Friday, January 16, 2009

Does Church Unity mean Silence?

If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men. (Romans 12:18 RV)

Good-by, my friends. Do better and pay attention to what I have said. Try to get along and live peacefully with each other. Now I pray that God, who gives love and peace, will be with you. (2 Cor 13:11 CEV)

giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph 4:3 RV)

Try to live at peace with everyone! Live a clean life. If you don't, you will never see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14 CEV)

Some organizations and religious bodies demand unity and peace beyond all else. Put up and shut up. Don't make any waves. Endure your imperfect brothers for the sake of unity. But is this the Christian way? How did the early Christians resolve disputes? Did they tolerate imperfection in their brothers?

Note that he tells the offended party to go directly to the source and work it out.
(Matthew 5:21-24)
The pattern is as follows.
1. Go directly to your brother to work it out.
2. If that doesn't work, talk about it with some witnesses present.
3. If that doesn't work, bring it before the congregation.
(Matthew 18:15-17)

Where in the following two examples are the elders as intermediaries? Closed door meetings? Private reproof? It is clear that disputes are to be handled in public, so that no-one can question the wisdom of the decision.

I think the first big dispute came over the treatment of widows. (Acts 6).
Did the widows keep silent and "wait on Jehovah"? No!
Here's the pattern of dispute resolution I see here:

1. Widows complain.
2. The twelve called everyone together and suggested that someone be assigned to take care of it.
3. The multitude agreed, and the problem was resolved to everyone's satisfaction.
Fairly open and democratic, wouldn't you say? The widows were not obliged to wait until Jehovah noticed their plight.

The disciples weren't sure how to take the dramatic conversion of Saul. (Acts 9).
Did Barnabas keep silent in the face of the apostle's skepticism, in order to keep the unity? Did he "wait on Jehovah" for them to see the light? No.

Barnabas brought Paul before the apostles and described to them all that he had seen Paul do, and how he had put his life in danger for the gospel. The apostles then accepted Paul.
Barnabas spoke up for an honorable man.


He goes on a delightful rant to the Corinthian church to work out minor disputes amongst themselves (1 Corinthians 6).

Now remember, this is the early church, where the Holy Spirit was in daily evidence, and they worked togehter "with one accord" (Acts 2:46). The Christians would never be in as much unity as those early days. Nevertheless, they had disputes. They aired their concerns, and they found their way.

From these examples, the bible pattern is pretty clear. Air your feelings. Don't bury it, don't hide it, and don't pretend it's not a problem. Get it out in the open, and deal with it. And for God's sake, don't wait for Jehovah to take care of it.