Unity amongst Christians (Part 2)
Christians are supposed to be united. However, this unity is to be characterised by a standard of holiness. Some people have mixed their faith or biblical doctrine with the evils of the world in which we live. Others have shut out anyone who doesn’t fit with their interpretation of the Bible. When we are looking for a somewhere to enjoy fellowship with other Christians then we should keep in mind what the Bible says about what should characterise a group of Christians who are genuinely honouring the Lord Jesus Christ. The spirit of separation is covered in “Separation: What is it?”
Responsibility about fellowship
First we need to consider a few scriptures to which this article will be referring as we go along:
Read 1 Corinthians 10 and 11. (I haven’t quoted it here as it would be too long).
“So it is not the will of your Father who is in the heavens that one of these little ones should perish. But if thy brother sin against thee, go, reprove him between thee and him alone. If he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he do not hear thee, take with thee one or two besides, that every matter may stand upon the word of two witnesses or of three. But if he will not listen to them, tell it to the assembly; and if also he will not listen to the assembly, let him be to thee as one of the nations and a tax-gatherer” (Matthew 18:14-17).
“And they persevered in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles, in breaking of bread and prayers” (Acts 2:42).
There is tremendous value in the unity of Christian fellowship and the expression of that unity with and in Christ in the breaking of bread. If rightly appreciated the Lord’s people will grow in their understanding of the Assembly and her preciousness to Christ. We must be sure however that the thoughts in relation to this come directly from the scriptures and the divine ordering set before us. They must be in tune with the spirit of grace and love without which we can miss the Lord completely and find ourselves being detrimental to His testimony.
The spirit of our separation, as already discussed in “Separation: What is it?”, and the nature of our fellowship with other saints are closely linked. Paul is clear firstly, that there can be no fellowship of light with darkness. No evil or iniquity can be connected with what God has done with each one of us in the Church/Assembly, for the Holy Spirit makes it clear through Paul that we are to separate from what is characterised by iniquity. Yet, secondly, we are to appreciate the oneness of the Church in Christ.
Why should a church/assembly separate from something?
We are to separate from what is characteristically set in iniquity. We are not talking of a moment of weakness of which we all are guilty but what is unrepentantly sinful refusing to change even after much pleading and beseeching by the Lord’s people. This is what characterises the world as it refuses to accept Christ, may such a spirit never be found in a believer. We are given instruction in relation to this very thing in 1 Corinthians 5, even when it is found in a brother in Christ. Such is the alien nature of sin to the Assembly, the Body of Christ and in the life of a Christian, that these things must be shown to be what they are – separated from all that is of God.
The realisation of the character of what this brother was engaging in and how, having resisted unrepentantly the loving, yet concerned appeals of the brethren (as in Matthew 18), it separated him from communion with the Lord and with His people. The church in Corinth excommunicated the brother concerned. Thankfully this action caused that brother to repent. In the spirit of Christ, Paul desirous of recovering one of the Lord’s people, compelled the brethren in 2 Corinthians 2:7 to bring that brother in again on the basis of his grief and repentance.
The character of Christian unity in fellowship and the breaking of bread.
With that specific issue addressed Paul turns in 1 Corinthians 10 to consider the general condition of the fellowship in Corinth which was not in keeping with the act of the breaking of bread that they continued to maintain each week. There were divisions present and varying loyalties. Some claimed to be of Apollos, Paul and even Christ (as though the Christ could be divided). Paul quickly proceeds to put them right on this. Some were eating their own meals, showing their wealth in the world’s riches, while others who were in poverty looked on. They were each bringing their own supper and not meeting for the Lord’s Supper. We are not celebrating our own feast without regard to the others we meet with, but rather are to be united with them in the same feast as one - one loaf. Paul directs them to what the Lord did in the night in which He was given up. The Lord broke the bread, giving thanks and then blessed the cup in like manner passing it round for them all to drink while they remembered Him - calling Him to mind.
