Spirit of Unity
January 16, 2007 • By Dr. Stephen Swihart
FRANKLY, during much of the past thirty years or so, I wasn’t interested in the subject of unity. In fact, I commonly thought such topics were liberal propaganda and a waste of valuable time. My ambition has been to teach the Word of God, to develop the saints, and to live a life of integrity. I didn’t have any desire to cooperate in any significant manner with people outside of my own circles. And if I were completely honest, I’d have to admit that I pretty much spoke my piece as wisely and loving as I knew how, and then I let the chips fall wherever they landed. If people couldn’t handle “the truth,” then that was too bad.
More than once it crossed my mind that this person and that group were too immature or too out-of-balance or too worldly or too emotional or too dry for my taste. If I never saw them again, it would be just fine with me. I have written off dozens of people, organizations and denominations from my “acceptable” list. In one-on-one conversations and in group meetings I have not backed away from taking my shots at key personalities and whole groups. It was not only fashionable, it was expected.
Then something happened to me that really stung. I overheard people speaking about me in the same manner I had often spoken about them! I was being accused of the very things I had accused others of.
I’ve caught flack before, but there was a special soreness in this accusation. I knew my heart was right before the Lord, and I was sure my devotion to the Word of God was equal to all of my attackers, but it was here, at the place of my strengths, that I was challenged and written off without a single opportunity to explain myself. I felt a stabbing pain inside my heart, and it was the sole result of genuine Christians fighting other genuine Christians over disputable matters. Everything inside of me was downcast with a sickening ache.
Surely I was feeling now what I had caused others to feel at other times because of my proud and prejudicial statements against them. I had been guilty of divisiveness more times than I could count, but, worst of all, I didn’t even realize my mouth was an instrument of Satan and sin!
I “knew” I was right, but now I’m able to see that sometimes I was plainly wrong. I thought I was spiritual, but the plain fact is I have been carnal. In my deceived mind I saw myself as a bridge builder in the church, but too often I was actually guilty of being a wall builder. I believed in unity, in theory, but in practice I was a hypocrite. I thought I knew what the Scriptures taught about the subject of unity, but my eyes weren’t even open to see more than about half of the truth. I…I…I… It’s time for “I” to die and for the Lord Jesus Christ, along with His whole church, including fundamentalists, evangelicals and charismatics, to live!
It’s easy to point the finger and to accuse others of this or that shortcoming, but the greater fact seems to be that just about all of us have some judgmental beams in our own eyes that need removing (Matt. 7:1-5)!
If the Fundamentalists are as biblical as they claim to be, if the Pentecostals and Charismatics are as Spirit-filled as they claim to be, and if the Evangelicals are as conciliatory as they claim to be, then why isn’t there more communication, respect, and cooperation in the earthly body of the Lord Jesus Christ? Let’s be honest: the church is divided and less than half as effective as she could be if we would learn how to help one another and receive help from one another.
A Poor Reputation
In the past five hundred years or so, authentic Christians have perfected the art of separating themselves from other authentic Christians for countless self-justifying reasons. The formula is easy to remember and easy to follow:
If we disagree, we part!
Forget the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3). Forget the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). Forget bearing with one another in love (Eph. 4:2). Forget the Lord’s prayer for oneness between believers (John 17:20-23). Forget repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation (Matt. 5:23-24).
Forget how division is a trait of jealousy and worldliness (1 Cor. 3:1-4). Forget exhortations to be perfectly united in mind and thought (1 Cor. 1:11). Forget regarding others as better than yourself (Phil. 2:3-5). Forget that complaining and arguing are sins (Phil. 2:14).
Forget how you are preeminently to seek the good of others (1 Cor. 10:24). Forget that you are to die to your own agendas (Rom. 15:1-3; 1 Cor. 10:33). Forget that separating from believers over disputable matters is wrong (Rom. 14:1ff). Forget how sweet it is for all Christian brothers and sisters to live together in unity (Psalm 133:1). Forget how church leaders are charged with the duty of bringing their members to the place of unity with all fellow Christians (Eph. 4:13). Forget how the true spirit of love can bind our lives in unity (Col. 3:14). And, finally, forget that God has given to each one of us the remarkable spirit of unity (Rom. 15:5).
