spiritual potty-training and christian unity

Are our churches made up of infants?  

Unity is of utmost important in Christianity.  We miss that sometimes.  Which, perhaps, is not all that surprising when we look at Christianity as a prescribed set of doctrines to which we must adhere.  Alter the interpretation of one passage, and a fence must be built — to separate us from those heathens on the other side.  Or we overlook sin and immorality within our own tribe, because it is proper belief that demonstrates salvation — and not righteousness.  I’m afraid we’ve placed too great of importance on knowledge and right belief, and too little on loving one another and being obedient to God.

Paul would call us a bunch of babies.  No wait… Paul DOES call us a bunch of babies.  In Ephesians 4.

In this chapter Paul encourages the church at Ephesus to seek unity.  Unity is described as a function of the Holy Spirit, and it is realized as the body of Christ matures.  Let me repeat that, because it’s worth repeating:

Unity in the church is the work of the Holy Spirit.  And it is one of the most obvious and unambiguous indications that a group has reached maturity in Christ.

And we rarely exhibit it.

Perhaps I’ve got it all wrong.  Maybe I’m being too critical.  I certainly do want to join in with others in celebrating the unity we already possess — or at least toward which we’re making strides.  And I’ve experienced incredible unity in some congregations; I thank God for those churches.  But it seems to me these are the exceptions, rather than the rule.  And look at the discord between congregations.  Or worse yet, between denominations.  What’s a Christian seeking unity to do?

Paul happens to offer some very practical advice in Ephesians 4.  If you’ll allow me, I’d suggest the keys to allowing the Spirit to bring unity are:

1.  Individuals should live as followers of Christ ought to:

  • Be humble, gentle, and patient.
  • Have a soft heart.  Be open to hearing from your brothers and sisters.
  • Don’t follow your sinful and selfish desires (especially lying, anger, greed, and sexual impurity).
  • Be honest, work hard, and share.
  • Give yourself for others.
  • Imitate God.

2.  Within the body, we should love one another.  This means:

  • Play the role assigned you by God.  Your gift is needed to bring maturity (and unity) to the church.
  • Speak the truth to one another — but always in love.
  • Forgive one another.  [And I don’t see any exceptions.]
  • Be a people of compassion and kindness.  Only speak what is beneficial.
  • Share with one another.  Your things are not your own.

Some won’t like that I’ve written as if knowledge always stands in conflict with the above behaviors.  They want it to be both/and –not either/or.  And they’re right to desire such; I’m there with them.  Knowledge does not always stand in opposition to love and obedience.  Godly knowledge never does.  And this knowledge from God is desperately needed for us to reach unity.  Paul indeed says as much in Ephesians 4.  

My argument today, though, is simply that our knowledge is too often not a Godly knowledge — despite the fact that we come to it by means of Bible study.  I learn from Paul (in Ephesians 4) that if ours is a knowledge which does not build the church up to maturity AND together in unity, then it is not a Godly knowledge.  It is the knowledge of man — counted as trickery, deceitful scheming, and mere winds of doctrine.

I don’t wish us to do away with knowledge.  But no amount of Bible study alone is going to make us into the people Paul describes in Ephesians 4.  Nope, that will take 1) the Holy Spirit at work in us and 2) our willingness to be obedient to the teachings of Jesus.  Too often this is an unpopular answer.  But it’s the right one.

Spiritual potty-training.  That’s what we need.

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20 Comments

Filed under obedience, woe to us

20 responses to “spiritual potty-training and christian unity

  1. Otherwise known as discipleship–obedience-based discipleship!

  2. What you’ve written here is basically my conclusion of 52 Prayers. I spent an entire year looking for the “right doctrine” and in the end, what I found is that churches in general put so much more emphasis on being “right” than being mature Christians. The other side of the coin are the churches who are giving, loving, and honest but are so latteda about finding the knowledge of God and that frustrates me too. Where is the line that allows us to stand for truth, but let’s us be unified as well? Is it believing in let’s say (for example) baptism by immersion but not judging others for not believing it. Not feeling “better than” for having this knowledge of the truth but still living my life according to my belief? Is it trying to share this knowledge with people who support infant baptism still being mature and unified or shall we just pray for them silently? Do things like this matter at all if we believe in the grace of Jesus and the sacrifice He made?

    There are 25,000 Christian denominations, most of which think they have it “right” so I admit, at times I wonder if God made the Bible so interpretive and told us to search for truth like there’s a treasure inside, knowing we wouldn’t find a complete knowledge of Him. But then I read verses that indicate otherwise where God tells us we shall know the “truth” and it will set us free. I could go on forever on this topic.

    • jess, i do think that line is a difficult one to find. if there is a line. but even that idea sounds to me to be pretty far on the knowledge side of things. “i know there’s a line here somewhere, and i’ve just got to find it… and when i do, i’ll be right — even about when and how to be right and still have the love of God.” at the same time, though, finding that area might just be the knowledge of God.

      i suspect it looks a lot like what you’ve written above. i hold my interpretations, share them with those i feel may have misunderstood scripture, but love them and maintain unity and community with them no matter the choice they make. one of the greatest problems i see in this is not the sharer of the information, but the receiver. because for this to work, both parties have to be completely open to hearing other interpretations and being told why their interpretation might be incorrect.

      think about aquila and priscilla correcting apollos in acts 18 (on the subject of baptism). apollos showed great maturity in that situation. not many of us are good at being open to correction from brothers and sisters. of course not many of us would invite that other person to our home to talk with them about scripture issues in private over a meal.

