"FOLLOWING JESUS WITHOUT DENOMINATIONALISM" Maintaining Unity In The Local Congregation INTRODUCTION 1. The challenge of "Following Jesus Without Denominationalism" to a great extent revolves around the problem of religious division that begins in the local church a. Every denomination today began as a result of religious division b. And religious division normally finds it's origin with brethren in a local congregation unable to resolve their differences 2. While having the same standard of authority is essential to unity in religious matters, I also stated that it alone is insufficient, as suggested in this quote by Barton W. Stone: "But should all the professors of Christianity reject all their various creeds and names, and agree to receive the Bible alone, and be called by no other name than Christian, will this unite them? No, we are fully convinced that unless they all possess the spirit of that book and name they are far, very far, from Christian union." (As quoted by J. M. Powell, The Cause We Plead: A Story Of The Restoration Movement, 20th Century Christian, 1987, p. 56) 3. It is essential that those who seek to allow the Bible, and in particular the New Testament, to be their standard of authority... a. Possess the proper Christian attitudes b. To apply those attitudes when handling the Word of God -- Otherwise, the "sword of the Spirit" (Ep 6:17 ) will be abused to the detriment of all parties involved [To appreciate what I mean, in this lesson we shall examine how Paul dealt with the problem of division in the early church, and the solution he offered that we might "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." We begin by first noticing what Paul described as...] I. A MAJOR CAUSE OF DIVISION A. THE SITUATION AT CORINTH... 1. Paul found it necessary to write "that there be no divisions among you" - 1 Co 1:10 2. There were contentions among them, manifested by breaking up into parties and calling themselves after different men - 1 Co 1:11-12 -- Sounds a lot like religious division today, doesn't it? B. PAUL'S EVALUATION OF THE PROBLEM OF DIVISION... 1. As Paul wrote to them, he realized he was dealing with "babes in Christ", who instead of being "spiritual" were "carnal" - 1 Co 3:1-3 a 2. Indeed, the root of their envy, strife, and divisions was their carnality - 1 Co 3:3 b -- Conditions today are not really all that much different; where division exists, carnality (or spiritual immaturity) is often a major cause of the problem! [This is not to say that there are never any substantive issues at stake when division occurs. But any hope for resolving differences over such issues is stifled when the parties involved are filled with envy and strife. This may help us appreciate why Paul so frequently focused his attention on the development of attitudes which increase the likelihood of overcoming differences so that unity might prevail. Let's take a look at these...] II. ATTITUDES FOR MAINTAINING UNITY A. TO THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS, PAUL TAUGHT THE VIRTUE OF... 1. "Lowliness" - Ep 4:2 a. This word means: 1) The having a humble opinion of one's self 2) A deep sense of one's (moral) littleness 3) Modesty, humility, lowliness of mind b. Without this virtue, members in the body begin trying to be the "head" of the body, a role reserved only for Christ 2. "Gentleness" - Ep 4:2 a. This word can be translated as gentleness, mildness, meekness b. It is not a quality of weakness, but of power under control 1) Moses was a meek man (Num 12:3 ), but capable of great strength and boldness 2) Jesus was "meek and lowly in heart" (Mt 11:29 ), but we see where He drove the money changers out of the temple c. Thus it is being gentle, even when there is the potential for being harsh, but gentleness is more conducive for maintaining unity 3. "Long-suffering" - Ep 4:2 a. The idea here is one of patience, forbearance, longsuffering, slowness in avenging wrongs b. When the body consists of members who are not perfect, and often sin against each other, maintaining unity is not possible unless they are willing to endure each other's imperfections 4. "Bearing with one another in love" - Ep 4:2 a. Similar to longsuffering, "bearing" means to sustain, to bear, to endure b. What makes such "longsuffering" and "forbearance" possible is another virtue: "love" c. As Paul wrote in his chapter on love: love suffers long... is not provoked" - 1 Co 13:4-5 