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Fellowship And Christian Unity

We recognize the overruling hand of God in the preparation of the following article. It was completed and submitted to editors just before the writer's sudden home-call in January of this year. We are privileged to publish it and remember our dear brother's many Christian qualities.

Unity is an asset to any cause and very many people today are wanting to see unity amongst Christians. Scripture indicates that the will of God is to "gather together into one the children of God that are scattered abroad" (John 11:52).

In the present Situation we do not see this; instead, we see Christians separated in many different associations, diverse in doctrine and diverse in practice. The Adversary has been very successful in scattering the children of God.

In John 17 we read of the prayer that the Lord Jesus made to His Father shortly before going to the cross. He prayed for those His Father had given Him out of the world, that they would be one. While He had been with them He had kept them, and His prayer was that after He had left them they would still be kept, sanctified in the truth. They were still to be in the world, but not of it; they were to be separated to Him. He had a purpose for them in the world; they were to be sent out in testimony. As a result of their testimony, others would believe "Them also that believe on Me through their word" (John 17:20). The Lord Jesus longed that all these would be together in unity, "That they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee" (John 17:21). Before He finally left them, this was the great objective set before His disciples, "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations" (Mat. 28:19).

They waited until the Holy Spirit was given, and then, in the great days following Pentecost, they went out proclaiming the gospel in obedience to their Lord's command. Many responded to the message and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. When they believed they were baptized in one Spirit into one Body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free (1 Cor. 12:13). Such was the case when Peter preached in the house of Cornelius. On the Gentiles was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-47). All those who believed were secure in that unity, the Church which is the Body of Christ; the Church of which the Lord Himself is the Builder and against which the gates of Hades cannot prevail (Mat. 16:18). So it has continued until today. All who believe are baptized into one Body; they become members of the Church which is the Body of Christ and the unity of that Church none can despoil.

It was not for this unity that the Lord Jesus prayed when He said, "That they may all be one". He was praying for a people together in collective life and testimony, which is God's purpose in this present day. In the Scriptures such a unity is set before believers as an attainable reality. This is a unity which manifests unity of doctrine, unity of heart and soul and unity of worship and testimony.

Unity of doctrine

There can only be one basis for unity of doctrine - the revealed will of the Sovereign Lord as set out in the Scriptures. That every Scripture is God-breathed and in consequence is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16 AV). The Lord Jesus spent forty days after His resurrection and before He went back to heaven teaching the disciples the things concerning the kingdom of God, and those things have been passed on to us by faithful men who "spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21). Through them we have been given that body of doctrine, the Faith which was once for all delivered

to the saints, which we are to hold. We have no authority either to add to it or to take away from it. The will of the Lord set out those years ago is the will of the Lord today and we are exhorted to contend earnestly for it. The inspired Scripture, revealed by the Holy Spirit, is the teacher, and as we submit to the teaching we shall know unity of doctrine. If we have strayed from the teaching (individually or collectively), the same inspired Word is profitable for reproof and correction and it behoves us to take heed to it. So, subjection to the revealed will of the Lord brings us to the collective unity of the people of God today: churches of God, as they are called in Scripture. In each church of God believers are found together in acknowledgement of the absolute Lordship of Christ, a divine unity. But churches of God do not exist simply individually and independently. They are united together in one Fellowship for they comprise all the saints "called into the Fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor. 1:9). All the churches have the same teaching (1 Cor. 4:17), they have the same customs (1 Cor. 11:16), they have a unity of doctrine which is the outcome of subjection to one Lord. This is a unity which Satan attempts to destroy, hence the need for us to heed Jude's warning to contend earnestly for the Faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

Unity of heart and soul

It is one thing to have been gathered together on the basis of unity of doctrine. It is another thing to live together in unity; to be of one heart and soul, as the believers were in the early days of the church (Acts 4:32). But the apostle Paul had to rebuke the church of God in Corinth because the saints were divided and their spiritual growth suffered in consequence.

In Psalm 133 the Psalmist expresses the blessedness of living together in unity. "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity". He gives two illustrations. It is like the precious oil with which Aaron was anointed and which ran down to the very skirts of his garment. We read about that oil in Exodus 30. There was no other oil like it; its perfume was unique; its fragrance was associated with the place of God's presence. Brethren living together in unity are like that. Such a unity has a unique fragrance to God and man.

The Psalmist also likens unity to the dew of Hermon which comes from the heights of the mountains and settles on the land beneath and its welcome moisture brings fruitfulness. So also, unity between brethren brings fruitfulness.

Colossians 3, verses 12 to 17 give a very helpful exhortation as to those things that need to be put on if we, of so many different natural temperaments, are to live together in unity - a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; forebearing (when we may be irritated by the attitude of some), forgiving (when we have suffered actual wrong)... and so on, throughout the whole passage; a fruitful field for meditation. May God give us grace to dwell together in unity.

Unity in worship and testimony

1 Peter 2 views believers as living stones built up into the unity of a spiritual house and in that context they function as a holy priesthood and a royal priesthood. As a holy priesthood they offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. They have the privilege of offering in the sanctuary the sacrifice of praise. The spiritual sacrifice is the product of the operation of the Holy Spirit in the heart and mind of the believer as He reveals the things of Christ, and these are expressed in the fruit of lips which makes confession to His Name (Heb. 13:15). This is a collective act of service Godward in which brethren and sisters are viewed as one.

The same people - those built up into a spiritual house - are also described as a royal priesthood to "show forth the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light". God's purpose is that His collective people should stand united in testimony manward. In the Church of God in Corinth there were many gifted men, but they were not standing together and working together. "There are contentions among you", Paul had to write to them, and the result was that their spiritual development was stunted. They needed to learn, as we need to learn, that they were God's fellow-workers. It was true that they had different work to do, one to plant and another to water, but whatever their type of service they were to be workers together for God. "He that planteth and he that watereth are one"(1 Cor. 3:8). As they worked together, God would give the increase. Only God could do that.

It was otherwise in the Church of God in Philippi. As the apostle prayed for them he could rejoice "for their fellowship in the furtherance of the gospel from the first day until now". May it be that as fellow-workers we go out,

some in various branches of activity in the field; some in the supporting role of prayer, rejoicing in the privilege of united testimony.

There is no doubt that God wants His children on earth today to be united in doctrine, in heart and soul and in worship and testimony. How can it come about? Not by compromise, but only by subjection to the revealed will of our Sovereign Lord. Paul's message to the Ephesians is of no less importance to us today:

"Walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:1-3).

The theme of fellowship and unity has featured prominently in the writings of contributors to this magazine over the years. A series on "Fellowship of Assemblies" appeared in 1889, and a series on "Fellowship and Unity" was featured in 1950. Numerous other single articles have been published periodically.