THE UNITY OF CHRISTIANS, OFFENSES AND RECONCILIATION

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“…endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph.4:1-3)

During my long spiritual walk, I saw completely unjustified divisions as well as brawls for completely unimportant things. I saw cases where certain people who, in their effort to enforce order created disorder and offenses. I saw people who, in their effort to impose their will or their own ideas or plans or traditions or church constitutions etc., have created but strife and divisions. However, the Bible and experience teach us and prove the importance and the utility of unity.

THE NATURE OF THE UNITY OF CHRISTIANS

If we examine the Bible attentively, we can easily conclude that the unity of Christians refers to the unity of their spirit and of their hearts. It does not refer to the unification of their churches and of their respective denominations. It would be more than desirable to be under only one denominational banner, faithful to the teaching of the Bible. But, this sacred wish is not for now but for the day when Jesus Christ will return and establish His kingdom and when His true children, who were washed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, see Him face to face and know the truth regarding them in its totality. The Bible teaches, however, that the divergence of opinion is allowed but that quarrels and divisions are not. Here is the Bible proof: “Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.” (Php.3:15). The only case where the Word of God does not exclude divisions is “…that those who are approved may be recognized among you.” (1Cor.11:18-19).

Neither you nor I know the absolute truth. It is God alone who knows in an absolute way what is correct, just and good. The existence of a divergence of opinion means that one of the two is wrong, or both are wrong, and even both are right but they see things in a different way or that they do not give the same meaning or the same importance to the same terms.

There were once three blind men by birth who wanted to understand what an elephant resembles! The first blind man, after having touched the foot of the animal exclaimed: It seems like a post; the other who had touched its sides said that it resembled a wall; and the last one who had touched its horn said: The elephant looks like a large tube! All three had seen only one side of the truth. All three were ready to ‘fight’ for “their” partial truth which did not correspond to the total truth…

My wife and I were not always of the same opinion during our over fifty years of married life but that did not lead us to either hate each other or to divorce… If there is a divergence of opinion, I wait so that either I myself understand something or she understands my point of view. There were times when God pushed me, as head of the household, on subjects of extreme importance, to act alone without consulting anybody. God has promised to lead us to all truth… (John 16:13). And He is faithful! This attitude cannot be held but only if we are inspired by a spirit of humility, comprehension, condescension, as well as by the knowledge that the thoughts and the ways of God are very deep, unsearchable and different from ours (Isa.55:8-9). But…

"WHY THIS UNITY?

Unity is the base of TC \l3 "spiritual or non-spiritual success, because “unity is strength.” Whether Christians believe it or not, they are one body in Christ and are individually members of one another (Rom.12:5). It is, therefore, necessary to work together in co-ordination and to persevere as the members of the human body. Unity is essential in difficult moments and moments of weakness: When one falls the other can help him and/or lift him up (Ec.4:9-12); when one is tired, discouraged and overpowered, the other can help him (Ex.17:12). Unity is also essential to give additional power to prayer: “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Mt.18:19-20). Unity is necessary in order to glorify the Lord because quarrels and divisions bring shame.

Conclusion: When there is unity, there is co-operation, harmony, fellowship, solidarity, progress and power. There is a whole arsenal of spiritual blessings, edification of believers and salvation of unbelievers. When there is unity that means that the fear of God, repentance, obedience and faith function well… THEN, there is intimate prayerful life with God. On the contrary, when there is no unity everything crumbles! Unity can be compared with the health of our body. When we lose our health, then we understand how precious it was and is!

THE DIVERGENCE OF OPINION HAS LIMITS…

Our spiritual level differs. It is, therefore, normal to see things differently. The divergence of opinion is not, therefore, a sin. In the verse that we are studying, there is a very significant sentence with regard to opinions: “…and IF in ANYTHING you THINK OTHERWISE, God will reveal even this to you.” This sentence means three things:

  • · That it is desirable that Christians are of the same opinion but that it is possible and is allowed not to be of the same opinion on a certain point;
  • · That this divergence of opinion refers to anything of less importance, and not to basic principles; and
  • · That God has assumed the responsibility – if we belong to Him – to enlighten us and to lead us into all truth…

