One of the greatest detriments to Church strength and growth is apostasy, falling away from the Truth. One of the signs that apostasy is affecting the Christian Church is the bickering and disunity among Christians. One of the basic Truths that is violated when there is bickering in the Church comes from the words of Jesus when he said, “By this shall all men (the world) know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another”.
Every wise leader strives to achieve and keep unity because he knows unity is essential for success. This is especially true in Church leadership. Whether the leader is a pastor and leader of a congregation, or a denominational leader trying to keep many congregations healthy, these leaders realize success will never be reached without unity.
I have served many years in Church leadership positions and have seen Churches suffer to the point of dividing and dying because church members cannot get along. Unfortunately it is not just members that cause the problems but leaders as well. My last leadership position was serving as a denominational leader and most of my time was spent dealing with church problems. All the problems were the result of fighting and quarreling. The inability to get along was not just among the church members, but also initiated by pastors toward members. I have heard pastors say some very harsh and hurtful things to church members, words that drove the people away. Pastors sometimes lose sight that they are the Shepherds of the flock and it is a great loss to drive any sheep away from the fold. At no time during these confrontations could the pastor honestly say, “I love this person”. Some of the quarrels that either split the church or caused the pastor to leave were extremely petty with no signs of Christian love. As leader of the denomination I used the theme, “Loving God and Loving Each Other” and consistently reminded the leadership that if only we lived that theme everything would work for the glory of God. The fighting and opposition between the members of the denomination’s administrative council, which originated from jealousy and pride that replaced the love of God in their hearts, was eventually turned toward me and my family which made me realize I could no longer be effective leading the denomination. I was the second leader in this particular denomination that felt the need to leave because of false statements and opposition. For many months after resigning from this position I truly felt like the Christian soldier who had been wounded and left in the battlefield to die. I know the same denomination still suffers from conflicts, and also suffers financially because the opposition has caused some pastors to encourage their churches to withhold support to the denomination. This is not just opposition but “determined” opposition. It is all due to lack of love and unity!
The apostle Paul also recognized the value of unity. From his own sufferings in Philippi he knew the infant Church faced determined opposition. Paul warned his friends of opponents, suffering, and conflict soon to come. Paul’s central concern to the Church at Corinth was also a concern of division. Paul expressed his concern with these words, “I appeal to you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought”. The Corinthians had formed cliques based upon the supposed superiority of various Christian leaders. These divisions had shattered the unity of the local congregation and created dissension. Paul’s focus here is that the division in the Corinthian Church was wrong. Paul’s goal in his writing is found in the first sentence where Paul urges them to resolve their differences and restore unity in their Church fellowship.
It is alright to have differences of opinion on the non-essential matters such as styles of worship, times of worship, etc for these do not affect salvation. Yet far too many Christians use these non-essential differences as justification for division or to even insight anger. When this occurs, the love of God in our hearts is sacrificed to our pride. When pride fills our heart we lose the humility that is needed to bring unity. It is Satan that wants us to fall into the self abuse of division and bickering.
The Apostle Paul in writing to the Philippians made a threefold appeal to unity. This appeal is a valid appeal to the Church today.
United in Purpose: Groups succeed when the members agree on their purpose and work together to achieve it. Even an average team can win a major game if the players work together. Paul challenged the Philippians to unite in their purpose. He first called on them to be worthy of the gospel. He exhorted them to behave in such a way that credit came to the gospel instead of discredit. Paul secondly encouraged them to uphold the gospel. Upholding the gospel should unite any congregation.
United in Attitude: Paul called on the Philippians to unite in “spirit”. This does not refer to the Holy Spirit, but rather to their attitude. Paul wanted them to be like the early believers in Jerusalem who “were of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32). This reflects not only unity of purpose, but also unity of heart. Unfortunately, churches often fail to achieve this unity. Charles Swindoll tells the story of two declining congregations in a small town that had been struggling for several years. The two churches voted to merge in order to form one stronger congregation. The result was that the people were too petty to accomplish this purpose. They could not agree on how to recite the Lord’s Prayer. One group wanted “forgive us our trespasses”, while the other wanted “forgive us our debts”. The local newspaper reported that one church went back to it’s trespasses, while the other returned to it’s debts. Sadly, many congregations are like these two. The people may agree on the Church’s purpose, but they cannot agree on how to accomplish it.
United in Action: Paul challenged the Philippians to strive “side by side”. This phrase comes from the Greek athletic arena. In team sports the members of the team have to help each other or they are sure to lose. Paul longed to see the Church members working side-by-side to present the gospel to their city. A missionary told of a village in Africa where a little child wandered away from home as was lost in the tall grass. The villagers searched all day without finding the child. The next morning they formed a line, joined hands, and walked through the tall grass side-by-side. They soon found the child, but the child was dead. In her grief the mother cried, “if we had only held hands longer”.
Like the believers at Phlippi, Christians today must join hands and hearts to uphold the gospel. When they share a common purpose, display a common attitude, and act in unison, the gospel will be upheld, people will be saved, and God will be glorified.
This is a strong statement to make, but when an individual, a congregation, or a denomination denies clear Scripture regarding unity and love for God and love for each other, and remains unrepentant after being admonished, then it is time to break fellowship with that group.
For more study about Christian Unity: