Have you ever wondered, “How should Christians work together to accomplish the work of the Kingdom of God? Why do there have to be so many things which divide us? Why can’t we all just get along?” For the purpose of our study, we are not going to delve into discussions of denominational structure or church governance, but rather we are going to look at what the Bible has to say about those things which unify or divide us, both in our personal relationships and our Kingdom endeavors. These truths apply to our lives, not only as a church, but as individual Christians.
Why can’t all people claiming to be Christians be joined together for the advancement of the Kingdom? When looked at on the surface, it would seem this is a valid question. After all, don’t we all love Jesus? Don’t we all want to do His will on this earth? Aren’t we all His children? Why can’t we all just get along?
Perhaps more than any other day since the first couple of centuries of Christianity, we are living in a day of religious pluralism; a day when the most highly touted virtue is tolerance. Tolerance and acceptance are the mottos of the day. These fit hand in hand with the philosophy of the day, postmodernism, which sees all truth claims as being equal. So, when we, as New Testament Christians, because of deep doctrinal differences, refuse to join forces with others who also call themselves Christians, we come off as being intolerant, narrow minded, and elitist. They mock and scorn us, calling us fundamentalists and extremists.
There are those within nearly every church, who in their spiritually adolescent naiveté, question why we cannot simply join hands with anyone who calls themselves a Christian. But, for all their sincerity, they fail to recognize we are bound, not by what seems right to us, not by what the world would dictate as being tolerant, but we are bound by Scripture itself. We are bound by the Word of God.
The Scripture has a lot to say about unity; about with whom we are to associate. But it also has a great deal to say about who we should avoid, about with whom we should intentionally disassociate ourselves.
There are basically two realms in which we are called to be circumspect, vigilant, and cautious about our relationships. One is in the area of personal relationships and the other is in the area of our religious practice. Interestingly enough the two have a way of influencing one another.
Beginning back in the Book of Exodus and throughout the Old Testament, God is clear that His people should not corrupt themselves by allowing themselves to be in fellowship with the pagans around them. As God is making a covenant with the Israelites, He warns them against being in fellowship with the nations who occupied the Promised Land: “Be careful not to make a treaty with the inhabitants of the land that you are going to enter; otherwise, they will become a snare among you. Instead, you must tear down their altars, smash their sacred pillars, and chop down their Asherah poles. You are to never bow down to another god because the Lord, being jealous by nature, is a jealous God. Do not make a treaty with the inhabitants of the land, or else when they prostitute themselves with their gods and sacrifice to their gods, they will invite you, and you will eat of their sacrifice. Then you will take some of their daughters [as brides] for your sons. Their daughters will prostitute themselves with their gods and cause your sons to prostitute themselves with their gods” (Ex. 34:12-16).
God has always warned His people to keep themselves from being in intimate fellowship with those who are not believers. Invariably, when we are too close to the wrong people, they have a tendency to draw us away from the Lord. Psalm 1:1 tells us, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers.” Proverbs 4:14-15 instructs us saying, “Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evildoers. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way.”
Go through the Old Testament and you will find that the Israelites were consistently disobedient at this point and the compromise God warned would occur should they be in fellowship with the nations around them was the very thing which led them into sin. There’s no greater example of this than Solomon himself, whose foreign wives caused him to compromise his walk with God and brought the practice of idol worship back into the land.
The New Testament carries this thought forward, warning us against being in league with the lost who surround us. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be deceived: bad company corrupts good character.” 2 Corinthians 6:14 says, “Do not be yoked [mismatched] together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” This speaks to who we are in business with, it speaks to who we marry; it speaks to every intimate relationship in our lives. Young people, before you start dating someone, one of the first conversations you have should be about what that other person believes about Jesus. If they don’t believe in Jesus like you do, if they don’t hold to a sound doctrine about who He is, don’t date them. The Bible does not advocate “missionary dating.” You say, “But Pastor that’s rather radical, don’t you think?” Actually, it’s not only radical, it’s also Scriptural. Don’t be unequally yoked.
The Scripture does not tell us we cannot befriend lost people or be acquainted with them, rather it tells us that our intimate relationships should not be with anyone unless they are committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to His truth revealed in Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 5:9-11, Paul writes to the church at Corinth about this issue. If there was ever a church which faced this issue, it was the church at Corinth. He says, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister [believer], but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” In 1 Timothy 6, Paul says: “If anyone teaches other doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, they are conceited, understanding nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind…”
Again, in 2 John 9-11, Scripture clearly directs us not to be in fellowship with those who claim to be Christians, but do not hold to sound doctrine: “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.” The clear teaching here is that we are not to be in fellowship, much less join in Kingdom endeavors with those who do not hold to sound doctrine.
This is the very reason doctrine is important. Some people call themselves Christians, but they don’t mean what we mean (or better yet, what the Bible means). Some people do not believe Jesus is the Christ, the only begotten Son of God. Some people do not believe Jesus shed His blood to atone for the sins of the world. Some people do not believe Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, but rather Jesus is a way, a truth, and a way of life.
I ask you, would you want to belong to a church that embraced such heresy? As Christians we cannot join in Kingdom activities with those who do not believe the truth about Jesus. What would we do together? How could we evangelize together when they don’t believe the basic doctrines of the Christian faith (i.e. the atoning work of Jesus Christ)? How could we build churches with those who don’t see the Kingdom of God as we do? Who would we reach and what would we preach if Jesus were merely one of many ways?
This is why we can’t all get along. Fundamental views of truth and falsehood separate us. Foundational differences over the nature of Scripture, the person of Christ, the nature of salvation, the eternal destiny of man, and the end of the ages will forever be the line of distinction between those of us who hold to biblical truth and those who are willing to compromise with the spirit of the age. While the world may call us rigid; while they may accuse us of intolerance and of being narrow minded; our concern should always lie with what Jesus tells us, not with what others say about us.
Maybe what we need in religious circles today is not more union, but some wise and courageous division. The reason we can’t all get along is because we weren’t meant to. Jesus Himself said this in Matthew 10:34 when He said, “Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” We are the light of the world and were not meant to be mixed with darkness. That does not give us a license to be malicious for Jesus or to have a holier than thou attitude; we are still called to speak the truth in love, but at the same time we must be prudent in our relationships, both personal and ecclesiastical.
But we need to bring balance to this truth about division: “There is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing” (Ecc. 3:5).
In Part 2 of this article, we will consider three broad areas where we as Christians are to be united.