What price unity?


Shane Hughes asks what shapes our Church, and how what we do can help or hinder Christian unity…

A colleague of mine recently asked me about what church I went to, and what the difference was between my church and the one next to it.

I explained the best I could, but this only led to more questions about the other denominations, concluding with a very challenging question, “If you all believe in the same God and all read the same bible, how can there be such differences?” Ouch!
When I was invited to church at the age of 16, it was to a fairly conservative Baptist Church, but it had a good youth club and so it had some appeal to me. Fast forward 28 years and I am still going to a Baptist Church, but don’t see myself as a Baptist per se, but as a ‘disciple of Christ’. This way of thinking has challenged me in how I view the Church, and question how and why Churches do things.
What does a church do that is a biblical requirement, and what does it do which is a result of human personality?
The reason I ask myself this is because if what we do is simply based on what is acceptable to us, as opposed to what is biblical, then we can create barriers for those who don’t agree with our own principles.
Let’s say for instance I enjoy a certain style of worship. I find others who also enjoy this style, and we voice our opinions loud enough so that soon this is the only style of worship that is played. After a time, it becomes a requirement for the worship band to play this way, until it becomes hardwired into those who attend the church that it is the only way to worship and therefore all other ways are seen to be inferior at the least, and heresy at worst. This is clearly a very broad way of thinking, but demonstrates how in any organisation, where enough people believe a certain way, their behaviour or belief can create a culture.
In a Church, ‘culture’ could restrict growth. We can become arrogant in our ways, and lose out on the joy God has in store for us because we are only thinking about doing things our way, as opposed to His.
This is nothing new. During Jesus time of ministry he challenged the religious leaders. There were groups who put more emphasis on a certain way of thinking and living, distancing themselves from those who believed something else. They all had access to the teachings, but they held on to what they believed as being more important, and so each group soon became the de facto way of living. With each group declaring they were the ‘right way’.
Jesus of course challenged this way of thinking, challenging them to examine why they did what they did and why they believed what they believed. Matthew 23:27 [Full Chapter]
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”
This of course brought hatred, anger and a desire to get rid of this “blasphemer”. Jesus however, declared love for everyone; a removal of the set draconian ways of living and putting one another first. Many people began to believe this new way of thinking, but the religious leaders of the day saw them as opponents to their way of living.
Do we all believe and act in exactly the same way? Of course not. But 1 Corinthians 1:10 tells us that we should strive to agree and not cause divisions, that we should try to understand one another and get along.
I like a certain style of worship songs, someone else will like another style. Biblically, one is not better than the other and therefore it is not in the interest of us as brothers and sisters to bring this into contention. Some prefer little pre-sliced wafer communion bread, others prefer a large loaf to tear, some prefer dressing up for church, others prefer to be comfortable, some prefer a set regime of service, others prefer a freedom to change things around. Some prefer hands raised, others prefer a stillness of quiet reflection.

It is vital to understand that many, if not most of the things we do in church, we do so based on human endeavours as opposed to biblical requirement.
This means that not only can things change in your Church, but more importantly that the Church down the road will more than likely have the same Spirit filled, God blessed congregation that your Church has. This means it is vital that instead of seeing the differences between Churches, we see the potential for growth. The possibility that by working together the Gospel may be spread.
As God’s people, let’s endeavour to support one another. Broadcast to your congregation, what the other Churches are doing, and encourage them. Instead of 5 churches having 5 separate activities, with 50 people each, let’s all come together and have 250 people all in the spirit praising God together. What a difference that could make!
Shane is married to Lydia and they have 3 young children. He has been a disciple of Christ for over 20 years and is still learning! He is currently one of the leaders at Colchester Road Baptist Church. His passion lies in men’s ministry and is one of the coordinators for Christian Vision for Men in Ipswich. 
The thoughts expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of Network Suffolk.