Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 19, 1970
NUMBER 28, PAGE 1-3a

A Quest For Unity — II.

Larry R. Devore

Paul tells us we must do our best "to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph. 4:3) Initial unity is established by our becoming children of God. (Gal. 3:26-27) We are united in Christ with every true Christian everywhere in the world in the Ekklesia (church) of God, the universal or world-wide church. This beginning unity that is established must be maintained. It is not automatically self-perpetuating. It can be maintained only by unity of practice. The denominations recognize this, and so write creeds to guide themselves, and expect each congregation in that particular denomination to follow the creed and so maintain their unity of practice. The New Testament is our guide or creed, and when each congregation follows the word of God, we not only have unity, but the kind of unity that is pleasing to God; "the unity of the spirit." Each congregation of God's people must only engage in and practice those things that are in the realm of faith, because we walk by faith and not by sight. (2 Cor. 5:7) Faith is no broader than revelation, and faith comes by the word of God. (Rom. 10:17) If anyone forces a brother or sister to engage in something that is not of faith, then it is sin. (Roman 14:23) We must take care not to offend or to be a stumbling-block to those who are weak in faith. (Romans 14:21; Romans 15:1)

Initial congregational unity is established by doing only that which is authorized in the New Testament. Engaging in those things that are expressly taught in the Scriptures, such as: eating the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week, every week, (Acts 20:7) and on no other day; giving as we have been prospered on the first day of the week, (1 Cor. 16:1-2); and taking up collections on no other days; singing praises unto God unaccompanied by mechanical mechanisms any day or every day of the week, (Col. 3:16-17; Eph. 5:19) engaging in daily prayer, (Jas. 5:13; Col. 4:2), and teaching others about salvation in Christ from day to day; (Acts 2:42; Mark 16:15; Acts 8:4-5).

God has specified certain acts which exclude our engaging in anything else. For example; using only unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine for the Lord's Supper. Strange as it may seem to some folks, this automatically eliminates hamburgers, pineapple upside-down-cake, and hot chocolate from this memorial supper.

Another example would be the singing of hymns of praise unto God. We are commanded and the New Testament authorizes the singing of hymns. That is all, not singing and/or playing, or playing in place of vocal music. We might as well give or pray "mechanically" as to sing to Jehovah "mechanically". We are to offer true worship to God from the heart, not by the inventions of man's hands. (Acts 17:24-25)

In some other things, however, God has allowed us certain freedoms. For example, what time we meet, how often we meet, what order of worship we follow, etc. There is no blueprint set forth in Scripture that says a congregation must have one song, a prayer, then Bible classes, then two songs, a prayer, another song, preaching, another song, then the Lord's supper, then the offering, then a closing song and prayer. Many congregations follow this exact pattern month after month, year after year. I am not saying that such practice is wrong, nor am I advocating that anyone change, for the sake of change. But, I am merely pointing out that this is custom and that we need to be careful to sort out our customs from scripture. Each congregation does not have to be an exact carbon-copy of all others in order to have unity. On what grounds could we criticize a congregation as long as they engage in some combination of scriptural acts of worship? Keep in mind, I am not speaking of those religious people (brethren or otherwise) who engage in unscriptural work or worship of the church. It may be that brethren elsewhere do not understand all the truth as well as we. What if a certain congregation did not understand 1 Cor. 16:1-2 as we do, and thought that they should only take up a collection if there was a poor saint to be relieved? Should we endeavor to teach them truth more clearly as we have opportunity, or write them off as unscriptural?

The point I am trying to make is this. We need to be careful to sort out our customs from Scripture. We need to deny self, and our personal opinions in order to maintain unity. I personally feel that the Lord is not nearly as concerned as some brethren are, about how many containers are on the Lord's Table, or whether a sister who wants to learn more of God's word asks a question in a Bible class. When are we going to be more like the Christians of the first century? When the early church was faced with problems, (and they had plenty), they met and solved those problems squarely. They did not divide into separate little cliques, each one believing and claiming to be the "loyal" Church of Christ. We perhaps need a fresh dose of brotherly love. We must love our brethren in Christ because we are members of the same family and have the same Father. Love that will not function in spite of disagreements or differences is not brotherly love at all! This is the test of brotherly love, when problems face brethren.

"For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous." Proper love for God will lead a person to do God's will. Part of His will is to "love the brethren." Harvey J. S. Blaney comments thus on 1 Jn. 5:3-4: "Our love for God can be recognized only as we manifest it in love for the brethren... To overcome the world means to be victorious in one's own life over all that makes the world what it is in its opposition to God. It means to successfully keep the injunction "that ye sin not." But this faith also includes love of the brethren, and so the victory is a victory of love. Love of the brethren overflows and strives to make "children of God" of those who are "children of the devil." (Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10, page 397-398)

Someone has said, the first recorded problem in the New Testament church was over benevolence. (Acts 6:1-6) So, it should be no surprise to see that "benevolent work" is a problem among brethren today and has caused disruption of unity formerly enjoyed by brethren. So brethren today face the question, "To what extent can we "fellowship" the institutional brethren?" Let us keep in mind that the individual Christian is the unit of worship. (1 Peter 2:5) I may be seated on a pew beside the most vile sinner, but he cannot corrupt my worship to God simply because of his presence. Suppose, for example, that every member of the congregation where I worship believes that the Herald of Truth is scriptural, and a good work. I do not. But, as long as my brethren do not force the church as a collective body to contribute to the Herald of Truth out of the common treasury, I can continue to worship God in spirit and in truth in that congregation. Remember, the individual is the unit of worship. My brother cannot corrupt my worship simply by believing something different than I do. The division comes if he practices it, and forces his practice on me. It is evident that in the last two decades brethren have not been willing to maintain unity, and hundreds of congregations have tragically divided, often with a good percentage of the membership neither knowing or understanding the issues involved. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." (Hosea 4:6) Brethren should have remained together and studied the Scriptures, and, perhaps, even today could be united on the truth of God, and "modernism" would not be gaining ground as it is among churches of Christ.

What kind of brotherly love is it that will jump the traces at the first sign of disagreement? Brethren on both sides of various issues sometimes manifest wrong attitudes and lack brotherly love.

But, bad attitudes should not blind us to Bible truth. Give us truth! Give it to us smooth or rough, coarse or polished, but let us have truth! Jesus said, "If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31- 32)

Brethren, we should think on these things. I don't have all the answers, but the Word of God does. I don't know how far we can go in maintaining unity. Certainly, we cannot, yea, we dare not, compromise the truth of God. But we need to do everything that we can to further unity among God's people upon God's terms. "Let love of the brethren continue." (Hebrews 13:1)

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