Who is my Brother?

(2 Tim 3:16 KJV) All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: (2 Tim 3:17 KJV) That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.
 
 
 

                                    Christian Unity versus Christian Legalism

                                                      Tim Warlick

                             Brothers and sisters in Christ, we all need to be aware that unity in Jesus is
                             Godís purpose for the universe, and we all must participate in it to be in
                             accordance with Godís will. 

                                  Eph.1:9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to
                                  his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:

                                  10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together
                                  in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on
                                  earth; even in him: 

                             No Christians really dispute this fact. But there is little agreement among us as to
                             what form unity in Jesus should take, especially regarding the possibility of
                             uniting with Christians outside of our own denomination or other Christian
                             group. Not only have we failed to agree on the goal of unity beyond the
                             denominational or group level, it is a sad fact that some of the most unloving
                             attacks against such broad-based Christian unity come from our own brothers in
                             Christ.

                             Several of our Christian brethren who oppose unity, have strongly held beliefs
                             about many portions of the Bible, and they make the narrow-minded assumption
                             that we who support Christian unity do not have strong beliefs. But they are
                             wrong. We also have many strongly held Biblical beliefs, and some day we hope
                             with Godís help to approach a common understanding with all our brothers in
                             every detail. But in the mean time we refuse to use the present lack of unity in all
                             words of the Bible as a lame excuse to avoid seeking some common Biblical
                             ground in which to begin to stand together as one in the word. And we refuse to
                             abuse the word of God to promote only our own Christian group while trying to
                             denigrate other members of the body of Christ. 

                             We choose rather to obey Jesusí new commandment to love one another, and
                             show the world that we are indeed the disciples of the Son of the one true God.
                             And in Jesus, we see members of Christian groups beyond our own
                             denomination or group, as our brothers. We believe that the song of Christian
                             unity must rise above the din of disagreements in doctrinal detail. We believe it
                             may just be that the world needs to hear from us Christians a unified chorus of
                             the basic principle which is the gospel: namely, the "good news" to the lost and
                             dying world that there is a way out of sin. The way is Jesus.

                             But many Christians steadfastly maintain their opposition to unity beyond their
                             own group or denomination. Uniting in the idea that Jesus is the way out of sin,
                             is not enough for them. Their concept of unity is only that everyone must learn to
                             hold exactly the same beliefs as they do, in every detail. They will allow anyone
                             to unite with them in every interpretation of scripture they make. Like lawyers
                             preparing a brief, they seek in the words of the Bible to find some legalistic
                             interpretation, which proves their case right, and all other forms of Christianity
                             wrong.

                             Some actually seem to revel in strife and dissension. One well-known television
                             Christian preacher was actually heard to say words to this effect, "Grab a
                             doctrine, and join the fray!" Although such people will happily argue their points,
                             they can tolerate no real give-and-take discussion with Christians outside their
                             own group. 

                             To admit any possibility that they donít already have the full understanding of
                             every part of the Bible might allow some other self-professed Christian group to
                             gain a slight competitive advantage in doctrine. And that, in turn, might lure their
                             members away from the whole truth which, as they see it, is fully known only to
                             them. To prevent any such loss of either membership or intellectual property
                             claims, or even loss of face to themselves, they are sometimes willing to reject
                             any Christian idea that might be perceived as "not-invented-here". And even
                             worse, they often take the all too easy out of rejecting other Christians, as being
                             not Christian at all and therefor unworthy of brotherly love or consideration in
                             the first place.

                             They are certain that when Jesus returns, he will justify them; that Jesus will
                             return and tell the world, and tell all those other "so-called" Christian religions,
                             that they and only they, were correct. That Jesus will return to tell everyone that
                             their group managed to become the only true Christians, or at least the best
                             Christians, because they found the details that God wanted. And they believe
                             that all of the details they found are just as important as any other fundamental
                             Christian principle, such as the seemingly simplistic notion of turning away from
                             sin to serve Jesus. Not enough detail there, to their way of thinking, to set them
                             apart from the rest so that God will give them special notice above all others.

