We spent a lot of time last Sunday thinking together about Jesus’ prayer for unity among His disciples.
Here’s the rest of what I wanted to say.
A commitment to unity is a commitment to division. Or to put it another way, when you follow the Philippians 2:2 model for unity (being of the same mind, having the same love and being intent on the same purpose) you will quickly find that there are people with whom you do not share the same source of truth or the same love or the same purpose.
As I said on Sunday, unity is not uniformity. Even within the church, there will not be complete unity of thought, affections or purpose. But because we are committed as followers of Jesus to one faith, one Lord, one baptism and one God and Father of all (Ephesians 4:5), and because humility is to be foundational to our unity, we embrace our diversity around secondary matters while we unite around that which is clear and central to our faith.
But our unity together in Christ means we will be divided from others who don’t share our core convictions. Jesus has made this clear in His upper room discourse. “The world will hate you just as it hated me. You are not of this world. That’s why they will hate you.”
Here’s what’s clear though. While we can’t have unity with those who are outside our circle of faith (2 Cor. 6:14: What fellowship can light have with darkness?), we can and should continue to love, pray for and bless those who don’t share our faith. The Bible makes this clear in so many places. Here is just example:
1 Peter 3:9–16
Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For
“Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit
let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their pray
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
I think because we live in a divided and polarized culture, we can easily slip into cultural ways of thinking about how we are to interact with those with whom we are not in unity. Jesus’ commands are counter cultural. Instead of rebuking, reviling and cursing those with whom we disagree, we are to bless, pray for, love and do good to them. We should not minimize or downplay the important areas where we differ. But the fact that we are not in unity around what the scriptures teach or who Jesus is or the message of the gospel does not give us license to be unkind or uncivil.
One of my favorite contemporary examples of what this should look like happened back in 2013 when Dr. Albert Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was invited to address the faculty and students at Brigham Young University. BYU is operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – the Mormons. And Southern Baptists have clearly and publicly declared that because of core theological differences, even though Mormons may see themselves as Christians, Mormons and Baptists cannot be in union as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Dr. Mohler’s words were gracious. He began by saying “I deeply appreciate your invitation to speak at Brigham Young University and to address the faculty at this greatly respected center of learning. I am so glad to be on this campus, filled with so many gracious people, such admirable students, and so many committed scholars on the faculty. To many people, shaped in their worldview by the modern age and its constant mandate to accommodate, it will seem very odd that a Baptist theologian and seminary president would be invited to speak at the central institution of intellectual life among the Latter-Day Saints. But here I am, and I am thankful for the invitation.”
Dr. Mohler went on to speak about areas where Baptists and Mormons share a common conviction about pressing social issues in our day, and how we must stand together against the cultural tide that is seeking to wash away many of the values that have defined western civilization for centuries. The entire text of his message is available here.
But before he ended his remarks, Dr. Mohler made it clear that while we can come together as co-belligerents, standing together against the erosion of centuries of western values that have been shaped by a biblical worldview, we cannot have unity in Christ.
“I am not here because I believe we are going to heaven together. I do not believe that. I believe that salvation comes only to those who believe and trust only in Christ and in his substitutionary atonement for salvation. I believe in justification by faith alone, in Christ alone. I love and respect you as friends, and as friends we would speak only what we believe to be true, especially on matters of eternal significance. We inhabit separate and irreconcilable theological worlds, made clear with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity. And yet here I am, and gladly so. We will speak to one another of what we most sincerely believe to be true, precisely because we love and respect one another.”
As we strive to live in unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ, remembering that our unity as Christians sends a message to our world about the unity of the Trinity, let’s make sure we’re careful not to somehow subtly send a message to those who stand outside of our circle of faith that we believe we are better than they are. And let’s commit ourselves to living lives of love and kindness and compassion that will adorn the gospel message we embrace – the message that ultimately unites us together in Christ.
Here are a handful of items you should make sure you’re up to speed on as we head toward Christmas and the new year.
FAMILY CHRISTMAS PARTY – SAT DEC 17
roots Student Ministry~ Annual Ugly Christmas Sweater Event!
|And the very next night, this Sunday, it’s the Roots Student Ministries Annual Ugly Christmas Sweater Event.
|Our Carols and Candlelight Christmas Eve service will happen at 5:00 on December 24.
carols & Candlelight Christmas Eve service | 5:00p Dec 24
We still have a few pre-printed invitations for you to pick up and pass along to friends. Grab some this Sunday, along with a few copies of the Four Emotions of Christmas book and pass them out this week.
|Christmas is on a Sunday this year. We have decided not to gather for worship that morning so that you can spend time with friends and family.
For those who want to attend a worship service on Christmas Day, there are area churches that will be holding services (Immanuel Baptist, Fellowship Bible Church, Christ Community Church, and others).
We will plan to gather for corporate worship again on Sunday morning, January 1, 2023.
year end giving – important information
Finally, a reminder that if you are thinking about making a year-end financial gift to help with the ongoing work of our church in 2023, and if you’d like for that gift to be able to be counted as a tax deduction in 2022, we will need to have your gift in hand by December 31, 2022.
If you’re mailing a check, make sure the envelope is postmarked by that date (remember, December 31 is a Saturday, so the post office will close early).
If you’re giving a gift on line, make sure you submit your gift before midnight central time on December 31.
If you’d like to deliver a check, this Sunday will be the last Sunday morning opportunity in 2022 to put a gift in the giving box. After Sunday, any gift you’d like to hand deliver must be in our hands by Saturday, December 31, 2022. You can bring a check to me, to Pastor Matt, or any of the elders. We’ll make sure it’s noted as a 2022 contribution.
Over the next three weeks, we’ll take a break from our study in the Gospel of John. This Sunday, as we prepare to celebrate the greatest gift ever given, we’ll talk about the givingness of God and how we are called to make this divine attribute true for each one of us as well.
See you in church.
Soli Deo Gloria!