Obstacles to Christian Unity

Jesus prayed that we would be perfectly one so that the world would know the Father sent him (Jn. 17:22). Paul said that division is a work of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21). Actually he said that denominations are a work of the flesh.

In the KJV, one of the words in the list of works of the flesh is “heresies.” That is a transliteration (a non-translation, in which you simply rewrite the word with an English spelling) of the Greek word haireseis. Most modern translations render it as “factions.”

That word is used five times in the Book of Acts, and each time it refers to one of the sects of Judaism, such as the Sadducees, Pharisees, and even once in reference to “the Way,” which is what the Christians were being called. In other words, haireseis could legitimately be translated “denominations.”

The question is, if Jesus prayed for perfect unity and denominations are a work of the flesh that could keep us out of heaven (Gal. 5:21), how do we change the way things are? Unity isn’t exactly what American Christians are known for. In fact, we’re famous for our division, and we’re busily exporting it to the rest of the world, training them to divide according to doctrine and denomination just the way we do.

How do we get out of this pattern?

First, the word “denomination” literally means “to set apart by name.” You can quit calling yourself a name. “I’m a Baptist”; “I’m Assembly of God”; “I’m a Presbyterian”; “I’m Calvinist”; “I’m an Arminian”; All these names divide us from one another. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for this very thing: “For you are still fleshly . . . While one of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not fleshly?”

Friends, the devil is laughing at us. He wants us to believe that it is impossible to obey Christ. He wants us to believe that unity is impossible, and he wants us to believe that we have no choice but live in the works of the flesh: schisms, divisions, denominations. That’s a dangerous place to stay, since those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of heaven.

One small step, clearly taught in Scripture. Stop calling yourself by a name. We’ll talk more about these names later, as we talk about how to come into unity with those from another denomination.

Up the road, I’m going to ask you some really hard things, so you’d better decide here whether it’s Jesus and Paul who are opposed to our divisions and denominations or just me. Look at the Scriptures above and decide whether this matter of unity and division is important because you are not going to follow through if you don’t decide. This first step is easy; some of the others are not. They’ll involve letting go of things your flesh treasures. There’s a reason Paul calls denominations a work of the flesh, you know.

About paulfpavao

I am a church historian and pastor, but I do occasionally play APBA baseball for fun.
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