                             But the truth is, when Jesus returns he will justify himself, not us; he will prove to
                             the world his own righteousness, not ours. Heíll prove that the only
                             righteousness we can claim is in Him. And before heís through, every knee will
                             bow and every tongue will confess. It isnít about us, itís about Him and uniting
                             in Him. And when we hold ourselves up as best, weíre not holding Him up,
                             where the world can see Him. When we insist that everyone follow every detail
                             as we interpret scripture, weíre telling our Christian brethren that we, as
                             individuals or as a group, are the older brother. But Jesus says that in His
                             kingdom, the one who exalts himself will be abased.

                             While we debate the fine points, the world looks in from the outside and laughs.
                             The theological differences that seem so important to us, are barely
                             understandable to the world outside. What a goofy bunch we appear to be.
                             How can any Christian precept be taken as true, when there is no internal
                             agreement in what is even important, let alone true? Why join any one group of
                             Christians when it appears we canít begin to join with each other? Thatís what
                             we seek for Christian unity now, just a beginning.

                             The following four things are suggested here, for all Christians to consider, as a
                             starting point to begin to work for unity with brothers in Christ: 

                                  1. THE WORD: the Bible is the only authority for the word of God.

                                  2. THE NAME: Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the one described in the Bible,
                                  is the Son of God.

                                  3. THE BLOOD: only by Godís mercy in the sacrificial death of Jesus do
                                  we have salvation from our sins, of which we do repent and leave behind.

                                  4. THE FRUIT: it is not required that a Christian accept a hateful or
                                  belligerent attitude from his own Christian brother..

                                  1 John 4:20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar:
                                  for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love
                                  God whom he hath not seen?

                             The above four are not intended as any kind of catechism or creed. Any such
                             creed, especially if it has already been identified with a particular denominational
                             group, will unnecessarily drive away some of the other Christian groups.
                             Christians want to unite in Jesus, not in any set of words for which some other
                             denominational group can take credit.

                             Regrettably, even among Christian ecumenists, there can be found several
                             different inter-denominational groups that have published self-promoting
                             organizational descriptions, with narrowly focused historical perspectives,
                             wherein they proclaim their own group to be pre-eminent in seeking unity with
                             other Christian groups. Considering the present lack of real Christian unity in the
                             whole body of Christ, such claims amount to little more than self-aggrandizing
                             hypocrisy, and do not serve the Lord in the purpose of unity. How self-serving it
                             is to claim to call others to unity, while seeking the credit for the unity to which
                             all are called! 

                             As a starting point for unity, the specific words used in the above four items are
                             not important. They could be replaced with any of several synonyms, or restated
                             in several different ways that would result in exactly the same meaning. We
                             donít need to play any more Christian word games, or to use Christian jargon
                             favored by any one group in order to try to find a place to start uniting. It is the
                             meaning of the words that counts. And the meanings here are four simple
                             Biblical concepts. 

                             If a man will agree with us in the meaning of the above four things, we must not
                             fail to call that man our brother in Christ, and we must not take the chance to
                             blaspheme the Holy Spirit in that man. True, we may not get much farther than
                             that. For instance, he may next insist that Jesus is "a" God, and our progress will
                             stop. If he further insists that only his group will get to heaven, then by his
                             rejection of all other Christians he has failed to show the fruit of the Spirit, and
                             we are not required to accept him as brother when he outright rejects us first. 

                             Or it may be that he mistakenly insists that some man has authority, independent
                             of the Bible, to speak Godís word on earth. Or that the book of Mormon, or
                             any other book, has some of Godís word in it not from the Bible, either of
                             which means we never, really got past the first point, the word. Or he may seek
                             to redefine sin to suit himself, trying to make exceptions for some form of
                             obviously immoral, carnal, or worldly lifestyle, meaning we didnít get past the
                             third point, the blood. Any attempt to make carnality acceptable will never find a
                             place in Christian unity. Jesus paid with his blood to give us a ticket out of sin,
                             not a pass to stay in it. 

                                  Rom 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may
                                  abound?

                                  2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

                             A man either agrees with us in the WORD, NAME, BLOOD, and FRUIT, or
                             he isnít any kind of brother with us, in the person of Christ each of us knows
                             here in his own heart. But if a man does agree in these things, at least we can
                             begin to move on together in our discussions as brothers. We at least accept
                             each other as fellow Christians, to start with, united in Jesus.

