In my last letter to you I was discussing unity - a much needed subject with the religious world divided the way it is. It would be easy for a logician, like yourself, to surmise that there are deep divisions in the churches of Christ. Does that also mean that "we as a people" are not the persons that God desires?
Sam Serious is on the job to answer "tough" and "knotty'' questions like this. I am positive that if we can "humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God" that he will take care of this problem for us. But, Charles, before I go into that there is something else that demands my attention. What are the attitudes current today that hinder unity? I will name a few.
1.) People look for unity in the wrong place. Most expect to find it in the church!!! Can you believe that? Rules and regulations and dissertations on what will promote unity by "wise" and "otherwise" scribes will not suffice here. Unity can only be obtained in the Head, not in the body. "In Christ" there is unity and only "in Christ." Men have always been drawn to Christ, not some corporate structure.
2.) The timing is wrong for a lot of folks. Self interest must be served before we strive for peace. Many seem to feel that as soon as I "get mine" I will strive for peace and unity for others. TODAY IS THE DAY OF SALVATION SO HARDEN NOT YOUR HEARTS. If love, peace, and unity cannot be achieved today they can never be found.
3.) Unity cannot be obtained by many because it is unimportant to them. A friend in another town has a favorite saying: "Those who can afford it join the Country Club; those who can't join the Church of Christ." Carnal people who view the church like a Country Club will always promote division. The reason is simple. The more churches the merrier. They are more likely to find one to suit their taste.
4.) Unity cannot be obtained so long as we view the other fellow's faults and not our own. I cannot control you, Charles, nor you me. So long as I believe that I have all the wisdom there cannot be unity or peace between us.
5.) Conformity is not unity. Charles, here is one of the real big stumbling blocks to any efforts for peace. You MUST conform to my conceptions of how things ought to be. I knew a church once that divided over which songs should be used with the Lord's Supper. Some thought that a song should be sung before the beginning of the Supper and others thought that one should be sung at the end of the Meal!!! You may not know this, Charles, but the only example in the Bible on this point is for the latter case. At the conclusion of the Last Supper, "When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives" (Matt. 26:30).
Is it possible for us to disagree on many things and still have the unity that Christ urged on his disciples? Our answer is always "Yes" but our practice is "No." The Pope in Rome insists on conformity. But do you know that even he does not insist on as much conformity as lots of brethren. HE WOULD NOT DARE.
6.) Unity in Diversity is a much abused phrase. It may do little harm to the truth, but it is not The Truth. Or at least not the whole truth. None of us is alike. Furthermore, we are at different stages of development "in Christ:" There is a place for diversity, but this is not unity.
Early preachers came up with a slogan. SOME SLOGANS SHOULD BE REMEMBERED. This one expressed the truth! "In matters of faith unity, in matters of opinion liberty, and in all things charity." Charles, I am quoting from memory and that is not what it once was but that is close enough for you to see the point. Diversity is in the realm of opinion. In this there will never be unity. It is an impossibility. BUT IN MATTERS OF FAITH THERE MUST BE UNITY.
Can matters of faith be established? Yes they can. And YES THEY MUST.
"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Eph. 4:1-6).
If we can be "completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love" where is the difficulty? If there is one, it is covered by "make every effort" to keep the "unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Charles, this is God's blueprint! It will work!
THERE IS ONE LORD, ONE FAITH, AND ONE BAPTISM. Simple, isn't it. It will always be necessary to the development of peoples that different understandings will arise concerning many of these things. But the DIFFERENCE IN UNDERSTANDING THINGS CLEARLY REVEALED SHOULD NOT HINDER LOVE, PEACE AND UNITY!!!
Let's take the present case for a short study. At the present you are doing a little fussing with many brethren about the definition of the word "church." It would seem to this observer that such a study would be welcomed. It is not. Why?
Maybe it is because of you; maybe it is because of your opponents. To whom should you submit this dispute? To a powerful man or group of men in the church? Charles, this is the MODUS OPERANDI now current. It does not work. Why does it not work? Because there is one Faith and that is revealed in the Book!
Bible believing people will only submit to one standard...THE BOOK! "To the law and the prophets" all things must be submitted. On the forehead of the Christian is imprinted, "NO AUTHORITY BUT JESUS AND HIS WORD." The carnal, the lazy and the indifferent will listen to the words of men; but men filled with the Spirit and Word of God will not. Give Sam Serious "the Bible" and nothing else. I will listen to the study of this Book from anyone, but the last "court of appeals" will be the revealed Word.
Now suppose that you are totally wrong in all of your contentions. I have contemplated that of my teachings, so why not yours? When the error that you teach is submitted to the conscience of each saint, that soul must make a determination based on the Bible. CHARLES, THINK ON THAT FOR A MINUTE!!! IT WOULD MAKE EVERY CHILD OF GOD SEARCH THE SCRIPTURES DAILY. In a very short period of time the people of God would be so filled with His word that the "error" which you have theoretically taught will disappear from the mind of every Christian. IT WILL ALSO RID US OF EVERY INFALLIBLE INTERPRETER OF THE WORD THAT NOW MAKES HIS LIVING INFORMING US WHAT GOD WANTS FOR OUR LIVES.
With people reading, quoting, and thinking the Word daily some spiritual maturity will set in. First, the people will become "knowledgeable;" and secondly they cannot "be tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine" and love and peace will yet prevail in the kingdom of God. When people decide to terminate the infallible interpreters of the Word they will realize that they are responsible to God for themselves. This realization will highlight one of your strong points...INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY. Individual responsibility rids us of the need for the infallible interpreters of the Word. See, Charles, I am on your side in some things!
This spiritual maturity will also develop at least one other thing. It will bring us to a dependence on Christ. One passage that will get daily readings will be John Chapter 15:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown in to the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."
Jesus was right on target! Without Christ....nothing! We can do nothing unless we remain "in Him." I personally like the old King James word better..."ABIDE." If we remain or abide "In Christ" we will be fruitful, have strength, and ask for what we desire. If we ask enough we will obtain. But notice the text, Charles, "it will be given" us. The beauty of this is missed by most of us. It escaped my "eagle eye" for years...and you know how difficult that is. It is necessary for us to depend on Christ. But here we miss the point. While still believing in ourselves at this point we are ready to do things ourselves. This is not the teaching here.... But if we abide "in Christ" and ask of Him it will be done for us. CHRIST WILL DO IT FOR US...The sap arising from the vine through the branches will produce what we desire! IT WILL BE DONE FOR US!!!
Charles, let's pray for unity. Pray sincerely and often. If we are "in Christ" there will be results...GREAT RESULTS. If I am "in Christ" I am united to every other branch (soul) that is "in Christ." From this unity only peace and love can come.
Samuel O. Serious