It was around 3 AM in Hungary when I found myself sitting in a truck cab with two Serbian men, both complete strangers to me until that night. The man at the wheel was a Pentecostal pastor of a pioneer work in Kaposvar, he was sharing his experiences and I was listening intently.  “Every month we who are pastors in Kaposvar meet together: Baptist, Methodist, all of us.  We share what God is doing in our ministries and then we pray one for one another and for each other’s churches…”  My mind began to whirl…wait, what?  Who was meeting together?

I was walking out of the red light district in Amsterdam, still in shock over the blatant sex-trafficking and dehumanization I had just witnessed, when I heard voices singing hymns in the street.  I looked up to see a wooden cross, “JESUS” written on the front.  Men and women were sharing the gospel on the sidewalks, passing out Bibles, and preaching with a megaphone.  My friend and I couldn’t help but ask them who they were, “Christians” was the answer, “I am from a local Pentecostal Church, and my friends go to a Baptist Church.  We all have a heart to reach our city and so we come together every week.”

A Closer Look at Christian Unity: Past, Present, At Home & Abroad
 

It was my first day in Russia, a nation cracking down with strict laws on evangelicals.  A native, Pentecostal pastor’s daughter was texting me; asking me to come to prayer meeting that night.  “It will be much larger than usual though, once a month we invite all churches in our city to come and pray with us for each other and for our community.”

This type of interdenominational unity was an entirely new phenomenon to me, but it was incredible.  I saw love, I saw fellowship, I saw the Body of Christ functioning as one.  A love for Jesus and a love for their community were the common denominators of these fellowships, and it was a beautiful sight to behold.  Questions began to dance in my mind, why hadn’t I seen this type of collaboration in the Bible Belt, the land of churches on every corner?

I moved back to America, out west to Colorado, and began to fellowship a few churches in Colorado Springs.  Just weeks after I arrived, over 4,000 Christians from 66 local churches – all across denominations, came together and set-aside October 5th to volunteer in 100+ projects throughout their community.  The reason?  To shine the love of Christ to Colorado Springs.

It’s  hard for me to pretend that Europe is the only continent where Christians strive for unity.  They do in America too.   So, why did none of the six churches I previously attended ever participate in these attempts?  Why did they never make such attempts?  I’m afraid I don’t know why, but I do know that this is common – not just where I grew up either, there are many denominations which have a tendency towards isolation.  We could speculate all day on what has caused this, but “Why are things  the way they are?” isn’t as nearly as an important a question as “How ought things to be?”  For that answer, we need go no farther than the Bible.

Examining Christian Unity in Scripture

Christian Unity Through the Lens of Christ

34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. -John 13:34-35

20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.  -John 17:20-23

Christ clearly had the desire that all believers would stand united as one.  This was to be a testimony to the world that God loves His Church and that Christ was sent by the Father.

Christian Unity in the Pauline Letters

1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.  -Ephesians 4:1-6

12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ… 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.  -Ephesians 4:12-16

12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many… 21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. 22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary… 25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.  26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.  27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.  -1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 21-22, 25-27

These scriptures clearly echo the teaching of Christ, commanding Christians to forbear one another in love, endeavor for unity, be a body fitly joined together edifying itself in love, and to be one as the body of Christ without any schism.  Besides these passages which address unity bluntly, there are also a plethera more which command Christians to love one another, have peace one with another, and to avoid contention.

The Biblical Teaching on Disfellowshipping Christians

On the flip side, when should Christians disfellowship one another?  Scripture addresses this, as well.

6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. 7 For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; 8 Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you… 10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. 12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. 13 But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. 14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.  -2 Thessalonians 3:6-8, 10-15

This passage shows us an example of admonishing Christians who were taking advantage of one another, eating other Christian’s food without ever working themselves. These men were busybodies, had disorderly conduct, and did not walk in the tradition they had received.  They were given a warning, but if they disobeyed they were not to be associated with anymore.  Thinking back to how the Early Church fellowshipped by eating at one another’s houses, this makes sense.  These men were taking advantage of this system-they did not work, but instead survived off the generosity of fellow believers, and thus becoming an unnecessary burden and drain.  It seems very fair that if they continued with this behavior they should no longer be invited to come for fellowship.  Still, they were to be admonished as brothers and not seen as enemies.

