The High Personal Cost of Maintaining Unity

There is such a thing as a false gospel, a cancer which must be cut out of Christ’s body. But there is also such a thing as having a sense of proportion, and if we expect anyone to believe us when we need to sound the alarm about genuine heresy, then we need to stop crying wolf all the time.

Christ only has one body, and the gospel of grace tells us that all our brothers are a part of it. Even when the argument is about the gospel, if we respond to every piddling difference by carving off major parts of the Body, how are we defending the gospel that brings us together? If you get a carving knife and flay off every freckle and skin blemish because it might be cancer, are you helping your body, or hurting it?

So the charge is to do what Paul did. Tell the truth, and tell it as starkly as it needs to be told. Then go to meet your erring brothers and have it out. This will cost you—money, time, energy, pain, everything. Keep at it until you all come to one mind. If they throw you out, that just puts the process on hold for a while. Maybe a week, maybe a decade or a century or even longer. Keep working anyway, however God gives opportunity. The prize is worth it.

Christ will build His church, and the whole body will come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. On that day, we will no longer be children, and the whole body will have grown up in all things into Christ our Head.

This is the prize. Christ purchased it; He calls us to live worthy of it. It is worth what it will cost us to serve Christ in this. So look to your own connections with this in mind, and pray for me as I attend to mine this coming week.

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11 Responses to The High Personal Cost of Maintaining Unity

  1. Sanc says:

    Hi Tim,

    The “ministry of warning” is a sub-culture inside our own that at first glance feels like us. But actually it is alien in how it operates, with its own set of priorities and rules of conduct. Nothing like a little old-fashioned persecution to stoke the flames of phileos… which is the perfect backdrop for growing together in the Word.

    See you guys in 24,
    Michele

  2. Tim Nichols says:

    Michele,

    You’re right on point there. “Discernment ministry” is two lies in two words — which is an admirable economy, if you think about it.

    Looking forward to seeing you.

  3. John says:

    Who is going to cut out the cancer from Christ,s body?

    You and your fellow right-thinking true believers.

    Or perhaps another ardent group of true believers whose ideas about Jesus and God are completely different than yours.

    And of course we all know what happened to the “christ-killers” in European history. All those pogroms culminating in the “final solution”.

  4. Hi Tim,

    What you’re saying really hits home with me right now. I’ve been struggling with this issue a lot lately–how to deal with it in my own church. Thanks for putting things into proper perspective for me–this is something I really needed to hear. Thanks.

    Gary

  5. Tim Nichols says:

    John,

    Clearly you’re angry, but you are somehow hearing the very opposite of what I’m saying. The point is to seek unity, and if all it takes is enormous personal sacrifice, well, WWJD?

    What provoked the tirade?

  6. Tim Nichols says:

    Gary,

    Glad to help. Not enough of us thinking this stuff through — I certainly didn’t, for a long time. Always room for one more.

  7. Jim Reitman says:

    Hi Gary,

    Good to see you poke your head out once’t in awhile.

    Just to let you know, the GES conference this year was imbued with an encouraging tone of humility, at least the plenary sessions and the networking in between. Some of us are hoping to see a glimmer of light along the lines of Tim’s post above.

  8. Hi Jim,

    Yes, I watched most of the conference on live stream and I got the same sense of humility also. Now that all the smoke has cleared a little and everyone has had time to think things through and let their emotions settle, I think most people are grieved by what has occurred. I know I am. Looking back, I see that I was as guilty at times as anyone else. This thing of balancing grace and truth is definitely easier said than done–kind of like walking a slippery tight-rope against a strong and swirling head wind. I would hope that most everyone would like to see a glimmer of light along the lines of Tim’s post because we sure do need each other.

  9. Tom says:

    Hi Tim –

    Great post here and the feedback on the GES conference. Regarding unity, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time meditating on Mark 9:40 and the parallel passage in Luke 9:50. If you were going to try and codify the key points of agreement needed for unity (ie. not against us), what would you deem necessary to include on the list…or perhaps more relevant, what type of positions would move someone outside the sphere of unity?

  10. Tim Nichols says:

    Tom,

    The best attempts at codification thus far appear to have been in A.D. 325 and 381, with some useful clarification in 451. I’m not sure we’ve managed to get the whole church on board since then (and we missed a few folks even in 451).

    Myself, my general response is that this is a personal issue, not a checklist, and trying to write an algorithm is the wrong approach. Lemme meet the guy, shake his hand, chat, share a meal. He either knows Christ and walks with Him, or he does not. If he does, then he knows the same Man that I do, and we’ll recognize each other. If he does not, he may be a rebellious or confused believer, or he may be an unbeliever, but he is no friend of Christ’s. Being that we’re all sinners, and therefore imperfect friends to Christ, there are some judgment calls to be made here, and no checklist or formula will catch them all.

    Suppose you’re flying out to L.A. to visit me. You meet a stranger on a plane, get to talking, and he asks why you’re coming to L.A. In the course of the conversation, you drop my name, and he says “Tim Nichols? I know Tim Nichols!” As you talk further, he describes me as blonde, about 5’5″ and single. You would conclude, of course, that it’s a different guy with the same name.

    On the other hand, suppose he describes me as tall, dark-haired, bearded, married, a pastor, etc. He gets me to a T, except that he thinks I live in San Diego and drive a pickup truck. You would conclude, correctly, that he knows me, but he’s got a few details wrong.

    What algorithm would you write to address this? Two mistakes is okay, but five is too many? Or is it six? A dozen? At what point has he made one mistake too many? What if he got everything right except my hair color? That’s pretty important, and pretty easy, right? Could it really be me he’s thinking of if he thinks I have bright pink hair? How do you decide which details to weight, and how much?

    But we all have encountered these situations where we meet someone and discover that we have a mutual friend. Notwithstanding that we can’t write the algorithm, we all know how to do this. I suggest that it’s the same with those who share a relationship with Jesus.

  11. David Wyatt says:

    Wow, bro. Tim, I wish i’d discovered this post a little earlier. I just preached on Eph.4:1-16 last Sunday at my church as a fill-in til our new pastor arrives this Sunday. Also, I used it for a chapel service this week. I also seek the unity of the Spirit, Whom we received at salvation. I came across something in studying this that I kinda thought was neat. God obviously desires our unity, since He kept the OT saints in paradise & wouldn’t allow them into Heaven until the cross! Kinda says to me, that He waited to take them to Heaven until we could go too! (Ep.4:8-10; Heb.11:39-40). Hey I may have misread & misinterpreted that text to pieces, but I don’t think so. God is good, even when we’re not.
    Hey bro. Gary!

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