N THE chronicles of the kings of Israel, it is recorded that there were men of the tribe of Issachar “which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do … ” (1 Chronicles 12:32). The book of Esther (1:1-3) also speaks of “wise men which knew the times.” Few people really understand these times. In fact, most people are living lives quite detached from the times; they are wrapped up in their own little world while time rushes madly on toward the judgment. In their Laodicean lukewarmness, they neither see themselves nor discern the times. The lament of Isaiah was, “Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider” (Isaiah 1:3).
These are divisive times when nation rises against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and race against race. The air is filled with violence, discord, and cacophony. Anarchy and rebellion promenade the broadways; harmony has escaped us and unity has taken its flight. Selfishness reigns and division rules. The sad results of all this is confusion, consternation, and chaos. If one thinks upon these times with all of their perils, he will almost despair, as did John Polycarp, the first of the early fathers following the apostles, when he saw the steady departure from the faith in his day. He said, “O good God, to what times hast Thou spared me, that I may suffer these things.”
Now I am not despairing of these times. But in this critical hour, we need to have an understanding of the times to know what the Church of God ought to do. In my opinion, one of the foremost needs of this hour is the unity of the body of Christ-the unity of the Spirit, the unity of the faith, and the unity of purpose. The church must present a true, united front to a divided world.
The awareness of the need for unity has created an ecumenical move in Christian circles. Churches are merging, and amalgamations or unions are frequent. Much of this activity, however, is not from a base of strength but from weakness; not from courage but from fear; not from conviction but of necessity for existence. But an organic union or a federation which requires a compromise of distinct foes, a compromise of doctrine, and a compromise of position cannot result in spiritual power or spiritual benefit.
The guest for unity can take on many forms. It can even be prompted by desire for worldly power. This is the error to which the early church succumbed, and it resulted in the Dark Ages. The church became interested in being a political force and a world power, rather than being a power in the world. The result was that emphasis was placed upon organizational union which derived its power from the wrong base. Don’t be deceived by the hue and cry of church leaders in our day who are calling for unity but who, in reality, mean a union of groups who will join tq.eir hands but not their hearts. The idea of an ecumenical church sounds good, but it must be based upon the Word if it is to be good. The unity that I am presenting does not come by mechanical means but through the Spirit. Now is the time for “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:3-5).
UNITY OF THE SPIRIT
True unity is not man-made; it is created by the Spirit. It is the work of the Spirit “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). Unity must come spontaneously through the Spirit-it cannot be forced. When the Spirit prevails and comes in like a flood, you will notice that He erases dividing lines; He overflows and blots out all of the smaller landmarks. Things which once divided us are buried in the sea of God’s forgetfulness, and we stand amidst the floodwaters of the Spirit surrounded by nothing but a sea of glory and an ocean of love. 0 for the Spirit to fall upon us to erase those things which would hinder His operation among us!
All true believers are united in Jesus Christ, for He is the head of the body, the source of a common life. Therefore, in Him we have a common life, a common duty, a common gospel to preach, and a common faith to live. We are members the one of the other. This unity encompasses all races (there is neither Jew nor Greek); it encompasses all classes (there is neither bond nor free); it encompasses all levels (there is neither male nor female)-for we are all one in Christ Jesus. As the Apostle Paul said, “And ye are complete in him” (Colossians 2:10).
While it is true that the Spirit is the author of unity, we are admonished to endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). We must guard it, maintain it, and cherish it. And as the Scripture says, this is an endeavor-it takes a strenuous effort on our part. True unity is based on humility and love.
There is only one way that contention can arise in a church, and that is through pride. I base this statement on the Word of God, “Only by pride cometh contention” (Proverbs 13:10). This is the major reason for the discord throughout the world. In his prophecy of these times, the Apostle Paul said, “Men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud” (2 Timothy 3:2). The pride of their hearts has deceived them, but God resists the proud. This is one of the seven deadly sins, and it has certainly left its path of death in our day.
In keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, there are three things we must do. First, we must submit to God; second, we must submit to those who are over us in the Lord; and third, we must submit to one another. Submission is a prerequisite to maintaining unity. The word submission is a military word which means “to arrange or place under, or to come under the influence of.” It is a full and unconditional surrender of the defeated enemy. It carries with it the idea that the surrendered subjects line up under the authority of the conqueror and submit to his direction. Let us consider three areas of submission essential to unity.
