 15, we see something interesting about Jesus’ followers. Generally most people focus on the male disciples, but it is clear from the New Testament that Jesus also had female followers that were absolute crucial to His ministry:
40 There were also women watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women followed him and took care of him. Many other women had come up with him to Jerusalem.Mark 15:40-41
These women “took care” of Jesus – they ministered to the chief minister! That’s pretty amazing. Our focus passage today is Romans 15, and we will continue our discussion on unity from yesterday. As we read it, pay close attention to verses 5 and 6:
5 Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, according to Christ Jesus, 6 so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one voice.Romans 15:5-6
By God’s grace and nothing else, I have been able to serve in various pastoral ministries for the last 25 years. At some point in those early days of ministry, I encountered Jesus prayer in John 17 that we discussed a good bit on yesterday’s episode #42. His plea to God the Father that His followers be in complete unity struck me to the depths of my being – it resonated with me as something very, very crucial. The first two churches that I served in had conflict issues among the senior staff and overall leaders of the church. I was part of the junior staff at both of those churches, and didn’t have much say in the direction of the church, so I missed out on most of the direct conflicts, but caught little hints along the way. One day over 20 years ago, I found a little note written from one pastor to another pastor that suggested that I had somehow “chosen sides” in an ongoing church conflict, and I was quite astonished at this, as I didn’t really understand the nature of the conflict, nor was a I aware that there were sides to it, and I certainly wasn’t aware that I had chosen a side. Heartbroken, I resigned from that ministry to focus on finishing up my college degree. There were no hard feelings at all, as I remained with that church for years after, and respected all of the men in leadership. I just didn’t understand the conflict. At the next church I served in, there was also conflict among the leaders – conflict which eventually led to the senior pastor converting to Roman Catholicism (!), and a meeting that threatened to split the church. I am pretty sure, in my young immaturity and zeal, that I contributed to that conflict in ungodly ways, so I quietly resigned from that church as well after three years of ministry with an incredible group of kids. Somewhere in the midst of all of that, I began to be strongly impressed by the Bible’s teaching on unity, and resolved to the best of my ability to work towards unity in the church. If Jesus prayed for it to happen, it must be important, right?!
The problem is that unity does not come easily. You have your opinions, I have mine, and other people have theirs. We are all sinners with an inborn flaw that causes us to walk in pride and not realize that we are doing so. Unity has to be fought for, and I am one of the chief enemies of unity, so my sinful nature, my pride, and my desire to be right has to be crucified. It is NOT an accident that Paul calls us to make EVERY EFFORT to be at peace with each other:
2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your callingEphesians 4:2-4
This is an important and central issue in the church – this is not one we can miss on. The eyes of non-believers, baby-believers, children and the next generation of pastors and leaders are on those who are now leading the church. They are listening to our dinner table conversations, overhearing our complaints, and reading our social media posts. If they see us walking in disunity, pride, and demanding our own way, then they will grow up and do the same thing, maybe even worse. Eyes are on us, leaders of the church, and thus does the Bible say to us to make EVERY EFFORT to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
As a Church let us shake off envyings; let us all rejoice in God’s light; and as for pride—if any of you have grown vainglorious of late, shake it off. I hope to exercise a ministry in this place which will drive out those of you who will not acknowledge your brothers when they are poorer or of less education than yourselves. What if the man mars the Queen’s English when he talks—what does that matter, so long as his heart is right? As long as you can feel he loves the Master, surely you can put up with his faults of language, if he can put up with your faults of action. Then let us cultivate everything that would tend to unity. Are any sick? Let us care for them. Are any suffering? Let us weep with them. Do we know one who has less love than others? then let us have more, so as to make up the deficiency. Do we perceive faults in a brother? let us admonish him in love and affection. I pray you be peacemakers, everyone... Let us remember that we cannot keep the unity of the Spirit unless we all believe the truth of God. Let us search our Bibles, therefore, and conform our views and sentiments to the teaching of God’s Word. I have already told you that unity in error is unity in ruin. We want unity in the truth of God through the Spirit of God. This let us seek after; let us live near to Christ, for this is the best way of promoting unity.C. H. Spurgeon, “True Unity Promoted,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 11 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1865), 10–11.
Divisions in Churches never begin with those full of love to the Saviour. Cold hearts, unholy lives, inconsistent actions, neglected prayer closets; these are the seeds which sow schisms in the body; but he who lives near to Jesus, wears his likeness and copies his example and will be, wherever he goes, a sacred bond, a holy link to bind the Church more closely than ever together. May God give us this, and henceforth let us endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. I commend the text to all believers, to be practiced through the coming year.
Jesus commands unity and oneness in His church and prays for it. The very idea that continuationist believers like John Piper, Sam Storms, Martyn Lloyd Jones, J.I. Packer and D.A. Carson should not be in the same church with cessationist believers like Charles Spurgeon, Tim Keller, Thomas Schreiner, and David Platt hurts my heart and goes against the prayer of Jesus for unity in John 17. Do you picture arriving at the gates of Heaven, and Jesus addressing you with something like, “Well done thou good and faithful servant – you only stuck closely and had the biblical oneness and unity I commanded with those who adhered to the 1689 London Baptist Confession, and you refused to worship together with or partner in the Great Commission with anybody else”? Because, I don’t believe that is going to happen. When Paul commanded Christians to be of one mind and one voice, and Jesus prayed for unity among His followers, I don’t believe we have the freedom to separate from each other over non-essential doctrinal issues like spiritual gifts, our interpretation of the last days, what kind of worship we should conduct, the clothes we should wear, or the exact nature of how God’s sovereignty works in determining salvation. We may not all go to the same church, but we must all – clearly and obviously – demonstrate the unity of the Spirit made possible by the bond of peace that binds us together in Christ.