9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: 10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. 11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. 12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? 13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.  -1 Corinthians 5:9-13

This passage sets a precedent for disfellowshiping Christians that are living unrepentant in blatant sin, specifically the sins which are here mentioned: sexual immorality, covetousness (πλεονέκτης; greediness), idolatry, railing (λοίδορος; gossiping), and extortion (ἅρπαξ; stealing).  However, after these Christians are warned, and if they continue, disfellowshipped, they are still to be accepted back into fellowship if they change their ways.

6 Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. 7 So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. 8 Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him. -2 Corinthians 2:6-11

In summary, anyone who is part of the Body of Christ, anyone who is a believer, is biblically commanded to pursue oneness and unity one with another.  The only exceptions to this rule are when there are Christians living in continual sin, who refuse to change even when they are warned.  These sins are easily identifiable and listed clearly in scripture.  Still, unity is the goal; even the disfellowship is intended for the purpose of these brothers’ spiritual growth with the goal of receiving them back with love.

How Do We Know Who Is a Christian?

This leads to the question, “How do we know who is a Christian?”  Thankfully, the Bible answers this, as well.

31 Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.  -Acts 16:31

9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. -Romans 10:9

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. -Romans 1:16

According to scripture, anyone who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, anyone who believes the gospel, is a believer, a Christian; thus, they are someone who we ought to be striving to become one with.

A Modern Perspective on Christian Unity

With this lens, let us now examine a modern view on Christian unity.  Please understand, this is not an attempt to make this or that person or church look bad; this is me sharing exactly the same quotes and articles that I was raised reading as a Holiness teenager.  At one time, this was my authoritative source, and for a plethora of other young people it still is.  How the next generation of Christians is molded and taught is extremely serious to the health of the Body of Christ, so please read and consider the following quotes with care.

First, it is clear that the author shares an appreciation for Christian unity:

I think fellowship and unity are of great importance to the health of a church and the life of a Christian. I think a good start to promoting unity and fellowship would be to try to help others see the need for it. Stir a desire in people by outlining the benefits that come with unity and fellowship; such as spiritual strength that we draw from one another, accountability that we find with fellowship, strength in unified numbers…Go to revivals and youth rallies at neighboring churches and go to as many youth camps and youth retreats as you can… as a teenager it is important to have fellowship with young people who believe like you do and who can help encourage you!

However, the way in which he responds to questions on other issues makes the fact clear that he was not actually advocating for Christian fellowship among churches within the same neighborhood, but rather, for exclusive fellowship among a very specific type of Christian.

Question:  What do you think is the wisest move for someone in a church where everyone is either married or a teen, and you are twenty something, and single…The closest holiness church is an hour away, and there still no one my age there the closest with someone my age is about an hour and fifteen minutes?

Response:  Be Careful! I would strongly suggest that you stay away from the other denominations. 

Question: Do you think it really matters if the church you go to is holiness as long as they are living holy lives, and believe in the God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost the same way as you do?? Would you be involved with them? Would you go on missions trips with them? Yes/ NO and if no why no? Thanks.

Response: I realize that there are people out there in nominal churches who are living up to the truth that they know and they are hungry for true holiness. If that is the case then God will lead them deeper into the truth of separation and holiness living, and no doubt He will lead them to a holiness church as well. But for me to say that someone who knows the truths of holiness could justify going to a church that was not holiness just because there are people there who live holy. I cannot say that.  You are held accountable for what you know! Just be careful who you get involved with!