Submission to God. The Bible says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). This does not mean the destruction of your will, but it does mean that you allow Him to take your will and make it His will (Isaiah 64:8). It is a recognition of His complete and full control of your life. You become aware that you are not your own; you have been bought with a price. You are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works. You are His purchased possession, and He dictates your way of life and charts your course. When you submit to Him, it is an acknowledgment that He is Lord and you are His servant; He is Master and you are His subject.
Submission to those over you in the Lord. The Bible says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:1-7). On every hand, there is rebellion against authority figures, and unfortunately this same spirit has infiltrated the church. There is resentment against restraint, restriction, and discipline. As it was in the days of Moses, every man wants to do that which is right in his own eyes. The Apostle Peter reminds us that these days would produce men who would be self-willed and presumptuous, and who would despise government (2 Peter 2:10).
The Apostle Paul also lifted a flag of warning that there would be a “rebellion against constituted authority” (2 Thessalonians 2:7; Amplified New Testament). It is common to hear church members say, ”I’ll do as I please”; “I’ll withhold my support until they come to my terms”; “If the Assembly doesn’t do something, I’ll take it into my own hands”; or “I don’t care what the Minutes says.” Make no mistake about it, friend, this is the same spirit of anarchy that prevails in the world today; and it is all couched under a banner of a pursuit for freedom. But they use their freedom for a cloak of maliciousness and make it their bondage. Another look at the Scriptures reveals that “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Samuel 15:23). Most of us are concerned about the sanctification of the flesh, and rightly so; but what about the sanctification of the spirit?
There is a corresponding responsibility upon every leader to follow the guidance of the Spirit and not to be lords over God’s heritage. May those of us who are leaders of the flock command respect through our godliness. May we live in the parsonage what we preach in the pulpit. There must be a revival in our parsonages. Revival is a cutting experience. Revival is not easy; it cuts across grain. “Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God” (Joel 2:13).
Submission to each other. The Bible says, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21). This submission is a readiness to concede and to cooperate. Sometimes it will mean the surrendering of our own preferences and the esteeming of others better than ourselves. It means putting our own interests aside in order to serve others. It means bearing one another’s burdens, exhorting one another, comforting one another, edifying one another; for we are members the one of the other.
RESULTS OF UNITY
What are the results and the effects of this unity of the Spirit? No one can say it better than the Psalmist David: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore” (Psalm 133:1-3). He exclaimed, “How good and how pleasant.” The word which is used here for pleasant is used also in the Hebrew for a harmony of music, as when all the strings of an instrument blend together in one harmonious strain. It is also used for the pleasantness of a cornfield-a field clothed with corn, which provides the staff of life. The same word is also used for the sweetness of honey. No wonder the poet exclaims, “How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” He compares this unity to the precious ointment that was used in the anointing of the high priest. Unity is attractive, like the fragrant ointment which filled the house of God with a pristine freshness.
While division repels and no one wants to attend a church that is filled with discord, unity is magnetic and draws men to its presence. The anointing oil had a soothing, healing effect. Spiritual unity has a healing effect in the body of Christ. Hurts are healed, wounds are bound up, and souls are blended together. 0 for a drenching of Pentecostal oil!
He also compares this unity to the dew of snowcapped, tripeaked Mount Hermon. When the cool air of the snowy peaks of Mount Hermon meets the warm air of the desert, the clouds dispense a copious dew that is saturating, penetrating, and soaking. It is no wonder that at the base of Mount Hermon there are gardens, orchards, and fertile fields. The dew of Hermon penetrates to the roots of the trees and plants. It is not just a surface moisture. Unity is not just a surface experience; it is not diplomacy or a display-it goes deeper than that. Unity is a heart experience. Where unity prevails, there is a penetrating, saturating love that reigns; and there blessing is commanded of the Lord and life evermore.
Unity is as the bloom of the fruit and the sunshine of the landscape, as the polish of the diamond and the flush of the healthy face, as the sparkling dew upon the flowers and the azure blue of the sky. What pleasantness there is in unity. It was this type of unity for which Jesus prayed, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21).
