The current topic of religious conversation at the moment is the attempt to create Christian unity. We have visits by Archbishops and other leaders of religious denominations to one another and to the Pope, prayers are said for "unity" in churches of all kinds of religious affiliations, even including some which are by definition non-Christian, while groups of Churches in various districts hold united services to promote the idea of the moment. Superficially, there would appear to be much common-sense about all this, for nothing is more farcical than the sectarian divisions of our day, where every person with a religious bee in his bonnet is eager to start yet another sect, or splinter movement from an existing sect. It would all. be very funny were it not so pathetic, especially since the doctrinal differences which separate the sects are seldom understood by the mass of their adherents. Certainly, these doctrinal differences will never be resolved into a common doctrine, and any religious unity which may be attained will almost inevitably be at the cost of the surrender of what fragments of Scriptural truth the individual sects possess. The whole matter could not be better calculated to underline the sin of sectarianism, and the essential differences between religion and the faith that is in Christ Jesus. Nor could anything show more clearly the almost complete disregard which religion has for the Scriptures.
In referring to religion and its wide departure from Christian truth; substituting, as it does, a philosophy vaguely based on Scripture for a true belief in the Scriptures; it should be noted that in a godless era such as the present the habit of attending public worship, nevertheless, is a good one and should be encouraged even if only as an example to those around us who would prefer to leave God entirely out of the reckoning. It is fatally easy for true believers to form a non-sectarian sect, and to adopt an unscriptural attitude of superiority towards those who do not enjoy the advantages of the light which has been given to us. We should "follow righteousness with all them who call on the Lord out of a pure heart."
The blindness of those who strive for a religious unity lies in the fact that they seem unaware that God has already created a unity, a unity of spirit, which we are instructed to endeavour to keep, in the bond of peace. By "endeavour" I take it that Paul means that we should do our utmost, but on the surface it seems that many of us do not try very hard, certainly not with the vigour with which we seize on doctrinal differences as opportunities to break it
We ought to take a fresh look at our working instructions; we are entreated by the prisoner of the Lord to walk worthily of the calling with which we are called, with all humility and meekness, bearing with one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. All this, and much more, practical instruction can be found in the fourth chapter of Ephesians--that most transcendent of all transcendent writings.
Religious unity is based on the idea that the special interpretations and methods of the great denominations, previously insurmountable barriers to union, can now be dispensed with in the "light" of modern thought. Doctrine is at a discount, and those who once fought fiercely for their respective creeds now care less for their convictions than for economy. The main thing seems to be that the machinery of organisation should be put upon an effective basis. The Slanderer must always have his counterfeit, and so we have this movement towards unity, a false one, running parallel with the true unity, the unity of spirit realised by those who understand that they are one with all saints, and despite difficulties have a duty to endeavour to preserve this God-made unity. Gods people do not need to "unite," for all who are Christs are already one.
The moment man makes a unity he breaks the one already made, because in effect he creates another sect. It is true that Paul entreats the saints to be "like-minded " so far as possible, but human nature is such that it is extremely unlikely that we shall all come to agree on every detail. Peace is the true bond of unity. Naturally there can be no peace where there are radical differences of doctrine, and the essential basis both of peace and unity is that we should be saints with all that the word implies of Scriptural meaning, and we should pursue a manner of life becoming to saints. In another place Paul enjoins his hearers to withdraw from some whose walk is an offence.
Religious unity is a business proposition, and there is no doubt about the enormous waste of money and effort in religious work. The "modernist" (so-called) element already dominates the machinery of the larger denominations, and should an apparent unity be reached it will be no more than the over-all control passing to men who have little faith in the Scriptures. Such a unity will be broken immediately by those who still believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures. Past history leads us to believe that they will then begin to divide among themselves, probably over some doctrinal reasoning which cannot be found in Scripture at all! Fundamentalism is really little more than traditionalism, based largely on the creeds or upon hymn-writers theology, plus an assortment of old wives tales. Nothing is fundamental outside the Word of God.
Despite all the machinery of church organisation which exists today, there is still only one way of having dealings with God, and that is individually. Many of Gods saints may be members of religious organisations, but they get nothing of a spiritual nature merely because of their membership. They may obtain social or cultural advantages, but spiritual blessings come from personal devotional relationships with God in and through Christ, and personal devotional relationships with others like wise in touch with Him. These spiritual blessings may be ours either in or out of an organisation. We are told that religious organisations arise through a desire for common worship between those like-minded, but this may be had without any form of denominational machinery, associations, federations and the like. The real reason for forming a denomination probably arises from some misconception of service, the assumed need for co-operative effort, in which unfortunately the means soon becomes greater than the end for which it was started.
The Church of Christ IS ONE BODY. It is not an organisation which a man may join, but an organism into which the Spirit baptises a believer. In this organism it is the duty of the members to preserve the unity which God has made. Unity of spirit and all that it implies comes from the implementation of the light and truth and peace to be found in the Head of the Church. It does not come from organisational effort, a mere man-made thing.
Spiritual life is concerned only with God, His Word, His Will and the Worship to which He is entitled. Religious life is something at a purely human level, evidenced by the fact that the Word of God and the Will of God are frequently seen to be quite contrary to religious activity. You can start religious life anywhere, but spiritual life starts with a conviction of sin and with repentance. Religions reform, while Christ re-creates.
There are many passages in the epistles to Timothy which bear on this matter. The church which at first is referred to as the pillar and ground of the truth is later spoken of as a great house filled with vessels both to honour and dishonour. It certainly qualifies for the latter description today, that is, so far as the nominal church i,s concerned. We also learn that "the Lord knoweth them that are His"-- and only the Lord. We are not called upon to determine this. We can, as suggested earlier, form a conclusion from a manner of life, for everyone who names the name of the Lord should depart from iniquity. We are one in spirit with all who call on the Lord out of a clean heart, and who honour His Word for what it is. The only true unity is the unity of the spirit; corporate unity will never come without the Lords personal presence. Sectarianism is an impervious coating which truth cannot penetrate. Let us have none of it, even in its subtler forms. It is a device of Satan, masquerading as an angel of light, using Scripture to divide saint against saint. We should not be ignorant of his devices. Our duty is clear, we have to endeavour to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.
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