It was not that they were to remember a dead person but a living and glorified Lord. Thus it was that their conduct should be in harmony with this fact. The Lord should be able to draw into their midst as when He came into the upper room in resurrection power where no-one and nothing had the first place but Him. Things were to be orderly, in peace and in the right spirit. They were to esteem each other as more excellent than themselves and then be ready to judge, by the Holy Spirit which was in them, whether what was said was truly from the Lord. There was to be love amongst them; “Let all things ye do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14) with real concern for each other. But the fact was that they were all affected by the sin of one brother and the awful things which were being said about Christians as a result of what he was doing. Then in the second epistle they were to bring him back in repentance lest the Lord’s love was not demonstrated. Thus it was that Paul reminded them that they were “one loaf” and that they ought to have been jealously guarding what was precious to the Lord rather than being “puffed up” and proud.
So we have already seen in “The Breaking of Bread/Holy Communion” that the breaking of bread is an expression of the unity of fellowship the Christians who are partaking already enjoy in Christ. They are “one loaf” and “one body”. Therefore, Paul has to tackle the state, in Corinth, of their fellowship together before he could address the breaking of bread. It is true that they were physically breaking bread together, but unity amongst them and the conditions of a righteous, caring and loving spirit were not present. How could they enjoy the expression of unity in Christ if they were not truly united in Him practically? How could they argue and have strife amongst them when they were remembering the Lord, who has “broken down every wall of partition” (Ephesians 2:14) and brought them into one body. No, they required real unity in Christ to enter into the real enjoyment of the true meaning of that blessed occasion.
Thus Paul pointed out the incompatibility of outwardly expressing unity with a brother engaging in serious and public sin, such as was hindering the gospel and witness of Christ presented by the saints. It was obviously causing friction amongst the saints there as well for the delegation to Paul to have expressed such concerns as caused him to write these things to them. There is no compatibility between light and darkness, between good and evil. We have died to sin and the world; being raised with Christ to live for Him. May this wonderful fact be worked out practically in our lives so that we are found to be walking “worthy of the calling wherewith ye have been called” (Ephesians 4:1). May we be found in the Spirit with the fruit of His presence evident as seen in Galatians 5, Romans 12 and Romans 15; showing a spirit of love, looking out for one another; edifying and lovingly admonishing one another to the glory of God.
An unrepentant sinner can have no place therefore at the Lord’s Supper. How could the saints express unity together as one loaf with one who is an enemy of God refusing to confess their sins and be washed in the blood of the lamb? A believer on the other hand comes to a gathering of the Lord’s people and is accepted there, fully united with them in Christ. They do not seek to cause strife, nor do they seek to be separated from them again. It is not a casual occurrence; it is an expression of the unity of fellowship in Christ which they are already enjoying. This is something that even many Christians do not appreciate.
Two members of a denomination of Christendom may meet together for Holy Communion, as it is usually called, professing unity in Christ, yet the next week return to gatherings nominally in objection to each other. Is this really unity? Is this what the Lord meant, or the apostles meant when they spoke of the unity amongst the saints? Paul clearly deplores any thought of disunity at the Lord’s Supper and so should we all as being members of the body of Christ. Unity is to be both what we are in Christ and the present state of the Church/Assembly.
We are to break bread as one in Christ; as many grains but one loaf. Having established the principle of unity and the holy nature of the Assembly and our fellowship in it, Paul can then go on to speak about the breaking of bread. If we remain disunited with those we are breaking bread with we miss the point of the Lord’s Supper and it has ceased to have its true meaning. The breaking of bread should be the expression of the commitment of the saints to the Lord as being identified with His death, and the expression of their unity together in Christ as identified with Him in glory. There is a holy character in such a company in which the things of this world have no place. We are not just individuals remembering the Lord, important and precious as that is, but we are also a united company in heart and spirit showing forth the Lord’s death, with our eyes on His return for us - “until he comes”.
Holiness and unity is necessary in Christian fellowship
The breaking of bread is then founded on fellowship in Christ already enjoyed, where sin has no place and Christ is the centre; where the Holy Spirit is free to operate amongst the saints there and in this happy state the breaking of bread takes the character of the One in glory who we are remembering. How could we ever allow disunity to remain in such a gathering? It is a gathering of the Lord’s own who desire unity and who desire to express such unity in remembering the Lord together; who Himself is the cause of their unity and the centre of their fellowship. And so it is that having searched and found those who are calling on the Lord out of a pure heart we will find unity of fellowship together upon which basis we may then enjoy the breaking of bread.