UNITY IN CHRIST
By W. G. Guy
The Book of Philemon is a brief letter that the apostle Paul wrote to Philemon about returning his runaway slave, Onesimus, back to his owner and embracing him now as his Christian brother after his conversion to Christ. Rarely is a message ever preached from this Book of the Bible, and in my more than 70 years as a born-again Christian do I ever recall hearing a message on Philemon preached.
The theme of this book is forgiveness and restoring relationships; it deals with our unity in Christ. This message is very vital to the church of today because there are so many divisions within the Body of Christ – the Church. So much so that some so-called “Christian“ groups are enemies of one another. I have personal experience in this condition amongst different church groups that I have seen throughout my years. The most extreme example is as follows:
While I was a seminary professor I was the Director of Overseas Operations as we established extension schools and classes in foreign countries. One major endeavor was in Nigeria, West Africa, where two efforts were established. One was a campus in conjunction with an existing Christian High School located 60 miles north of Calabar. The Director of this school was wonderful man that I admired and who was well qualified to head up our campus operation in Nigeria. He was also the head of a particular Christian denomination in Nigeria. I spent weeks at this location interviewing candidates and enrolling them in classes and meeting with pastors from all over Nigeria to promote the extension classes in their churches.
The other effort was the extension classes by mail-in lessons was to be managed by the head of another denomination whose office was located in Calabar. This was the mail-in effort that was more than what the main campus could handle. After settling on all necessary arrangements for the two operations I directed that the campus would be the main hub of contact for both operations and main point of contact, and the two men agreed to the terms. I returned back to home base in Florida.
After a couple months I received no communications from the operation in Calabar and wrote a letter of inquiry to that director. It takes six weeks for mail to get from here to there, and another six weeks for a reply. Finally I received a letter from our director in Calabar that was a shock to me, and it revealed a situation that they had kept hidden from me while I was in Nigeria.
The shock was the elevated role of tribalism that exists in all of Africa. I did get a sense that something was wrong while I was there, but it did not come to the surface until I received this letter. In it the director of the Calabar operation said that he could in no way work with the director of the campus operation because he was from a different tribe.
He stated that he was of the Efic tribe, and the campus director was of the Ebow tribe, and that he could not have anything to do with him financially, socially or spiritually. This was a major problem because it goes totally contrary to who we are in Christ.
Colossian 3:8-11 – But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. (Regarding other church cultures.) Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
Galatians 3:26-28 – For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
Tribal heritage has no place in Christian relationships. I’m not going to go into what I did in response except to say that God had His way in the matter that affected all of Nigeria, and they suffered for not repenting as warned. I noted also that tribalism is what "apartheid" was all about throughout all of Africa as it was in the national news regarding events in South Africa. Each tribe was out to destroy the other tribe once “apartheid” was removed! That is why the British initiated apartheid in South Africa; it was to protect the tribes from one another.
This matter of unity in Christ is also a problem in America and elsewhere. The Body of Christ, known as the Church, is not united but is greatly divided. This division may not be as serious as it is with the tribal problem as to killing one another; but there is a dis-unity, a division, and even in some instances extreme hatred toward other denominations. One example is how some non-Pentecostals oppose vehemently the Pentecostals. The dividing issue is the Baptism with the Holy Spirit and the Gifts of the Spirit; particularly speaking in tongues.
Each church group or denomination has its own unique church culture; its own way of practicing their beliefs. I have noticed great variations in church cultures in other countries as I have ministered around the world. These variations are forms of social culture. Social culture is defined as the unique character or form of common familiarity amongst a specific group of people that identify them as being different from other groups of people. These differences may cause clashes or conflicts of various forms with other cultures when taken to extremes.
Church cultural differences can be problematic. When church culture is restrictive, it limits fellowship with believers of outside church groups or denominations. This needs to change as it defies the unity of Christ.
Restoring relationships and fellowship among believers is required before the return of Christ for His church. He is not returning for a church that is divided and at odds with itself.
Ephesian 5:27, 30, 32 – that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. (Church division is a blemish.) ….. for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. ….. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
I have heard prophetic words that there is a great awakening coming before the return of Christ. I see that a major part of this great awakening should be the restoration of unity in Christ in order to fulfill what is written in the Bible.
1 Corinthians 12:12-27 – For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. 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. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: and those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our ncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
Unity does not require that we all believe and do things exactly the same; it mean that we are all headed in the same direction toward the high calling of God in Christ. Neither our Father God, or His Son Jesus Christ, made all the various church denominations; they are all man-made. However, we should recognize that there are two kinds of churches in the world today: the one that man is making, and the one that Jesus is making.
Matthew 16:16-18 – And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock (Peter’s statement above) I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
It is time to wake up and be the church that Jesus said He would build; the one that He is truly the head of. Churches need to repent of their sectarianism – separating themselves from one another! We that believe in the same Word and Jesus should be able to embrace one another and walk together; after all, we are all heading in the same direction. Our only separation is to be from this world and its ungodly ways! REPENT!