It is this type of unity that will cause the world to believe on Jesus Christ our Lord. For they will see in us the radiation and reflection of Jesus, whom we represent. For our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son. This type of fellowship produces unity among brethren and results in the conviction and condemnation of the world.
It was this type of unity and a spirit of togetherness that made the early church so effective. In the Upper Room they experienced the unity of prayer, and they prayed with one accord in one place. Suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing, mighty wind. “All that believed were together” (Acts 2:44); “They, continuing with one accord in the temple” -there was a unity of worship. When they were persecuted-“being let go they went to their own company” -they had fellowship together. They were of one heart and one soul; they had all things common. We would do well to follow the example of the New Testament church for New Testament results.
THE UNITY OF FAITH
It is the Spirit that brings us together, but it is the like precious faith which holds us together. Our unity is secured by our faith. But throughout Christendom today, there is a crisis of faith and an erosion of the faith. Some churches have so watered down their faith that they can no longer speak the Word of God with power, since they are no longer sure of what they believe. In an endeavor to accommodate everybody, they have diluted the faith, emasculated the gospel of the Son of God, and have sacrificed power upon the altars of compromise. Many of these churches still retain the faith in their church discipline books, but they do not have it in their hearts. They hold to the faith in precept but not in practice.
There is not only a departure from the faith among traditional churches, but there is a drastic departure from the faith in Pentecostal circles. The Bible says ”.that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith” (1 Timothy 4:l); and “they will not endure sound doctrine . . . and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:3, 4). The departure is glaring: Men who are living perverted lives make a claim of the Pentecostal experience and establish churches for their own kind. Some who claim to be the children of God mix sex orgies with their so-called “spiritual exercises.” These and other drastic departures are taking place. The devil takes the advantage of this departure to make an onslaught on Pentecostals. We have come to the time when our faith will be tried from pressures without and pressures within.
Without a doubt there has been a great move of the Holy Ghost in these last days, but along with this move has come error and confusion to distract from the beauty and blessing of the Holy Ghost. There is a philosophy prevailing that Pentecost is an experience only and can be accommodated within any doctrinal framework. But I would submit that the Pentecostal experience is an experiential doctrine and that the experience is anchored in the biblical revelation. I will also submit that this experience cannot and will not survive within just any doctrinal framework. As fish cannot live out of the water, the baptism of the Holy Ghost cannot exist without holiness. Holiness is a prerequisite for the reception of the Baptism and for the maintenance of the Baptism. It is evident that now is the time for men of understanding to strive for the unity of the faith in the Church of God.
God has placed gifted men in the church: “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:12, 13). In the light of these times, let us take a look at ourselves. Sometimes it is a painful ordeal, but it is nevertheless necessary. The Bible says, “Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward” (2 John, verse 8). Again the Word of God admonishes us: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Look to yourselves that we lose not those things which we have wrought. Dr. Hugh Benner has said, “It takes but one generation, ignoring or distorting the spirit and basic issues, to change for all the future the course of a spiritual enterprise.” It only takes one generation failing to contend for the faith to bring the church to naught. This is the reason that it is so important to contend for the faith NOW! A generation from now will be too late. This is what happened to Israel. Judges 2: 10 records, “And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.” There is an urgency for us to serve our generation according to the will of God. We must realize that the course of a church is not changed only by distorting its basic issues but also by simply ignoring them. “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip” (Hebrews 2:1).
I don’t want anyone to be able to point back to this day and say, “That was the day when the church veered from its cardinal principles and started its downward trek.” This is my fortieth year as a member of the Church of God, and I can remember the evangelists of our church who came to our town to preach. These men heralded the doctrine of the church and gave direction. Their messages were not watered-down, milk-toasty, galvanized, rose-tinted essays; but they were straightforward doctrinal messages, which gave direction to their hearers. For the establishment of this church and for its preservation, death was not too great a price for these warriors of the faith to pay. They defended the truth with their lives. I must say with them “that I am set for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:17).
Today we are told that what matters is not so much what one believes as how one lives. But the truth is that what one believes determines how he lives. You cannot separate faith and commitment. The perpetuation of a church depends upon the principles on which it was founded. What the members do is a result of what they believe. Without a delineated faith and body of truth, the spiritual interest of a church will pass with the death of its leaders who founded it. I am aware that an excessive devotion to the past could retard the progress of the present. However, I am also aware that a disregard for the past also leads to a lack of appreciation for what we have and to a failure in our efforts to preserve our heritage.