The next question actually concerns dating, but please don’t let this topic be a distraction.  The only idea that I want us to pay attention to is the idea that other Christians are labeled as “unbelievers” and as from “another faith” only because they do not share an identical set of non-essential beliefs (essential doctrines are those which are required in order to be a Christian).

Question: How do we believe on dating outside of Holiness? Example: Dating Baptist or Presbyterians…

Response: Wait a minute!  If you date someone from another “Faith” then you will be going against God’s word and His will.

2 Corinthians 6:14 “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness:” 

{unbeliever – includes sinners as well as those who do not believe as we do}

If you get “romantically involved” with an unbeliever then you are setting yourself up for disaster…

Hope this helps! – Bro. Spurlock-

Think about these responses.  It’s true that it would be unwise to date someone with significantly different doctrinal ideas, so on that point I am agreed.  However, notice that the author has gone so far as to lump all non-Holiness Christians into the category of “unbelievers” and as being from “another faith.”  Interestingly enough, he still acknowledges that they do no fit into the category of “sinners”.  Let’s pause for a moment, and look at the meaning of the word “unbelievers.”  This is the same Greek word (ἀπίστοις, apistois) that is used in Revelation 21:8, “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”  Clearly, Christians who are not sinners cannot be unbelievers.  Thus, 2 Corinthians 6:14 was misused.

In the earlier responses, the author warned Holiness young people to stay away from other Christians.  He said that even if there is a church that believes identically on God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost, even if they live holy lives, if they are not a “Holiness Church” than one should not go there, nor be involved with it.  Pause and think about the implications of these teachings.  This minister is literally telling young people to stay away from their brothers and sisters in Christ, and not to get involved with them, even if they live holy lives.  He is actually assuming that his Christian walk and particular set of non-essential beliefs (personal convictions, traditions etc.) are inherently much superior and more matured than every other non-Holiness, blood-bought, child-of-God’s beliefs and opinions.  He believes this to the degree of claiming that if other Christians really wanted the truth, God would place them in one of his churches.  It’s a claim with circular reasoning, “Stay away from all other churches because they don’t want the truth; if they did want the truth they’d be in our churches, and since they’re still in the other churches they clearly don’t want the truth”.  The author does admit that these other Christians are genuinely saved (because he differentiates them from sinners) yet, he still is adamant about avoiding them.  Why?

How does this line up with Christ’s desire for all believers to “be one” even as He and the Father are one?   Does this perspective allow any room for meeting to pray with local pastors from other denominations, starting a safe-house together, sharing the gospel together in the red-light district, or working together at Christian community events?  It seems that it doesn’t, but even if it did allow for it, this type of Christian unity is very rare between Holiness and non-Holiness believers, tending towards isolation.

If the other parts of the Body of Christ are so inferior to us, wouldn’t the most loving response be to be salt and light to them, living out our truth, holiness, and Holy-Ghost power in a manner that will make them crave what we have?  The great majority of these other Christians do not meet the biblical criteria of disfellowship, so on what biblical grounds do we remain isolated?  If these teachings to divide from the rest of Christ’s Body are not scripturally based, they will do nothing but harm the Holiness church.

John Wesley on Distinctions and Unity Among Believers

The views of John Wesley are of particular interest, as his teachings on holiness and outward appearance can be traced as a direct source and root of the Holiness Movement, especially in regards to the Holiness Standard.  In other words, the same movement which now is represented by the above view on Christian unity, originally was represented by the following one; the contrast is an interesting study.  First, here is a reference on just how much Wesley aligned with the Holiness Movement, below are a few of his outward standards;

Wear no gold . . . no pearls or precious stones; use no curling of hair, or costly apparel, how grave soever. I advise those who are able to receive this saying, Buy no velvets, no silks, no fine linen, no superfluities, no mere ornaments, though ever so much in fashion. Wear nothing, though you have it already, which is of a glaring colour, or which is any kind gay, glistening, or showy; nothing made in the very height of fashion, nothing apt to attract the eyes of by-standers.