Let us forget all of this, if we feel we must. But on the final day of reckoning let us not be surprised if our Lord does not forget!
The church is not well recognized for the fulfillment of Jesus’ unity prayer: I pray for those who will believe in me... May they be brought to complete unity (John 17:20-23). Few Christians pray it, and fewer still actually seek it. It is time to pray...to communicate with each other...to love each other fervently...to obey the Scriptures...to become the answer to Jesus’ intercession!
Judging Each Other Wrongly
Let’s admit it. Christians are all-too-often guilty of judging each other. Honesty is good medicine, and now would be an appropriate time to take a hefty dose. Have you ever been guilty of saying (or thinking) things like this:
“Oh, you are a fundamentalist?” When translated, this really means, “Oh, you’re one of those Bible thumping, independent, argumentative, non-cooperative, exclusivist, evangelical-hating, charismatic-condemning, arrogant, know-it-all Christians!”
“Oh, you are a charismatic?” Interpretation: “Oh, you’re one of those radical, emotional, tongues-pushing, hands-raising, brainless, Bible-ignorant people who wants to take over every meeting you attend!”
“Oh, you are an evangelical?” Translation: “Oh, you’re one of those so-called born-again types who rides the fence between the Scriptures and worldliness, between the charismatics and the fundamentalists. You’re one of those people who is too conservative to be an outright liberal, but too liberal to be a true conservative! You’re one of those compromisers!”
Honestly, you know this is how Christians often regard each other because you have heard them express these sorts of ideas scores of times. And if you are completely honest, you probably need to admit that you have occasionally pigeonholed a few people and classified them negatively, too. Am I right?
How Important are Those People
with Whom I Disagree?
Paul writes, The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable (1 Cor. 12:21-22).
Do you really believe this? Do you charismatics believe your fundamentalist brothers and sisters are “indispensable?” Do you fundamentalists believe your charismatic brothers and sisters are “indispensable?”
Do you really thank God for each member in the body of Christ, including those particular ones who tend to grate you the wrong way? Do you really show the proof of your love for the whole church for which Jesus died, or do you sometimes take verbal shots at the members with whom you disagree? Do you avoid them? Do you hope they won’t show up in your congregation?
It has taken me a long time to learn the following lessons (and I’m still learning them). I hope you’re discovering the valuableness of them as well.
1. Some of the people with whom I disagree may not be enemies of the gospel at all, but brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. Some of the people with whom I disagree are probably right, making me wrong.
3. Some of the people with whom I disagree are more spiritual and know more about the Word of God than I.
4. Some of the people with whom I disagree are able to stretch me into new levels of insight and maturity, if I will give them the opportunity.
5. Some of the people with whom I disagree practice more Scriptural love and unity than I.
When a fundamentalist thinks he is better than a charismatic or an evangelical, he is proud. When a charismatic thinks he is better than a fundamentalist or an evangelical, he is arrogant. And, when an evangelical thinks he is better than a fundamentalist or a charismatic, he is sadly mistaken. In humility, says Paul, consider others better than yourselves (Phil. 2:3).
Live Where I Live Before You Judge Me
Many Christians feel qualified to stereotype people and to pass mass judgment on entire Christian groups (like the fundamentalists, the charismatics and the evangelicals) solely because they’ve heard a critical rumor or two, or because
they have listened to a respected teacher who has successfully planted in them this judgmental disposition, or because they’ve had a few negative experiences along the way themselves. But the charges that Christians bring against each other are often overly simplistic, broadly generalized and simply not
in alignment with the facts.
If a “charismatic” would spend a year or two working with fifty to sixty “fundamentalist” groups, he’d find much more love, holiness and Godliness there than he dreamed existed (and he would see some extremism, too).