The church has been weakened by the neglect of the principles of the Word on the part of its membership. There is neglect of some of our distinctives, such as the Holy Communion and Feet Washing, the baptism in the Holy Ghost with the outward initial evidence of speaking with other tongues, practical holiness, water baptism-to mention but a few. When young people can grow up in a Church of God and say “I have never attended a feet-washing service in my life,” it is time to examine our devotion to the doctrines of the Bible. When church members will readily admit that they have to inquire where the Holy Communion is being offered in order to partake of the Lord’s table, at least once annually, we need a new vision of Calvary’. A church that lives around the’ table of the Lord lives in the unity of the Spirit. When a pastor admits that no one has received the baptism of the Holy Ghost at his altars during an entire year, it is time to take a hard look at the spiritual status of that church. When the appearance, dress, and deportment of church members are a mockery to that which is set forth in the discipline, it is time for a revival of righteousness to strike the church. We will never attract the people outside the church until they see a manifestation in us of those things which we profess. They will mock us as they mocked Samson when he was stripped of his power.
The devil doesn’t care how much you place in the Minutes of the General Assembly, just so you don’t practice it. The Methodists for many years held on to doctrines and traditions that were flaunted by the congregation and ministry. Only recently did they tell the world that they did not believe in some of these things. To hold the doctrines in precept and not live them in example is to break down respect and appreciation for the church and to destroy conviction in the hearts of the people. You may look at other fundamental churches which have arisen so high and fallen so low and say, “This can never happen to us.” God forbid that it ever should. But those churches which became apostate did not mean to become apostate. These things came upon them imperceptibly, like creeping paralysis. Today there are some things that have lifted up their ugly heads among us, and we cannot sit idly by.
My friends, now is the time for us to defend the faith with our lives, and to teach it to our children and to our children’s children, lest someone should arise even in our day and say, “Where be the miracles that our fathers spake of?” or that some should say, “Where is their God?”
Church members are confused and frustrated when one minister will preach one thing and another will preach the opposite. Churches are swinging like a pendulum of a clock from the beliefs of one preacher to another. “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” ( 1 Corinthians 1:10). Now is the time for all ministers to speak the same thing. There is one Lord, and because of this there can be but one faith. There is not one doctrine for one locality and another doctrine for another locality.
On the other hand, this is no time for extremism and namecalling. Extremists divide, whether they are extreme to the left or extreme to the right. Anything less than the Word is error. Anything more than the Word is Pharisaism. Brethren, let us lift up our voices as one man, contending for the faith once delivered to the saints.
UNITY OF PURPOSE
Now I have come to the last point of my message-the unity of purpose. Some people fail to keep their faith and fail to propagate it because they have no clear idea of what they believe and why it is precious and necessary. What is our purpose as a church? We must know what the purpose is in order to rally behind it. It is not social action or humanitarian efforts, but rather revealing Jesus Christ and the Cross to a depraved world.
Carl F. Burke stated the purpose of a church in these words:
“I simply argue that the Cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap; at a crossroad so metropolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew, and in Latin, and in Greek; at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble; because that is where He died and that is what He died about and that is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen ought to be about.”
It is not our purpose to add real estate to real estate just to make a comfortable pew for a complacent saint-nor is it our purpose to glory in material gains. We must not put more money into the building than we do into the message. It is not our purpose to build a superstructure of over organization. Souls must be central to all that we do. The church does not exist for itself but for others. Jesus said, “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you” (John 20:21). Jesus is saying, “Let your ministry be like mine.” “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4: 18, 19).
Church of God, this is our purpose, and we should unify our ranks to carry it forth. This is our day, as Rubert Brooke said, “Thanks be unto God who matched us with this hour.”
This is our hour. God has matched us with it. We must not prostitute it or waste it. Night cometh when no man can work. “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee” (Isaiah 60:1), and let us go “forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners” (Song of Solomon 6:10). There is unity in the Cross, and it is there that all men stand on common ground with a common Saviour and a common faith to carry forth a common commission.