d. Indeed, the virtue of love is the "tie" that binds all these virtues together - Co 3:12-14 5. "Endeavor" - Ep 4:3 a. Displaying these virtues does not come naturally nor easy, nor does maintaining unity b. Thus the need for much effort, as Paul uses a word which means "to exert one's self, endeavor, give diligence" -- Only by giving diligence to display ALL these virtues, can we hope to "keep (maintain) the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" - Ep 4:3 B. TO THE CHURCH AT PHILIPPI, PAUL DIRECTED THEM TO... 1. "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit" - Ph 2:3 a. It is necessary to point out those attitudes we should NOT have! b. For possessing these attitudes will destroy unity 1) Both involve "self-centered" attitude 2) Rather than a "Christ-centered" attitude c. Therefore, it is required that we rid ourselves of: 1) The DESIRE FOR EXALTING SELF ("selfish ambition") 2) The IMPROPER ESTIMATION OF SELF ("conceit") d. In place of these, we should substitute... 2. "in lowliness of mind" - Ph 2:3 a. In other words, humility - cf. Ep 4:2 b. This will effectively replace the problem of "conceit" c. Humility should be easy to maintain if we remember our own faults 3. "let each esteem others better than himself" - Ph 2:3 a. This should be easy for us to do... 1) For we are aware of our own defects, but we do not have the same clear view of the defects of others 2) We can only see their OUTWARD conduct; in our case, we can look WITHIN 3) We see our own hearts, with all its faults; we cannot so look into the hearts of others b. In writing to the brethren at Rome, Paul exhorted them to outdo one another in this regard - "in honor giving preference to one another" - Ro 12:10 b 4. "look out...for the interest of others" - Ph 2:4 a. This attitude eliminates the problem of "selfish ambition" b. It is the attitude of MATURITY, and was the attitude of Christ! - Ro 15:1-3 c. So it should be the attitude of every Christian! -- As strongly suggested by Ph 2:1-2 , these qualities in verses 3-4 contribute to the unity that produces fullness of joy! C. TO THE CHURCHES OF GALATIA, PAUL... 1. Cautioned against the improper use of our liberty in Christ a. While it is true that we must stand fast in our liberty and not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage... - Ga 5:1 b. ...we should use our liberty as an opportunity to serve one another in love - Ga 5:13-14 2. Otherwise, abuse of our liberty gives the flesh opportunity to destroy one another! - Ga 5:15 D. TO THE CHURCH AT ROME, PAUL WROTE... 1. We should pursue things that lead to peace and edification - Ro 14:19 2. That the strong should be willing to bear with the scruples of the weak - Ro 14:1 ,13; 15:1-3 3. That the weak in faith must be careful not to judge (condemn) those whom God has received! - Ro 14:3-4 -- Such attitudes are necessary, are we will not be able "with one mind and one mouth [to] glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!" - cf. Ro 15:5-7 E. FINALLY, TO THE CHURCH AT CORINTH PAUL MADE IT CLEAR... 1. That knowledge can puff one up, but it is love that edifies ("builds up", in contrast to knowledge which "puffs up") - 1 Co 8:1 2. That we who have liberty in Christ should be careful that we don't use it to the destruction of our brethren who are weak - 1 Co 8:9-12 3. That we should therefore be willing to forego our liberties if it can help keep a brother from stumbling - cf. 1 Co 8:13 ; 10:31-11:1 CONCLUSION 1. From personal experience, I can attest that: a. Where members display these attitudes in addition to their devotion to the "apostles' doctrine"... b. ...there will be a congregation of Christians in which love and unity will prevail 2. That's not to say there will always be perfect understanding and agreement on every subject a. When people from every conceivable background come to Christ, we should expect some differences b. When there will always be brethren at various levels of spiritual growth, we can expect some challenges 3. But if we can... a. Agree that the teaching of Christ as expounded in the "apostles' doctrine" is our standard of authority in religious matters b. Inculcate the Christian attitudes described in this lesson into the heart of every member ...then we shall be able to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ep 4:3 ) as we all continue to "grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ" (2 Pe 3:18 ), to the glory of God!