On the other hand, if a “fundamentalist” would spend the same amount of time working with the same number of “charismatic” groups, he’d discover much more devotion to Scripture, evangelism and purity than he thought was there (and he, too, would see some radicals).
The point is this: if we would only take the time (and it does take a considerable amount of time!) to get to know all of the facts before we passed judgment, we’d probably render a different decision most of the time.
Because it is a lot easier to erect a wall than it is to humble ourselves, to obey the Scriptures, and to build a bridge, many people take the short cut and judge their fellow brothers and sisters presumptuously! This is wrong, and we must work to stop its practice.
Can It Be Done?
But what about our differences? Can Christians disagree on “disputable” (Rom. 14:1) doctrines and still work together to accomplish God’s purposes? From the perspective of Christian history and from our own contemporary spirit of isolationism, you could get the impression that the church was not even made to work together. But this failure is man’s making, not God’s.
When we disagree, we must study more, pray more, communicate more, die to self more, and serve others more!
• If our hearts are right we will almost always find that our agreements outweigh our disagreements!
• If our hearts are right we will almost always find a way to disagree respectfully!
• If our hearts are right we will almost always find a way to work together!
Ninety-nine-point-nine-percent of the time the problem of division is not caused by disagreements over doctrines but by a faulty heart! All too often we are determined to do what is right in our own eyes, being accountable to next-to-no-one. This is simply wrong.
It is legitimate business to insist people believe the way we believe on the indispensables (one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God--- Eph. 4:4-6). But it is wrong to insist that everyone believe the way we believe on the disputables (Rom. 14-15).
For instance, can I find value in people like Charles Finney or Dwight L. Moody, who believed the filling of the Holy Spirit is a second work of grace? If my heart is right I can.
Can I find value in people like Charles Spurgeon or G. Campbell Morgan or Phillips Brooks who smoked? If my heart is right I can!
Can I find value in a person like Ulrich Zwingli, the Swiss Reformer, who insisted there be no singing in the church? If my heart is right I can!
Can I find value in a person like John Calvin who believed in unconditional election and limited atonement? If my heart is right I can!
Can I find value in a person like Martin Luther who practiced infant baptism? If my heart is right I can!
Can I find value in a person like J. N. Darby, the founder of the Plymouth Brethren and author of numerous Christian books, who adhered to dispensationalism and closed communion? If my heart is right I can!
Can I find value in people like Henry Alford or O. T. Allis or J. Sidlow Baxter or Louis Burkof or William Carey or Johnathan Edwards or C. S. Lewis or Merrill Tenney or F. F. Bruce or Matthew Henry or Carles Hodge or Robert Murray M’Cheyne or John Bunyan or Adam Clark or John Knox or thousands of others who believed in the post-tribulational rapture? If my heart is right I can!
Can I find value in a man like David Wilkerson, who believes in speaking in tongues, or with John MacArthur, who does not believe in speaking in tongues? If my heart is right I can!
Who you can and who you cannot respect or praise or be seen with speaks whole volumes, not about your convictions, but about the serving versus the self-serving character of your heart.
Whenever a person says (explicitly or implicitly, actively or passively) that he cannot work with another Christian because he does not happen to agree with him or her about a disputable doctrinal matter, he is deceived. God says we can. Jesus works with people of every conceivable background, social status, occupation, education, age, personality, maturity level, gifting, handicap, church membership, bias, and the like. We must prepare our heart to do the same thing.
Never say the differences are too great. God will not match us with just anyone; this is certain. But, He is likely to join us with someone who will give us numerous opportunities to grow in deeper levels of brokenness and love than we previously imagined were necessary or possible.
Unity is Not an Option, But a Command
According to the Word of God, we are to be completely humble and gentle…patient, bearing with one another in love…[making] every effort to keep the unity of the entire body of Christ (Eph. 4:3). Too few of us have sincerely done this beyond the four walls of our church, or beyond the few groups with whom we easily identify.