At this point, I would like to open a parenthesis of general character: The man of God must be equipped with a broad, kind and tolerating spirit for people of other religions and denominations. This does not mean that there must, of necessity, exist unity of spirit. Unity and freedom of spirit – in the context of the will of God – are precious blessings that God has given us. I have, however, serious doubts about the true spiritual unity among the OFFICIAL Christian doctrines and MUCH MORE about ecumenical movements, about spiritual dialogues and common prayer meetings with other religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam etc., etc. etc. Such real spiritual unity cannot exist. Those who try to attain such unity try in vain and they also commit sin! Here is what God calls us to do: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Mt.5:44-45). And if God invites us to have such a love even for our enemies, how much more for people of good will and of good faith who belong to other denominations or religions. It is one thing not to quarrel, not to detest each other and/or kill each other, and quite another thing to have real spiritual unity. It suffices to remind ourselves what the Apostle Paul wrote: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.” (2Cor.6:14-18). No more argument is necessary…

In any case, I agree that we should seek, with all the people, those things that unite us and not those that separate us, so that, as far as possible, we could live peacefully and fight together for the will of God… I love and I want to love all people. I want to live peacefully together irrespective of their religion and denomination. This does not mean that I can enjoy real spiritual unity. I must admit, with profound sorrow, that that spiritual unity cannot exist with people who have replaced, for example, the mediation of the one and unique Mediator between God and men, Jesus Christ, with the mediation of Mary, the blessed mother of Jesus, and with that of dead saints in order to be saved or receive mercy and grace or get help or get blessings, as if they were omnipresent and were authorized to that end. I cannot have true spiritual unity with people who worship icons and dry bones of dead saints. Neither with people who believe that Jesus Christ is the Archangel Michael and the Holy Spirit a simple impersonal power!

And if this is true for the various Christian denominations, much more is valid for other religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism etc. In other words, we cannot have any true spiritual unity, before God, with the various religions and Christian traditions that human arrogant stubbornness has created…

Closing this parenthesis, I consider necessary to declare emphatically that our Lord Jesus Christ’s prayer concerning the unity of believers (John ch.17) was not in vain… It was heard by God His Father. Yes, it was not in vain! True Christians – irrespective of their denomination – those that are born again believers, whose sins were washed with the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, who are truly devoted to God (Rom.12:1-2), who have as rule of their life the Word of God and no human unbiblical traditions, are not in need of trying to get united with other believers because they are already united!!! It is as a piece of iron and a magnet! If they happen to meet somewhere, they identify themselves with each other immediately and begin having fellowship! When Christian “A” is really united with Christ and Christian “B” is also united with Christ, they are spontaneously united between themselves!

THE SOURCE OF DIVISIONS

Christians have the same ideological identity: They believe the Word of God and they have a common goal that is to live a holy life, acceptable to God and to win lost souls to Christ. Furthermore, they want to have spiritual communion with God and among themselves. The will of God, on the other hand, for His children is that they come “…to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;” (Eph.4:13). Consequently, selfishness, arrogance, ignorance, false doctrines, traditions, and the “imperialist” spirit, which wants to impose itself on others, lead men to blindness and spiritual deafness which, in their turn, lead to the distortion of truth and to divisions. It is the Devil who creates this jamming and this blindness so that the resplendent light of the Gospel cannot penetrate the spirit of all those who are disobeying the reproofs of the Holy Spirit. When the divergence of opinion is due to an audacious spirit, a spirit full of unwise boldness and imprudence, this spirit leads to silly things, to acts of fanaticism, to divisions and to disasters which are simply the product of a carnal spirit. “A fool’s lips enter into contention, and his mouth calls for blows.” (Pr.18:6). God invites us never to fight for selfish reasons (2Tim.2:24-25) or for our own ideas BUT to endeavor, quite on the contrary, to preserve the unity of the spirit by the bond of peace and love.

