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.