Our schedules, our emotions, our opinions, our preferences, and our prejudices so easily prevent us from taking Scriptural unity seriously. Let’s put the issue in the form of two questions:
1. Do you and does your church group make every effort (as the Scriptures require) to achieve unity among all genuine Christians? Or, do you see this as a waste of valuable time?
2. Have you (and your Christian associates) been completely humble and gentle, bearing in a loving fashion with all other Christians and Christian groups? Or, have you stiff-armed people who disagree with you?
We certainly do not need a “unity movement” where everyone, regardless of their beliefs or practices, is accepted. This is clearly wrong. I am not advocating that sort of cooperation. But it is equally wrong to do just the opposite, shunning genuine Christians for whom Christ died and in whom Christ lives. Building walls around ourselves and excluding believers from joining us because they do not happen to agree with every jot and title of our theology is the seed of heresy. Orthodoxy is one thing; phariseeism is another.
An Example of Going Overboard
One Saturday night I attended an interdenominational Christian meeting that was not directly associated with my church. At some point during the song service I raised my hands in a spirit of worship. The following day, Sunday morning, I was called before the elders of my church and soundly forbidden to attend such meetings. Further, I was instructed never to lift my hands in public worship. Let’s notice several matters here: (1) The elders agreed that the meeting was organized by genuine Christians from different church backgrounds, but these particular Christians were not to be associated with because several of their views were not in perfect alignment with our church. (2) The elders insisted that everyone in our congregation must conform outwardly to a particular style of worship---no lifting of the hands.
Were the leaders of this church Scripturally justified in making either of these decisions? Absolutely not. Consider the weighty mistakes they made.
First, while they could, and should, forbid their members from joining with pseudo-Christian groups (like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormons), they cannot forbid fellowship (including meetings) with authentic Christians. Why? Because this order would break “the spirit of unity” (Eph. 4:3).
Second, demanding that no one raise his or her hands in worship is sheer legalism since the Scriptures clearly permitsuch expressions (Psalm 134:2; 1 Tim. 2:8).
We must be careful not to put our church traditions above God’s truth!
If we (individually or corporately) are not to cooperate with authentic Christians or with authentic Christian groups who happen to disagree with a point or two of our own theology, then this leads to the following sorrowful and unrealistic implications.
1. I must empty my library of any book, magazine, or newspaper that contains paragraphs with which I disagree. Working with such material in private would be hypocritical if I cannot publicly work with the authors themselves. That probably means 99.8% of all my literature (including Bible reference books) must go.
2. I must disassociate myself from all ministerial meetings, interdenominational church gatherings, and pastors, until I learn that they agree with my views on everything.
3. I must not permit anyone to speak in my church who thinks differently from me---the danger of “compromise” is too great. Of course, the same standard must be applied to all Sunday School teachers and church members.
4. I am the standard by which everything is measured. I am like God. My views are correct! (Naturally, if I believe my understanding of Scripture is less than absolutely perfect and that some day I might change any of my views, then I must disassociate myself from myself since I, too, might be wrong!). Don’t take this point lightly; many sincere believers have unconsciously fallen into this pit of pride and arrogance.
If God will not work with people unless He is in full agreement with them, then with whom can He work? Read this question again. Ponder its implications.
An Unhealthy Fear
Many believers and church groups are motivated by an unhealthy spirit of fear. Whenever anyone just mentions the term “unity,” red flags fly everywhere. They treat the subject as though it were an unpardonable sin to take it seriously. But what do they fear? The answer is accommodation and compromise. Think for a moment. Are accommodation and compromise evil things in themselves? Of course not. There is a right time and there is a wrong time to accommodate and to compromise. Every good marital counseling session calls on the husband and/or the wife to make reasonable and loving adjustments that will benefit both parties. It is only when the spirit of accommodation and compromise are absent that the union is threatened. If we insist we are always right and that our spouse is always wrong, we shoot our own foot!