Considering his unusually strict stance, his teachings on what distinctions the Methodists should be know for, and how they should relate to the rest of Christian denominations, are of great interest.

The following quotations are taken out of his writing entitled, “The Character of a Methodist”.  This chapter is not written directly on the subject of Christian unity, but rather the way in which his Christian followers should see themselves in regards to other Christians.

THE distinguishing marks of a Methodist are not his opinions of any sort. His assenting to this or that scheme of religion, his embracing any particular set of notions, his espousing the judgment of one man or of another, are all quite wide of the point. Whosoever, therefore, imagines that a Methodist is a man of such or such an opinion, is grossly ignorant of the whole affair; he mistakes the truth totally. We believe, indeed, that “all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God;” and herein we are distinguished from Jews, Turks, and Infidels. We believe the written word of God to be the only and sufficient rule both of Christian faith and practice; and herein we are fundamentally distinguished from those of the Romish Church. We believe Christ to be the eternal, supreme God; and herein we are distinguished from the Socinians and Arians. But as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think. So that whatsoever they are, whether right or wrong, they are no distinguishing marks of a Methodist…

Nor do we desire to be distinguished by actions, customs, or usages, of an indifferent nature. Our religion does not lie in doing what God has not enjoined, or abstaining from what he hath not forbidden. It does not lie in the form of our apparel, in the posture of our body, or the covering of our heads; nor yet in abstaining from marriage, or from meats and drinks, which are all good if received with thanksgiving. Therefore, neither will any man, who knows whereof he affirms, fix the mark of a Methodist here, — in any actions or customs purely indifferent, undetermined by the word of God.  Nor, lastly, is he distinguished by laying the whole stress of religion on any single part of it… 

“What then is the mark? Who is a Methodist, according to your own account?” I answer: A Methodist is one who has “the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him;” one who “loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength. God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul; which is constantly crying out, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee! My God and my all! Thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever!”

For reason of space, I will not insert Wesley’s following 11 paragraphs of the characteristics a Methodist should be known for, but will instead list the majority of them, using his words:

1)  He is therefore happy in God, yea, always happy, as having in him “a well of water springing up into everlasting life,” and overflowing his soul with peace and joy. “Perfect love” having now “cast out fear,” he “rejoices evermore.”

2)  He cheerfully receives all, saying, “Good is the will of the Lord;” and whether the Lord giveth or taketh away, equally “blessing the name of the Lord.”

3)  For indeed he “prays without ceasing.” It is given him “always to pray, and not to faint.” 

4)  He loves every man as his own soul. His heart is full of love to all mankind…That a man is not personally known to him, is no bar to his love; no, nor that he is known to be such as he approves not, that he repays hatred for his good-will. For he “loves his enemies;” yea, and the enemies of God, “the evil and the unthankful.” And if it be not in his power to “do good to them that hate him,” yet he ceases not to pray for them, though they continue to spurn his love, and still “despitefully use him and persecute him.”

5)  He is “pure in heart.” The love of God has purified his heart from all revengeful passions, from envy, malice, and wrath, from every unkind temper or malign affection. It hath cleansed him from pride and haughtiness of spirit, whereof alone cometh contention.

6)  His one intention at all times and in all things is, not to please himself, but Him whom his soul loveth.

7)  Whatever God has forbidden, he avoids; whatever God hath enjoined, he doeth; and that whether it be little or great, hard or easy, joyous or grievous to the flesh.

8)  His obedience is in proportion to his love, the source from whence it flows.

9)  Whatsoever he doeth, it is all to the glory of God.

10) He cannot utter an unkind word of any one; for love keeps the door of his lips. 

11) As he has time, he “does good unto all men;” unto neighbours and strangers, friends and enemies.

