The image at right is a poster that was recently found after Sunday morning services to have been attached to the front door of a local Lutheran congregation either early that morning or late the evening before. It is an invitation to the members of the Lutheran congregation to join on the property of a local “non-denominational” congregation for their third annual, “Unified in Christ,” Christian music concert. This same Lutheran congregation declined to place a yard sign in the churchyard offering the same invitation in the previous year. Below is the pastor’s response included with the weekly bulletin on the weekend of the concert.
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10-11)
The division of Christendom into “denominations” and sects is an evil which scandalizes believers and unbelievers alike. At the same time, as we seek to express the true unity of the faith established by Christ, there is a danger of a greater evil. Jesus and all the Apostles He sent to teach the church warn against it as they appeal to us to, “to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine (teaching) that you have been taught [by the Apostles and teachers sent by Jesus]; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” (Romans 16:17-18)
In the opening words of St. Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth, He does not encourage the Church to ignore their disagreements or call them unimportant. He doesn’t say that they should pretend to be unified in Christ when they actually are not. Rather, this Apostle sent by Jesus says, “I appeal to you . . . that all of you agree . . . that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
Paul calls the Corinthians to TRUE unity which exists in agreement, specifically agreement concerning what is taught and practiced in the church. He forbids the idea that those who hold different beliefs and confessions concerning Jesus’ teachings can claim to be unified in Christ. True unity in Christ can only be declared to exist when the people of Christ are of, “the same mind and the same judgment,” concerning Christ’s teachings.
We see this as St. Paul takes the Corinthian Christians to task over their practice of the Lord’s Supper (where some were getting drunk on the alcoholic wine[!] served at the holy meal). St. Paul says that they come together for, “the worse.” This is not because of their unchristian behavior. It is because as they come together to share this sacred meal, they are declaring and proclaiming that they are unified in Christ when, in fact, there are serious divisions among them.
St. Paul writes, “When you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” (1 Corinthians 11). Notice, St. Paul does not chide them over the mere existence of the divisions.
In light of his comments about unity from Chapter 1, it is clear that St. Paul’s most serious objection is the false claim that they are unified in Christ, when, in fact, they are not. Where real divisions exist, they cannot be ignored.
Jesus calls those who are not sent by Him “thieves and robbers” (John 10:1). This includes anyone who raises themselves up over the flock of Christ and presumes to teach in the Church without a proper call. Jesus does not mince words. He says that they are, “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” (Matthew 7:15) and that they come “only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). This shows itself clearly in how many of them treat the most basic teachings of Jesus and can be clearly seen in how they teach human wisdom and thoughts instead of clinging to Jesus’ words and promises when they teach about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
This is one reason that Paul closely ties the disunity of the body over the practice of the Corinthians in their “coming together” (I.e, outwardly showing unity) for the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-34). After restating Jesus’ clear words where Jesus emphatically says of the bread, “This is my body,” and of the contents of the cup, “This is my blood,” the Holy Spirit causes St. Paul to speak words that confront those who today teach falsely about the Lord’s Supper as he writes, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.”
It is impossible to read these words and permit oneself to believe what many who teach in the Church today falsely pass off as the teachings of Jesus. Jesus words are clear. The bread and the wine of Holy Communion do not merely represent the body and blood of Jesus. The truth revealed by Jesus and restated here by the inspired Apostle Paul is clear. It is, indeed, the true body and blood of Jesus that is distributed and received, eaten and drunk (with the bread and the wine) in Holy Communion. Paul carefully explains what this eating and drinking “in an unworthy manner,” is. He says that the person, “not discerning the body and the blood,” eats and drinks judgment upon themselves instead of receiving the blessing Jesus intends. This is the deadly fruit of false teachers who claim that Jesus’ words, “this is my body. . . this is my blood,” do not mean what he clearly taught as truth.
Our Lord’s teaching concerning Baptism has also historically been a contentious issue over which it becomes obvious that we are not unified in Christ. As the false teachers claim that Baptism is man’s work or when they claim it is merely an outward symbol of an inward change, they deny Jesus’ clear statement delivered by the Holy Apostle, St. Peter, “Baptism now saves you.”
In most cases, the innovators are those who are (knowingly or unknowingly) working to destroy Christ’s Church. They frequently try to claim that there is “enough room for differing opinions.” Calling themselves “Christian” teachers and preachers, they seek to deny the plain teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ while they (often unwittingly) lead people away from Jesus.
Paul warns about this very thing as he meets with the pastors of the Church at Ephesus, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears” (Acts 20:28-31).
Jesus’ promise to true believers is that, “I know my own and my own know me,” (John 10:14) and, “a stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him.” (John 10:5). And as Jesus speaks of the unity of His flock, Jesus says, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
Interestingly enough, the separatists who boldly assert that we are “unified in Christ,” and seek other local congregations to “come together” with them for food and fellowship (even if the Lord’s Supper is not served) acknowledge that there is good reason for separation. By their actions and behaviors, they prove that their claim of being “unified in Christ” is a sham.
They do this by continuing to gather separately from all the other congregations in the area. They do it by attempting to retain and promote their own identity as an independent gathering of Christ’s saints, even when they are without a shepherd for their sect. Rather than merging with another local congregation and concretely showing that we are, “unified in Christ,” by hearing the teachings of Jesus and receiving Christ’s blessings from one whom Christ has called and ordained and placed into office to serve Christ’s sheep in that neighborhood, they seek out another, person to serve them who will scratch their itching ears by continuing to teach them different truths than those taught by Jesus in the Scriptures.
Those who are Christ’s true sheep will not risk shipwrecking their faith in this way. They will turn a deaf ear to the liars and blasphemers who claim that we are “unified in Christ,” when there remains disagreement over what Jesus teaches in the Scriptures.
There is only One Voice that unites the Church of God. It is the voice of Jesus. He promises, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
The ONE Lord Jesus sets the standard of teaching in His Church. He alone lays out the truth which all who teach in His Church must agree upon if they claim to be unified in Him.
It is simply not possible to truthfully claim to be unified in Christ unless we are, “united in the same mind and the same judgment,” concerning what Jesus taught.
If we are Christ’s sheep who abide and remain in the truth, we will refuse to falsely proclaim that we are “unified in Christ” with those who are not of the same mind and judgment.