  3. I started to comment but it was turning into its own blog post! I will write it and mention you as my inspiration 🙂

  4. How do you bookmark a blog post? I need to read this every day.

  5. Know what I did? I copied it, pasted it into an email and sent it to myself. Is that OK with you? I promise not to use it any other way.

    • write, you’re more than welcome to hold onto the post. you’re also more than welcome to use it for pretty much anything you want. i’m not much into protecting my writings. are there really even any original thoughts left?

  6. such a great point we all need to hear – that bible study doesn’t make us better people/Christians. I think we elevate Scripture as if it is God, and it is not a replacement for Him.

    • certainly. though for me much of the issue is not just that we’ve elevated scripture — but that we read it only for some kind of strange head knowledge, when it’s intended (in my opinion) more for transformation.

  7. randy morgan

    amen! could not agree more (even though your denomination is all messed up).

  8. I had to take a couple of days to think about what you were saying before responding. I hope I understand what you were trying to say, but it seems as if there is much more thought working behind this post than just these words. Here is my attempt at some type of answer (I am no scholar, so bear with me!):
    I do believe that scripture is essential to our belief in God. Without it, where would we be? We wouldn’t have knowledge of God at all. Proverbs proclaims to us to seek knowledge and listen to her voice, that her guidance will protect us. We cannot do away with the Bible or with studying it. 2 Timothy 2:15 tells us to study God’s word so that we will be able to handle it appropriately, so that we will be able to explain, correct, learn, etc.
    Knowledge of God’s word teaches us how to live in peace with one another so we will be able to be unified. It is how we see what is right and what is wrong. However, the most important message that must not be forgotten in both of these things, knowledge and unity, is that they lead us to the same place, to God himself. One important thing to remember about the law of the Old Testament is that man used it to accuse one another and God used it to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24).
    Knowledge helps us to hear the voice of God and discern His ways while unity helps us function as a healthy body of Christ here on earth ministering to the lost.
    Our main goal is not to fight with each other, but to proclaim God’s message of Christ to a dying world with the hope that the ones who hear will turn away from their ways to the Love and redemption of God.
    In Matthew 12:25 Jesus tells us that a house divided against itself cannot stand. What better way for Satan to try to gain an advantage than to attack the unity of the church? Without unity, we forget the true enemy we fight against. We end up attacking each other as if we were it. Proverbs 14:1, “the wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.” The bride of Christ cannot afford to tear down the house that she is building (Ephesians 2), that is why unity is so important. I am not saying that we should embrace all views, the Bible does tell us to test the spirits to see if the are from God, but I am trying to stress the importance of unity.
    I belong to a denomination that has very strong opinions about what is right and what is wrong, and there are still fractions within that which strongly disagree with each other. However, the church I belong and the leadership within it to have led me into a real and close relationship to Christ.
    The key this relationship was that I attain it with God myself. I seek, I study, I pray, I question God himself, I follow His leading. No one else can do it for me. Nothing has brought me closer to God than the knowledge of what His word says about Him.
    Enough said about knowledge and unity. I believe that they are both indispensable.
    Obedience-based & knowledge-based discipleship, I had to look this up on the Internet to understand what you were talking about. Interesting what I found, and I have even noticed this shift happening within the Bible studies of my own church. It has made me question it a well, yet, the question I end up asking myself isn’t one of, “which is truly better than the other?” but, more of a “why is the shift happening?”
    Could it be that as the end times approach, God needs His people to be more active in pursuing and ministering to the lost? Not that this way is better, but that this obedient type of discipline fits within the purpose of plans for now? Acts 13:36 tells us how David served his purpose in his own time, could it be that this shifting in discipleship is because of the need of the times?

  9. great thoughts, mk. your words on knowledge and unity are right on.

    but i really liked reading what you had to say about obedience-based vs. knowledge-based study. i don’t guess i was aware that we are currently seeing a shift, but i’m happy to hear that if it’s true. i certainly think there is a place for knowledge (it’s even a spiritual gift), but it just seems to me that we are far more “knowledgeable” than our obedience to God and love for one another would indicate. it’s this kind of adding knowledge for the sake of knowledge of which i disapprove. and i don’t know that it’s the most scholarly people doing it — it seems to just be a desire in us to always learn more. [which is great, if we’re being obedient to what we’re learning.]

    i really like the question about why the shift is happening. and the end times idea is certainly a possibility. that Christ is preparing his bride to be spotless and pure — or something along those lines? and so a focus on holiness and righteous living comes to the forefront? very interesting….

  10. Pingback: unity is merely a symptom | aliens and strangers

  11. Pingback: the purpose of spiritual gifts? | aliens and strangers

  12. Pingback: Jesus prays for disunity | aliens and strangers

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