Certainly it is wrong to discuss unity with a non-Christian, with a pseudo-Christian group or with a sinful Christian. We must not accommodate or compromise with them. But this is not my issue. Our problem is often an unwillingness to work with other genuine Christians who just happen to interpret certain Scriptures differently from ourselves. Are we so stubborn, so bull-headed, and so self-righteous to think we know more than everyone else? Do we have a better plan for His church than Christ’s own plan of unity? Will we divide His body into millions of pieces simply so we can boast about our own “correct” way of handling God’s Word? Surely, such arrogance must grieve a Servant Savior who has plainly committed Himself to His entire church, and not to just the parts that are always “right.”
A Time for Separation
Do the Scriptures ever instruct a believer to disassociate himself from a fellow believer? Is it ever right deliberately to avoid fellowshipping with another Christian? Yes, the Bible teaches there is a special time for separation.
If a brother or sister in Christ is clearly guilty of a particular sin, and if he or she refuses to repent of it (after being properly confronted), then they are to be shunned.
Paul writes, In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother (2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15).
Observe, in the first place, that these particular Thessalonian Christians were guilty of disobeying a specific command from Paul. He was not dealing with a doctrinal difference of opinion, but with sin. Second, notice their sentence: fellow believers were not to associate with them. Third, catch the spirit of this punishment: it is a brotherly (or loving) correction. Fourth, notice the purpose of the discipline: to produce shame, which would lead to repentance and reunification.
The entire disciplinary episode has reconciliation and unity as its primary objective. This is not booting someone out the door, but a mild spanking for the sake of correction. The aim is restoration.
Frequently, we do not treat fellow Christians in this fashion. Instead, we are quickly prepared to write them off, to disassociate ourselves from them. We would rather not have to contend with the problem than to do the harder work of bringing correction and being reconciled. With haste, we regard people as incorrigible, when in truth, we too often are ready to part paths over issues that have nothing to do with sin.
In cases of heresy, this is a legitimate grounds for separation (Rom. 16:17-18; Titus 3:10-11). And if someone is disruptive, self-centered and spiritually lost, this is another basis for separation. There is a time for separation, but we must be careful that our separation is based on these kinds of conditions, and not on rumors or church traditions or narrow-minded interpretations of Scripture. If the Lord accepts someone, we, too, must accept them!
Separation is to characterize the relationship between a Christian and the world. Unity is to characterize the relationship between believers (including believers from different church traditions).
Traditions that Blind
Perhaps, as often as not, it isn’t '62iblical truths that divide Christians, but our own preferences, opinions and man-made traditions.
Over the years, believers have separated themselves from each other for some pretty petty excuses: style of immersion (forward or backward? once or three times?), the placement of the pulpit (at the center of the stage or to the left of center?), musical instruments (to use them or not to use them), music books (to have them or not to have them), styles of worship (formal, informal or somewhere in between), clothing (should coats be worn with or without collars?), pews (should they be rented or available freely to everyone?), ordination (is it sacred or a secular act?), beards (right or wrong?), and so forth. We easily snicker at these old-time reasons for splitting, but are our modern factions any more justified? Often they are not!
There must be at least 100,001 reasons (non-biblical Reasons!) why Christians separate from each other, and why churches split in two. The bottom line, much of the time, is due to an overemphasis on minor issues. Probably all of us are too blind to recognize the fact that much of what we regard as important is in reality a personal opinion or a purely human tradition.
Even when we insist that “this is what the Bible says,” we often forget that scores of people, more godly and studious than ourselves, have disagreed on a broad variety of doctrinal issues. Is it in keeping with the spirit of unity to judge others who happen to disagree with us, say on the matter of the millennium or head coverings or feet washing or sign-gifts or something else? I think not.
Handling the Gifts of the Spirit
Nothing has so unnecessarily divided true Christians than the issue of spiritual gifts. Fundamentalists insist that many of the gifts ceased to operate some time around A.D. 100. Charismatics insist that all of the gifts are still available and operational today. Evangelicals have landed on both sides of the issue, usually with less intensity.
How in the world can we bring unity out of such chaos? Sad to say, many people who argue this particular point don’t even want unity---they just want their way, period! This is not the right attitude, and I can only hope it is not yours.