                             Even so, as we proceed together in the word of God, we will never knowingly
                             agree in any error for the sake of some sort of false unity. We will first give ear
                             to what he believes the Holy Spirit has revealed to him in the Bible. If we can go
                             no further together, we intend to do our best to explain the difference in our
                             understanding of the scripture which the Holy Spirit gives to us, then make
                             ourselves content to let the Father show us both the truth. We will not deny his
                             brotherhood with us, or his salvation in Jesus. 

                             On the other hand, if he is wrong in the matter and if we are patient, he may for
                             a moment forget some error his church hierarchy has taught him, or he may set
                             aside whatever of manís traditions he takes for Godís. He may instead listen to
                             and discuss what the Bible says. But whatever the result, we cannot begin the
                             conversation by calling him a bastard, which is what happens when a Christian
                             denies that another Christian is his brother in Christ. The other Christian is much
                             more likely to listen to us, if instead of hurling insults, we allow that we are
                             discussing the words that have come to us from the one God and Father of us
                             both. We must find a way to accept each other as brothers in Christ, in order to
                             begin to seek unity together in Him. 

                             If unity is Godís will, and it surely is, then how can we refuse to try to find a
                             starting point with each other? If any person believes that the Bible is the only
                             real authority for Godís word on earth, why should any Christian refuse to
                             agree, as a place to begin? And if a personís read far enough in the Bible to find
                             that Jesus is the Son of God, why be afraid to agree with him in that fact? 

                             And may God have mercy on the Christian who would deny agreement with the
                             repentant, in the atoning blood of Jesus. Why would any Christian want to try to
                             take the blood away from a Christian who agreed up to this point, in order to
                             make an issue of a lesser doctrine? Is a Christian serving God, or serving his
                             own ego, when he refuses to let a former sinner claim the blood of Jesus for his
                             redemption because of some further doctrinal issue he doesnít yet agree on? No
                             wonder Jesus said, 

                                  Mat 18:6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in
                                  me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck,
                                  and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

                             How can we so presume to judge another manís servant? Does a man not
                             know his own heart from the inside, better than some other man knows it from
                             the outside? If he knows Jesus changed his heart and caused him to turn away
                             from sin, then he knows Jesus in his own heart. And if he knows that Jesus now
                             makes His abode in there with him, there in his heart where he keeps the word
                             that he does understand, then what greater theology can dissuade him from the
                             certain knowledge of that most personal relationship with Jesus, Himself? And if
                             he claims the blood of Jesus to give him his place in the Lambís Book of Life,
                             what higher qualification do we assert for our own place, or by what greater
                             doctrine do we presume to promote ourselves to even more lofty status? 

                                  Isa 65:2 I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people,
                                  which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts;

                                  3 A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that
                                  sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick;

                                  4 Which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which
                                  eat swineís flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels;

                                  5 Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than
                                  thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day.

                                  Mat 12:7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and
                                  not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.

                             Weíve tried unity the old way. The early Catholic (meaning universal) Church,
                             the Protestant Reformation, the earliest Protestant groups and meetings, the
                             early Restoration movement: all were marked by the avowed purpose of unity.
                             And all ultimately resulted in more divisions, and denominations, and
                             non-denominations, and yes, even un-denominations: each new group of us
                             seeking to show God and everybody else that we found the right combination of
                             details in interpreting the scripture which makes us the best, so that everybody
                             can come together here with us and unite now in what we found. 

                             Letís try it a different way. Letís try it with all lowliness and meekness, with
                             longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of
                             the Spirit in the bond of peace. Letís start with what little we can agree on. If we
                             can start with the word, the name, and the blood of Jesus Christ, bearing one
                             another the fruit of the Spirit, we shall surely get somewhere worth being, for all
                             of us. At least we will be able to say that we are unprofitable servants: we have
                             done that which was our duty to do, in obedience to the new commandment of
                             Jesus. If we can find a better place to start uniting in the Bible, we must all have
                             ears to hear it.

                             But the greatest impediment to beginning Christian unity, is Christians who seek
                             to exclude from Christianity all those who donít already agree with them, in
                             every detail, of every legalistic Biblical interpretation they care to make, without
                             regard for considerations of relative importance of scripture. For them, itís either
                             all now or nothing ever. They have all these strongly held Biblical beliefs, which
                             they are sure God wants everyone to learn from them, but they will not humble
                             themselves in any regard to make themselves heard. They see themselves as on
                             the inside with Jesus, looking out at the rest of us. What vanity!