Also, God asks us to avoid systematically quarrels due to hatred, to a lack of patience, to a quarreling spirit (Pr.26:21), to anger (Pr.29:22) – because a wrathful man stirs up strife (Pr.15:18) – due to arguments of words (1Ti.6:4) and due to pride, because “By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well-advised is wisdom” (Pr.3:10) and “…he who exalts his gate seeks destruction” (Pr.17:19). It is an act of honor to abstain from quarrels (Pr.20:3) and do nothing out of rivalry or vainglory (Php.2:3). The man of God must be humble and ready to teach and be taught with patience (2Ti.2:24)…. and to continue the way of love which covers all the faults (Pr.10:12). Unfortunately, human love does not excuse all, it does not believe all, it does not hope all, it does not support all. True love, on the contrary, gives and forgives and prays…! (1Cor.13:1-13)

OFFENSES

How many efforts have we taken to win somebody to Christ, to make of him a mature Christian and to keep him stable within adversities! And after all these efforts only to see them leave the church, to go from one church to another or to create divisions and new churches because of scandals created either by church leaders or by spiritually carnal members! No sister churches but enemy churches!!! If Paul, the apostle, were among us, he would undoubtedly have felt what he had felt when he saw similar problems among his contemporary brothers: “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble (offended, scandalized), and I do not burn with indignation?” (2Co.11:29). Do our spiritual leaders and we all live in such a spirit? A revealing verse on the matter is that which we find in 1John 2:10-11: “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him…” Consequently, he who loves has in him no cause for stumbling. God who loves us unconditionally, He is never offended with us! Quite to the contrary, He understands us, He tolerates us, He tries to help us and to restore us either by exhortations or by testing which can awake and sensitize our conscience! Woe unto us if He were offended with our behavior…

To be scandalized and to leave the church! For what reason? For personal reasons? How will we be able to give proof or excuse us to “new-born baby Christians” to our brothers who love and pray faithfully for us, or even still to our own children? They will ask us the question: “Since you used to say that to be a Christian is a marvelous, an incomparable thing, why did you give it up? Because of the behavior of somebody or some other people? Were you devoted to the brothers and the church or were you devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ? Your separation did wrong to the brethren and to the Lord Jesus!”

It happens sometimes, that while acting in a state of anger and indignation against somebody who committed an injustice or a sin, in our effort to put order, we sin, we ourselves (Gal.6:1). In certain cases, we arrive at the point of revenging ourselves. We speak against our brothers by defaming them either secretly or openly or even publicly (Ps.50:20). Should we not resist this tendency? Would it not be advantageous for us to be wrongfully treated rather than to do an injustice? (Mat.5:29 and 1Cor.6:7). Sometimes, we must humbly acknowledge that we have wrongly the impression that somebody sinned…

When we do not agree with those who are responsible for the church because things do not occur according to our own desires and convictions or we are in front of some opposition, we are tempted to leave the church and to seek another… We let ourselves be carried away by our feelings and not by the notion of duty! Unfortunately, when such problems are created among brothers, what is written in the Bible happens: “A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a castle.” (Pr.18:19). Can the Lord bless us if we do not insist and we do not fight faithfully and honestly?

When we are in the middle of a chaotic situation, we have the tendency to judge! But let us not forget that these judgments become stumbling blocks or an occasion of fall for our brothers (Rom.14:13). Our goodwill, our good faith, our sincerity, even our complete innocence, do not protect us from the creation of scandals (Rom.14:20). Our freedom to act the way we like may create such scandals in the life of others (Rom.14:21; 1Co.8:13). When we give access to the Devil and we are scandalized, we induce other people to be scandalized, in particular, “new-born people” in Christ or weak in the faith. Then, we risk to listen from the mouth of the Lord the following words: “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Mt.18:6).

Of course, we cannot always avoid scandals. Sometimes, it is even necessary that scandals take place so that those who are approved may be recognized among us (1Cor.11:19), but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! (Mt.18:7). And the Lord, in order to warn us, speaks to us in an extremely rigorous way: “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire…” (Mt.18:8-9; Joh.16:1). It is preferable for you to undergo an injustice than to do an injustice before the Lord! When a scandal arrives, it is very rare that that scandal is limited between the two or three people concerned but it diffuses and contaminates many others who… disperse! Result: The Name of the Lord will be blasphemed (Mt.26:31). Unfortunately, nobody is safe from such “a contamination” or “pollution”. May God protect us! (Mt.26:33). It is a bad thing to be scandalized for any personal reason but it is much more serious, of course, to be offended with the Lord (Lu.6:61; 7:23) who allows certain things. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me, Jesus declared (Mt.11:2-6 and Lu.7:23).

