Our Kirk Session had a difficult decision to make recently. We have four elders and we had in effect three different views on the issue, each conscientiously held on biblical principles.
Our discussion was eirenic, harmonious, and open. We looked at pros and cons, and considered safeguards and protections. How could we biblically accommodate our different views in a manner that would preserve the peace and harmony of the congregation?
It so happens that in the providence of God I had been looking at Ephesians 4:1-3 and also listening to some excellent sermons on this portion of Scripture. As Paul moves from exposition of doctrine to exhortation regarding behaviour what is his first focus?
His priority is the unity of the local church! He is writing to a single church in Ephesus and his concern is not merely unity within the wider church, (“denomination” or “presbytery” in today’s terms), but the need for this specific church at this particular time to experience and express true unity.
We can be sure that if this is a primary focus in apostolic instruction, it is equally a primary focus in satanic opposition. A disunited local church is an ineffective local church. The devil delights in disunity in the church and he will do all he can to foment such disunity whenever he can, over whatever he can and through whomever he can use. The issues may be as trivial as the colour scheme to be used in redecoration, or as vital as fundamental matters of doctrine or morality.
What does Ephesians 4:1-3 say to this situation?
It speaks of the priority of unity in the local church.
It speaks of the nature of unity in the local church – unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace, a Spirit wrought unity in a prevailing atmosphere of peace.
It speaks of the practical basis of unity in the conversion, (“calling”) and the consecration, (“walking worthy of the Lord”), of individual members of the church.
It speaks of the maintenance and development of this unity through the development of three traits of character, (meekness, gentleness, patience), and two tests of conduct, (forbearance with those from whom we differ, and the eager preservation of the Spirit wrought unity that already exists.)
Nothing could be more practical than the advice that Paul gives. The preservation of unity in the local church begins with a Christ like attitude, sacrificial conduct, and a commitment to work strenuously to preserve what the Spirit has already established.
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”