The above list bears incredible similarity to the lists of biblical applications of Holiness as written out in the articles on Separation from the World and NT Evidences of Personal Holiness.  Does it make you want to meet these so-called Methodists?  It does for me!  I find it fascinating that this is what Wesley desired his followers to be known for, even though he taught so much on outward appearance.  Read his closing paragraphs with attention;

These are the principles and practices of our sect; these are the marks of a true Methodist. By these alone do those who are in derision so called, desire to be distinguished from other men. If any man say, “Why, these are only the common fundamental principles of Christianity!” thou hast said; so I mean; this is the very truth; I know they are no other; and I would to God both thou and all men knew, that I, and all who follow my judgment, do vehemently refuse to be distinguished from other men, by any but the common principles of Christianity, — the plain, old Christianity that I teach, renouncing and detesting all other marks of distinction. And whosoever is what I preach, (let him be called what he will, for names change not the nature of things,) he is a Christian, not in name only, but in heart and in life. He is inwardly and outwardly conformed to the will of God, as revealed in the written word. He thinks, speaks, and lives, according to the method laid down in the revelation of Jesus Christ. His soul is renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and in all true holiness. And having the mind that was in Christ, he so walks as Christ also walked.

   18. By these marks, by these fruits of a living faith, do we labour to distinguish ourselves from the unbelieving world from all those whose minds or lives are not according to the Gospel of Christ. But from real Christians, of whatsoever denomination they be, we earnestly desire not to be distinguished at all, not from any who sincerely follow after what they know they have not yet attained. No: “Whosoever doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” And I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that we be in no wise divided among ourselves. Is thy heart right, as my heart is with thine? I ask no farther question. If it be, give me thy hand. For opinions, or terms, let us not destroy the work of God. Dost thou love and serve God? It is enough. I give thee the right hand of fellowship. If there be any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies; let us strive together for the faith of the Gospel; walking worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called; with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace; remembering, there is one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called with one hope of our calling; “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

It seems that Wesley understood the Christian unity very much like Paul did; that all of us who have confessed Christ as our personal Lord and Savior are all one as the Body of Christ.  There should be no differentiating between us as; no caste system of lessers and greaters.  We must love one another, and be willing to work together for the glory of Christ and salvation of our communities.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it’s hard for us in the 21st century to know what unity should look like, when there seems to be denominational splits over the smallest of matters.  Think back to the New Testament pattern, Christians united by locality and geographical location, not by theological agreement on the non-essentials. It’s hard to imagine this, and even harder to know how this example should apply in our diverse, modern Church culture, but a few things are for sure.  One: we, as the Church, have been commissioned to stand for truth and be the hands and feet of Christ in our generation.  Two: this will never happen without a fight.  Three: no soldier will fight at his best when his hands, feet, and eyeballs are scattered across a city refusing to acknowledge one another.

We will never win the fight for the unborn, for the millions of human trafficking victims, for the family and the home, if we do not stand together as a unified body. A church on this corner, that corner, and the other corner is fantastic, but only if they’re working together. If they’re in constant competition, or even just apathetic silence to one another, than a great opportunity to impact their community has been lost. For example, when I came back with stories of how the church in Albania banded together to break up a pedophile ring in their city and start a safe-house for the rescued girls, the general response was, “Fantastic!  Too bad we’re too small a church to ever do something like that.” But then drive down the road and pass four more “too small” churches before I make my second turn. It then occurs to me that this American city has many, many more churched Christians than that little isolated place in Albania, but without unifying, the girls in their neighborhoods will going being sold, night after night.

No matter how difficult, not matter how controversial, we cannot afford to give up on Christian unity. This is the prayer of our Savior mere hours before going to the cross.  It’s dear to His heart, and it must be dear to ours.

-Natalie Mayo

 

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References:
 
Archive for the ‘Dress and Adornment’ Category,The Old Landmark, Celebrating Our Apostolic Heritage, theoldlandmark.WordPress.com.
 
Character of a Methodist,” by John Wesley, Scroll Publishing Co.

http://answersinholiness.blogspot.com/