The spiritual goals of Christian Churches, Associations and Organizations etc., remain but people change or abandon them! Churches are not in question but certain people working there! The Word of God gives us serious warnings concerning those who are unruly (1Th.5:14 and 2Thes.3:6), those who cause divisions and offenses (Rom.16:17) and especially those who although named brothers, are sexually immoral, or covetous, or idolaters, or revilers, or drunkards, or extortioners… (1Cor.5:11).

Let us, therefore, fear God: Let us do our duty and let us not be discouraged! Let us do our duty not according to our own mentality but according to the Word of God! In closing this parenthesis which concerns all of us but especially those who are in charge of churches, I would like to quote two verses from the Bible:

  • · “And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” (2Ti.2:5)
  • · “In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.” (Tit.2:7-8 )

WHAT GOD DECLARES, COMMANDS US AND PROMISES US

It is written:

  • · “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1Cor.1:10);
  • · “Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2Cor.13:11);
  • · God asks us to receive one another as Christ has received us to the glory of God and forgive one another reciprocally as Christ has forgiven us. Moreover, and above all these things, to put on love, which is the bond of perfection and to forget our complaints (Rom.15:7 and Col.3:13-14). That means much comprehension and much patience towards the weak whom we must treat with meekness and kindness…; and
  • · The best method to come to the unity is to humble ourselves before the Lord and before His truth! Then HE will illumine us and unite us (Jer.3:18; 50:4 and Hos.1:11). He who accepts humbly the truth told by someone, even by his adversary, does not humble himself to his adversary but to the Truth, that is, to Christ Himself who is the TRUTH and who does not despise anybody (Jas.4:10).

Let us not forget that Jesus is our Peace who has united us and who has broken down the middle wall of separation (Eph.2:14). That means that all that separated us and which still separates us was destroyed by the cross of Jesus!!! It is thus necessary to try to find the POINTS WHICH UNITE US and not the things which separate us… which, according to the Bible, WERE DESTROYED. Christ has disarmed principalities and powers and has made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it!!! (1Jo.3:8; Heb.2:14-15; and Col.2:15). All the sources and reasons of separation among believers are works of the devil, who was defeated. Let us believe in the victory, let us pursue it with patience and perseverance and we will see it. The true children of God are ALREADY united! The prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ (John ch.17) prevailed and is always valid. Those in the hearts of which the fear of God lives diligently try to find the things which unite them and not those which separate them.

WHEN UNITY CANNOT EXIST

"Unity cannot exist without patience, without dialogue, without comprehension and without condescension. It can neither exist on the basis of doubtful compromises nor with no matter whom; sooner or later, it will burst because unity and peace cannot be preserved at the expense of the purity of conscience and of truth. That means that one cannot maintain unity and peace apart from truth, from justice and from spiritual freedom. There can be no unity when spiritual gifts are hindered to function; and when prophets, true spiritual men, are put aside… (1Cor.14:3; 1Pet.4:10-11). In the same way, unity cannot exist when there is a spirit of suspicions, of bitterness and criticism. Unity cannot exist if, because of a mistake or a sin, we reject someone definitively and delete him from the list of “brothers”. Unity cannot exist without love, which produces patience and comprehension and especially meekness and humility.

Unity cannot exist if somebody loves his own ideas and convictions more than the Bible truth; unity cannot exist if somebody loves the constitution and the traditions of his Church more than the infallible Word of God; unity cannot exist if somebody obeys his pastor or priest more than the will of God; it cannot exist if somebody loves the gifts of the Spirit more than the fruit of the Spirit; if somebody wants to possess the Holy Spirit than to be possessed by the Holy Spirit and finally, if the believer is not conscious that no believer is exempt from sins, errors and their consequences unless he is completely attached to the Chief – i.e. Christ.

How can one have and keep the unity of the spirit when he prepares for peace and the other prepares for war (Ps.120:7; 140:2) or with somebody who walks according to his own lusts and laziness, with somebody who, instead of helping his brothers he quits? Jesus came to make separation in similar cases… “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Am.3:3 and Phil.1:27). And can they have force being divided? And can they bring glory in the name of Jesus Christ being divided and dispersed?