                             They refuse to consider any possibility of including others there with them in the
                             family of God. For them the failure of Christian unity, or at least their part in it
                             becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. They think that Christian unity wonít
                             happen, because theyíve made up their minds that they wonít participate in it.
                             By their rejection of other Christians, they keep themselves isolated in a sort of
                             hypobaric chamber of scriptural interpretation, where they can only re-breathe
                             the rarified atmosphere of their own Biblical preconceptions. They are confined
                             in a self-imposed vacuum of spiritual learning, devoid of the truth that the Holy
                             Spirit has given to others to share with them, given in order that we all may be
                             led together as a group into all truth. 

                                  1 Cor 12:21 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.

                                  Mat 5:15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on
                                  a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

                             Those of us who do seek unity can only pray that Christians in opposition will
                             have a willing change of heart on this issue, and that Jesus will help them do it.
                             But if they persist in rejecting us out of hand as not even being their brothers in
                             Jesus, whereís the love in that? They not only donít love their brother, they deny
                             that the Holy Spirit is inside of us, working through us. And that type of
                             accusation is the only kind Jesus ever related as blaspheming the Holy Spirit. It
                             wonít be forgiven in this life, or the next.

                             Except within the confines of our own particular group or denomination, it seems
                             that up to now we Christians canít begin to find any agreement, all together as a
                             single body made of many members, in any of the words of the Bible. But then
                             we also canít really know whatís in the heart of another Christian, to know what
                             he really believes, or if he really loves Jesus. We can judge the apparent actions,
                             but assuming no apparent continuance in any sin of immorality, and assuming the
                             Christian professes repentance, we canít see inside another personís heart to
                             know whatís there.

                             And even if we mistakenly think we can know another Christianís heart, we
                             certainly canít prove it, and weíre not qualified to judge it. We canít prove the
                             Bible to each other, and we canít prove our hearts to each other. We canít see
                             the word in the same way, and we canít see in one anotherís heart. So the
                             subject of unity ultimately reduces to predictions about how Jesus, the final
                             Judge, who is the Word and who does know and judge hearts, will resolve the
                             matter.

                             The Christian legalists predict that Jesus will only accept, as Christian, those
                             who agree totally with their interpretation of the Bible. But Christians who seek
                             the beginnings of unity predict that Jesus will accept all hearts who have
                             repented and converted to Him, having been born again in Jesus in any number
                             of different denominations and Christian groups. But if these are their
                             predictions, then as far as judging the Christians who work toward unity, vs.
                             Bible legalists, Jesus can resolve the issue for us now.

                             One of these prophecies is false, and one of these groups of prophets is false.
                             They are predicting opposite outcomes. They canít both be true. Jesus said
                             thereís a way to know false prophets. The main thing Jesus said, when he told
                             us what to look for was this: 

                                  Mat 7:16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of
                                  thorns, or figs of thistles?

                             And if we wonder what sort of spirit motivates the ones who seek unity, vs. the
                             legalists, we have only to remember what the apostle wrote, 

                                  Gal 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering,
                                  gentleness, goodness, faith,

                                  23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

                             When we deal with Christians who seek unity, we enjoy the fruit of the Spirit,
                             which is the fruit they bear to us. When we consider the legalists, we need to
                             consider the further words of Jesus: 

                                  Luke 11:52 Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of
                                  knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in
                                  ye hindered.

                             Sisters and brothers in Christ, let us pray together, that when we read the Bible
                             we let the Holy Spirit teach us all things, regarding Christian unity as compared
                             to the Christian legalists. 

                                  Isa 29:18 And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and
                                  the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness. 

                                  19 The meek also shall increase their joy in the LORD, and the poor
                                  among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.

                                  20 For the terrible one is brought to nought, and the scorner is consumed,
                                  and all that watch for iniquity are cut off:

                                  21 That make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that
                                  reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought.

see also:  About the Christian Unity Prayer Project
 

Home page:
United Christian Ministry
PO Box 395
Broadalbin, NY 12025
USA

Submit Prayer requests here
Comments, testimonials, submissions welcome. 
Email