By Steve DuPlessie | December 16, 2107
It strikes me that there is an ever increasing tension between purity in a church and unity in a church.
Ok, so that explains why there are so many different Christian churches, of so many different denominations, which all claim to be the true followers of Jesus.
And in many cases there is a clear break in unity because there is no agreement with the essential doctrines that form the foundation for unity. I suggest that there are five core, non-negotiable doctrines that are the non-debatable essence of the Christian faith…
- The bible is the inspired Word of God.
- The bible reveals God as a Trinity – Father, Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit.
- God desires to be known and be in a relationship with His creation.
- That relationship with God is broken because we all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.
- Jesus was sent by God into the world to be our sin-bearer, to pay by His death the full price for our sin, so that forgiveness is available to all who believe in Jesus—and only Jesus—for salvation by God’s grace-alone through faith-alone.
Sure, the are more nuances that could spell out countless levels of details, but in a brief and simplified statement, that’s it. And of course there are proof texts from the bible that support each of these Core-5 (and the long list of unnamed nuances). (You can find proof-texts for the Core-5 on the complete GNBC Statement of Faith.)
Here’s the rub…
There are always sincere, devoted, well-motivated sisters and brothers who embrace all of the Core-5, but they struggle when someone disagrees with other doctrines—maybe about when Jesus will return; what baptism must be like; what the bread and wine of Communion mean; and a whole long list of other details. For some it is issues like what version of the bible to read, what kind of clothes to wear, or how to relate to the influence of the unsaved world around us. The list of potential purity issues is long.
And for them, their struggle with disagreements—and thus “purity” in a church family—begins to take a priority over the priority of unity of sisters and brothers in Christ.
And that’s a problem because Jesus said, John 17:20-23, “I pray…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Jesus is expecting that the world is watching how we act as Christ-followers, and making their own major, eternity-effecting, decisions based on those observations.
The mark of a Christian…
Jesus said, John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Many have noted that the distinguishing mark in those verses by which Christians can be identified, and by which we confirm that Jesus is the One sent from God, is ironically not agreement on long lists of doctrines or particular practices, but simply by … love. Genuine love for each other.
And that love must be demonstrated, not only by kind words of affection or respect, but by practical, working displays of shoulder-to-shoulder unity.
Decades ago Francis Schaeffer exhorted, “Love—and the unity it attests to—is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father.”
While purity is very important, Satan loves to use it as a tool to effectively divide and diminish the one mark of a Christian that Jesus identified—love that is supposed to be demonstrated by unity. (Of course, gross, unrepentant moral failure by those who claim to be followers of Jesus must be confronted and addressed. That goes without saying. I’m not talking here about that kind of “purity.”)
So yes, it is true that we cannot fellowship with someone who denies Jesus is God. Or someone who denies the bible is the inspired word of God. Or someone who denies that individual, personal faith in Jesus as Savior is necessary for salvation. There is in those cases no foundation for fellowship.
But, given a Core-5 foundation, we should be able to worship and serve side-by-side with sisters and brothers who will worship side-by-side with us in glory.
Thus the grounds of Christian unity is in Jesus Himself—who He is, and what He has done for us on the cross.
Deciding to divide…
The Apostle Paul gave simple and clear directions for how to handle disagreements of practice based on different levels of maturity and differing understandings of bible truth. In Romans 14 we read… “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of ___________ (you fill in the blank).”
Deciding to divide from other brothers and sisters effectively “destroys the work of God”—His work in creating a new family that shares His unity, and His work in His mission of redemption, reconciliation, and re-creation in a fallen, very broken world.
The elders of GNBC agree that love for each other, demonstrated by our undivided unity in Christ, is the first priority for fellowship. The old Plymouth Brethren phrase—“Life (in Christ), not Light (on the Scriptures)”—is still a helpful principle to keep us focused on the importance of displaying the mark of a Christian before a watching world.
Those who decide to divide are usually motivated by a sincere, bible-focused, well-intentioned desire for purity. But they do so at the expense of unity. They must be gently and lovingly encouraged by the Romans 14 principles to “not judge someone else’s servant” and stay focused on the mark of a Christian, love shown in unity. There will be a temptation to long, drawn-out discussions, debates, letters, and arguments of deeply held critiques of purity—but in the end that is a distraction from the simple principle of love demonstrated in unity.