WHEN UNITY CAN EXIST

Let us examine now the conditions under which unity can exist: "Unity can exist when there is a spirit of good faith and of good will. It can develop more and more to the point of arriving at the same opinion. The contrite heart unites believers with regard to the goal and the means to attain it (Jer.3:18; 50:4; Hos.1:11). When we are really united, the world can see in us the virtues of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are the bonds of love, fraternity and solidarity which speak to unbelievers more than all our teachings and our words, which can help them to find the way that leads to God. If Christians want peace and unity, it is necessary to make an effort to exchange explanations and get reconciled in order to find a compromise in justice and love, otherwise their prayers cannot be heard (Mt.5:23-26; 1Jo.3:20-22). It is written: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit…” (Eph.4:1-5). If my brother is perfect, why support him? Am I perfect? Am I not in need also to be supported?

Consequently, the paramount condition is to love the truth over anything else and to walk in the light. If we walk in the light, in the transparence, then we can have communion with God and one with the other, as well as peace and unity. God gives His Spirit only to those who obey Him (Ac.5:32). Can we ever achieve this goal without loving our Lord with all our heart? I repeat: God gives His Holy Spirit only to those who obey Him, to those who obey His commandments.

I insert the question: Do those who address their prayers directly to the Holy Spirit in order to get His blessings pray correctly? Does not the Bible teach that our prayers should be addressed to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ? The Lord Jesus Christ has taught us how to pray (Mt.6:9-13; John 16:23 etc.). It is the Father who gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him! Yes, that obey Him not by the works of the Law of the Old Testament but by THE WORKS of the law of the New Testament, which are but repentance and faith: “…Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).

RECONCILIATION

Reconciliation cannot take place when arrogance dominates. Only through a dialogue of good will and of good faith – on the basis of the Bible – can we manage to destroy enmity and to save peace. This principle is valid in all the fields of life: in marriage, in the family, in politics and in the church. In certain cases, the leaders of the church remove directly or indirectly the possibility of participation of believers in spiritual and/or administrative activities of the church, prohibit any dialogue or even they apply methods which transgress openly certain commandments of God. Such a behavior creates, little by little, an explosive atmosphere, which may result either in the creation of a gap between the leaders and the members or finally in a pure and simple division with disastrous repercussions. To restore peace, joy and harmony the conflict must be solved. Although we must respect authorities and hierarchy as well as the principle of speaking and living the truth in love, the dialogue must be based on the principle of equality between the people in conflict, whether in the family or in the church. The dialogue cannot lead to restoration of the relation but only if the spirit of obedience to the COMMANDMENT of Jesus prevails “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar (your prayer or your money offering etc.), and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into (spiritual) prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny (Mt.5:23-26). Go and tell him in all sincerity and kindness “help me to understand”, please. But let us not forget that reconciliation can be facilitated if we are fast with repentance, fast and sincere to forgive and go to our neighbor in order to make an effort of reconciliation. Attention: It is written: “For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.” (Joh.5:4). When there is a “troubling of the water” he who “goes down”, that is he who is humbled first it is he who will be “healed”…!!! If our effort succeeds, we do not only win our brother but we eliminate also the source of moral and spiritual pollution which can “infect” us and our environment.

EXHORTATION

As a conclusion, I would like to say that true SPIRITUAL unity cannot exist if the people are not children of God and if these children of God are not attached with all their heart to the Lord. Unity is the product of the virtues of the Holy Spirit in us. If I stick to the Lord wholeheartedly I become a spirit with Him. If you stick to the Lord you become one Spirit with Him. If we all we are attached to Him we are one spirit with Him and among us. Then the unity is spontaneous and can produce its results. IF true believers live standing fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the Gospel, having compassion for one another (Php.1:27 and 1Pet.3:8), continuing with one accord in prayer and supplication (Ac.1:14) and being of one heart and one soul (Ac.4:32), THEN, they are going to see the hand of God working miracles!!!

IF WE DO NOT PAY ATTENTION TO GOD’S WARNINGS, WE WILL REAP THE CONSEQUENCES OF OUR DISOBEDIENCE NOW AND IN ETERNITY!

John Baltatzis

baltatzis@skynet.be

 

ΔΙΑΔΩΣΤΕ ΤΟ ΑΡΘΡΟ ΣΕ ΦΙΛΟΥΣ ΣΑΣ