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Unity in the Faith

September 20, 2007

Eph 4:11-13 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

The Holy Spirit, speaking through the apostle Paul, teaches us that the maturing of the church should lead to unity in the faith. There is only one faith on which we are to build unity (vs 5). What is that faith?

Often we find Christians failing to be unified because of differing understandings of scripture. They may believe different things about instrumental music, or predestination, or the resurrection, or a thousand other topics. It is often argued that we cannot share the same faith if we do not share the same doctrinal understandings, even on such issues as music. Is this what the scriptures mean by “unity in the faith”?

Faith [Gk pisteuo] is fundamental to salvation:

Joh 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes [Gk pisteuo] in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Rom 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe [Gk pisteuo] in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Mar 16:16 Whoever believes [Gk pisteuo] and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe [apisteo] will be condemned.

Note however that two of the above passages link salvation to faith plus something (confess Jesus is Lord; baptism). In the Romans passage, our salvation is conditional upon making a sincere and legitimate commitment to obey Jesus as Lord. In the Mark passage, salvation is made conditional upon a particular case of obedience. This is consistent with what Paul wrote in the introduction to Romans:

Rom 1:5 Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.

We are called to the kind of faith that produces obedience.

But does unity require complete agreement on every matter of obedience? Romans 14 answers that for us:

Rom 14:2-4 One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Note that the two people described do not agree on what it means to obey in the case of eating meat. Each one is responsible to obey what he understands. They share the same kind of faith in Jesus, but that faith produces differences in obedience in the two men, because they have different understandings on the subject of eating meat.

So, what is the faith on which we are to be united? From John 3:16, we are to have faith in Jesus. Rom 10:9 further clarifies that we are to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. And Mark 16:15-16 tells us that we must believe the gospel that has been preached. Paul made it clear in 1 Cor 15:1-11 what makes up the gospel, which must be believed: the facts about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf, because of our sins. These are the facts that one must believe to be saved. These facts define the faith (belief) that in turn defines the boundaries of unity.

Many other matters that divide Christians fall under the category of obedience, rather than faith. Take instrumental music as an example. One person believes singing in worship must be a cappella. Another believes it may be accompanied by instruments. As long as each is practicing according to his conscience, they are to be accepted by one another, just as the two men in Romans 14 were to accept one another despite different views on eating meat.

Note, the fact that each is following his conscience does not necessarily mean each is accepted by God:

Rom 14:22-23 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

Either, or both, may be condemning himself by what he approves. Even so, if the two cannot come to agreement on what is required for obedience, they must not quarrel nor judge one another, but instead they must keep their convictions to themselves, and leave the matter in God’s hands. (The few limited exceptions to this are spelled out in scripture; for example, 1 Cor 5:9-11 ) It is before God that each stands or falls. And God is able to make both of them stand.

So we are to be united based on our faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and on our mutual commitment to obey Him, beginning at baptism. Given those things, we are to accept one another, to live according to our own consciences, and leave judging up to God. May we all learn to accept one another as Christ accepted us.

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4 comments

  1. Alan-One of the things that I wonder is where does faith come in when we have to know all the answers and be able to explain everything about everything? It seems to me that in Churches of Christ there has been this belief that we have it all figured out but what does that mean for faith? I love what Paul says in 1 Cor. 13:8-13. We live in a state where we can never know everything about everything and we won’t until that great day of the Lord. Until then faith, hope, and love are what we have.


  2. Hi Kent,There are some in the churches of Christ who seem to think salvation is achieved through precise, accurate, detailed knowledge, and exact replication of the pattern they think they see in the scriptures for worship and church polity. The one thing they seem to have replicated most faithfully is the heart of the Pharisees. They strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel. They should accept their brothers and sisters, without neglecting the things required by their own consciences.


  3. thanks, alan!


  4. I agree wholeheartedly Alan. I have recently moved to Fort Worth, working for the Baker Blvd. Church here. In our Wednesday small groups we are talking about the mystery of God. It seems that in our rationalistic thinking, we have tried to take all of the mystery out of things. Mystery and not knowing is an important element in the Christian faith, though. I appreciate your consistent attempts to shed light on these places where we have fallen short in Churches of Christ historically.



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