It would be easy to say, Let’s not tell God which gifts He must or must not give to people. And, let’s not tell people which gifts they must or must not have, but such reasoning rarely accomplishes anything. The plain fact is unless we are willing to admit that Christians (not pseudo-believers, but authentic born-again Christians) hold different opinions on this subject, we will go nowhere. The first step is to see our fundamentalist and charismatic brothers and sisters as just that, brothers and sisters.
The second step is to adopt the spirit of Romans 14 and 15 on this matter: Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind (Rom. 14:5b). Each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself (Rom. 14:12-13a, 19,22a; 15:1-3a).
Basic Ground Rules
The apostle Paul said, I try to please everybody in every way…Follow my example (1 Cor. 10:33; 11:1). Here’s the secret: pleasing people, pleasing everybody, pleasing everyone in every way! You say, “It can’t be done.” Paul responds, “Follow my example” anyway. Try. Try again. Never stop trying to erect a bridge where a wall stands.
When you are with someone who does not believe in speaking in tongues, for goodness sakes, don’t pray in tongues! It will only breed strife.
When you are with someone who believes you can fall away from Christ to such an extent that you can lose your salvation, for goodness sakes, don’t talk about eternal security. It will only breed strife.
When you are with someone who differs with you on this or that point, keep your mouth shut on such matters. Do nothing that holds the potential of accenting your differences; do everything that holds the potential of highlighting your similarities. Work for unity! And if you know people who break these rules, confront them in love and insist that they stop causing division!
Unity: Key to Effectiveness
How foolishly we struggle when we insist on isolating ourselves from virtually all other Christians so we can do this or that ministry our own way. Is it any wonder the devil seeks to divide us?
The most cost efficient ideas for the church are packaged in the box of unity. The most productive ideas for the church are wrapped with the ribbon of oneness.
The practical benefits of unity are not too-good-to-be-true. Just the opposite. Virtually anything can be achieved, in the will of the Lord, when Christians and churches miraculously cooperate. Consider a few examples.
* Almost all Christian schools have two things in common: (1) they don’t have enough money, and (2) they don’t have enough students. How do you solve these problems? The answer is simple: “with unity.” If ten or fifteen or twenty or more churches would select one education-oriented representative to work with representatives from other congregations, they could form clear and thorough guidelines for a Christian school that would bless hundreds and thousands of students for a lifetime! Key businessmen and gifted teachers with a Kingdom vision from various churches should work together to make this a reality in every community in America. If enough people participated, the cost of a Christian education could actually become affordable for everyone.
• In most communities there are tiny churches that struggle to pay even their most basic bills. Unfortunately, the members in these congregations often have a “my church” mentality, and they are rarely open to cooperation. But if they would see beyond their comfort zones, they could unite with three or four other likeminded churches and form one significant church with a determination to fulfill the Great Commandments and the Great Commission. In Elkhart, Indiana, there were four struggling Methodist churches that hated the thought of merging, but they did it anyway. The result was one large and growing church that is now doing fifty times more ministry than was done when each congregation was independent.
• Churches, by nature, tend to become self-centered. Rarely do church members have a vigorous vision that extends beyond the four walls of their building, but here are a few ideas to help us think less of “our church” and more of “God’s Kingdom:” (1) Work with a handful of churches to bring in a well-respected speaker for a semi-annual seminar. Open the meetings to the whole community. (2) Work with three or four or more churches to start an evangelistic men’s ministry. For instance, every other month there could be a meeting that consists of a meal, a local personality sharing some experience, a guest speaker who is skillful in touching hearts for Christ, and an invitation to receive Christ.
• Often a single church cannot afford to hire a full-time evangelist who will (1) develop a follow-up strategy for visitors, (2) train people in the basic skills of evangelism, and (3) create a practical weekly strategy for winning people to Christ. But if a few churches would come together with a passion to win souls to Christ, then they could pool their resources to hire one person who could help two, three or more churches in their outreach work.
