Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. (Acts 4:32, NKJV)
By this time the Jerusalem church had well over five thousand men, plus women and children (Acts 4:4). Although there were vast differences in their ethnic backgrounds, their occupations, their languages and much more, these thousands of believers had “one heart and one soul.” One Bible commentator observed, “As in a living body only one heart beats, and as it is animated by only one (soul, jrp), so it was true of this great body of believers” (R.C.H. Lenski, Acts, 186). Their common faith was the church’s pulsing heart and breath of life. This is manifestly distinct and different from the denominated landscape of Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Furthermore, the Jerusalem church’s unity was marked by generosity. Their commonality was not communal living or communistic socialism (private property rights were not being forfeited, Acts 5:4). Instead, they were unselfishly fulfilling the needs arose among them (Acts 4:34-37). Their unity of faith is an enduring example for every church of Christ to imitate (John 17:20-21).
38 Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. 40 For he who is not against us is on our side. (Mark 9:38–40, NKJV)
The twelve apostles often squabbled among themselves over who was the greatest in the kingdom. It is easy to see how they would discount and try to forbid someone who was not of their immediate circle, even when the evidence of heaven’s approval was staring them in the face. Jesus acknowledged this person was casting out demons in His name (v. 39). John and his fellow apostles were zealous of their positions, which led them to reject someone who was faithfully working in Christ’s name. (Note, John did not say, “He does not follow You,” but rather, “he does not follow us.”) Zeal for their own positions was greater than their zeal for the Lord. This passage does not endorse unity in doctrinal diversity. (The man and the apostles were all working in the name of Christ.) Instead, it urges unity among those who faithfully follow Christ because they all work in His name (do His will by His authority, Colossians 3:17). We act with the Lord’s authority to glorify Christ, not ourselves. Another person doing the will of Christ will also be blessed (Mark 9:41). That person deserves to be accepted, not rejected as separate from us (Mark 9:38-39).
19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19–22, NKJV)
Zealously justifying division into hundreds and hundreds of different churches with opposing doctrines, worship practices and polity, Protestant denominationalism says the church is comprised of many churches (denominations). Today’s passage shows the Scriptural futility and error of this rationale. The household of God (the church) is the “whole building” that is “fitted together” to form “a holy temple of the Lord” (v. 19-21). God has one temple, one church. God’s temple is not a collection of many temples (different denominations), it is built of “living stones” (Christians, 1 Peter 2:5). Christians, not denominations, constitute the temple in which God dwells. Instead of defending unity in moral and doctrinal diversity (which is the essence of denominationalism), we urge our religious friends to choose the divine wisdom of unity in truth (John 17:20-21). Just as God has one temple, even so there is one church that belongs to Christ to which the saved are added (Matthew 16:18; Acts 2:47). Additional churches are of men, not of God.
24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. (Mark 3:24–26, NKJV)
The enemies of Jesus charged Him with casting out demons by the power of Satan (Mark 3:22-23). Jesus exposes their error by noting a fundamental principle: Chaos occurs where division exists. If their charge was true, then Satan was fighting against Satan. Division produces chaos, not calm. This principle is noteworthy incentive for us to pursue peace (Hebrews 12:14). A country at war with itself cannot long sustain the chaos of internal conflict. A divided family cannot long endure factious emotions and splintered loyalties. Christ will not indefinitely recognize and identify Himself with a church that is divided in doctrine and practice (Rev. 2:4-5). It is very wrong to think God is pleased with religious division by saying such things, as “join the church of your choice.” The chaos of doctrinal division renders this recommendation inept (not to mention unscriptural, John 17:20-21; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 4:3). God’s kingdom is united in truth. Strong families stand on the solid rock of faith. And, God’s house stands on and upholds the truth of God (1 Timothy 3:15). Division is the work of Satan. Unity in truth is the work of God in Christ Jesus.
12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; (Ephesians 4:12–13, NKJV)
After He ascended into heaven, Christ gave gifts to the world, (Ephesians 4:11, see Sword Tips #1213). The work of these inspired men produced the New Testament. These uninspired men help us know and follow them. According to verse 12, these gifts were given to equip or complete the saints of God, in order to 1) do the work of service given by the Lord, and to 2) edify or strengthen the church. Please notice, it is the word of God that gives us the necessary tools to serve, and to be spiritually strengthened. The goal of our spiritual ministry and strength is stated in verse 13: That we will attain to the maturity and unity to which we have been called in Christ. This is where Paul began this fourth chapter of Ephesians, as he urges Christians to walk worthy of our calling, carefully guarding “the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, 1-6). Churches have strayed far from this spiritual work Jesus intended. The word of God is hardly preached, rarely studied, and viewed as opinions and traditions, rendered irrelevant by time and humanity’s progress. Let us return to honoring Christ’s gifts, by which the saving gospel is known and used, enabling us to be what Christ wants of His people.
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:4–6, NKJV)
Of this passage, David Whitehead, Senior Pastor, GraceNYC.org, wrote, “even though there may be variations of Christian belief, they are all tethered to one hope, Jesus Christ. This means that the church should be a place of unity with diversity” (theDailyBibleVerse.org). Faith, he says, is expressed in different ways, even as that faith comes from one source. Surely, he must know that one source of faith does not produce different expressions of faith, any more than one source of water yields both fresh and bitter water (James 3:11). Whitehead continues, “the day will come when that source will call us together” (Ibid.). The apostle Paul is not describing an aspirational anticipation of future events. He is describing the present reality. Far from this being an endorsement of ecumenical “unity with diversity,” it is a bold declaration of the platform of truth upon which we are “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Unity in Christ has one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all. Without this platform of truth in place, unity in Christ does not, and will not, exist – even when diversity is excused, and even celebrated.
By Silvanus, our faithful brother as I consider him, I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand. (1 Peter 5:12, NKJV)
Peter’s first epistle identifies and testifies of the true grace of God in which Christians stand. We take it as axiomatic, that since there is “the true grace of God,” there is also false grace that is not of God. False teachers, by their false gospels, turn people away from the true grace of Christ (Galatians 1:6-9). For instance, the doctrine of irresistible grace offers false grace, since it is evident the grace of God can indeed be resisted through unbelief (Acts 7:51). The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints (the impossibility of apostasy) offers false grace, since Scripture says Christians can fall from grace (Galatians 5:4). The doctrine of unity in moral and doctrinal diversity (ecumenism) offers false grace, by allowing one to continue in his sin, while assuring him of grace despite his sins (Romans 6:1-2; 2 John 9-11). On the other hand, the true grace of God provides salvation to all people through the gospel (Titus 2:11-12). It teaches us that, “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” The “word of His grace” has power to save (Acts 20:32). But, only when we access God’s grace through an obedient faith in Christ (read Romans 5:1-2; 6:17-18).