• Instead of there being a separate (and often weak) youth ministry in every church, two or more churches could unite to form a youth leadership council with representation from all participating congregations. This team could set forth guidelines for the meetings, and provide prerequisites for all of its leaders and helpers. If enough churches participated in this ministry, a part-time or full-time youth pastor could be hired to work under their joint authority.
• Today, there are many independent churches that do not belong to any denomination. That’s okay. But sooner or later these churches should take a serious interest in mission projects beyond their own facilities. In order to accommodate this vision, every local church should develop some kind of attachment with one or more organized mission organizations where they can expand their outreach.
• Gymnasiums are expensive, and few churches can afford them. Worst of all, most gyms get minimal use. On the other hand, if ten to twenty churches would prepare annual calendars for their extracurricular activities, these facilities could be easily rented and filled for a wholesome time of fun and fellowship.
• Would you like to meet the physical needs of people, especially in the area of clothing? Any church can do that on a small scale. But what would happen if you opened a “Free Store” where anyone in need could come in an get whatever they had to have at no cost. If just a half dozen churches worked together to operate a store like this from the donations of its members, then literally scores and scores of people could be helped in their deepest time of need. In Three Rivers, Michigan, such a store is open three days a week to help the region’s most needy individuals and families. More than a few people have been introduced to Christ in this warm and caring atmosphere.
• Would you like to help people with their emotional, domestic and financial needs through a significant counseling ministry? A single congregation will probably not be able to help a large number of people in this way, but if congregations and Christian businessmen worked in unity, a full-time counseling center could be created that would assist hundreds of people.
• Shouldn’t churches work together to operate a center for helping young pregnant women? Pregnancy tests, counseling, videos, literature and other resources could be made available at little or no cost.
• Think of what could be done if pastors would come together with a common vision to pray, to hear from God and to win their entire community to Christ!
• Imagine the positive impact that would be experienced if almost all of the churches in a community would come together for an annual week of meetings for repentance, praise and evangelism.
Naturally, this list could go on and on. Just think of how many significant ministries could take place, that are not now happening, if we would only come together with humble and hungry hearts to see more accomplished for Christ! Can you envision the bigger picture . . . the picture that extends beyond your own church facility to your whole city, county and state?
Without any doubts, the people who occupy “the pulpit” can impact hundreds of lives for God and good. But it is the people in “the pew” who can change thousands upon thousands of lives. The “sleeping giant” in America is the businessman, the socker mom, the lawyer, the policeman, the school teacher, the grandparent, and the like, who sit in the pews on Sundays with no vision to combine their resources and meet communitywide needs. This is the audience we must inspire, train and mobilize, not so we can conduct better church meetings in our own buildings, but so we can transform whole communities!
Dream of the possibilities!
Do I agree with every detail of my fundamentalist brothers? No, and frequently they do not completely agree with each other either. But I can profit from them, and I can work with them, when their heart is inclined “to keep the spirit of unity.”
You can, and should , do the same thing.
Do I agree with every belief of my charismatic brothers? No, and frequently they do not completely agree with each other as well. But I can profit from them, and I can work with them, when their heart is inclined “to keep the spirit of unity.”
You can, and should, do the same thing.
Do I agree with every doctrinal point of my evangelical brothers? No, and often they don’t completely see eye to eye with each other. But I can profit from them, and I can work with them, when their heart is inclined “to keep the spirit of unity.”
You can, and should, do the same thing.
Nothing delights the devil more, and nothing hinders the church more, than the spirit of division. Wherever it is found, it must be put out of business.
In conclusion, let us encourage each individual Christian and each Christian group to hold firmly to their unique views about the teaching of Scripture, but at the same moment let us also insist that each individual Christian and each Christian group be committed to love, serve and work with all of the other members of God’s family! Working together, we can make a greater difference than we could ever accomplish by working alone.
Show proper respect to everyone:Love the brotherhood of believers (1 Pet. 2:17).
Dr. Stephen D. Swihart
1333 El Reno Street
Elkhart, IN 46516
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