Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 15, 1949

When Unity Ceases — No. 1

J. Herman Campbell

Israel's Safeguards

God has in every age used some safeguards to preserve the unity of his people. When Abraham was selected by God and called from idol worship (Joshua 24:2) and brought into the land of Canaan, he was given the covenant of circumcision (Gen. 17). A test case was found in the proposed marriage of Abraham's great-granddaughter, Dinah. This proposed union of Jacob's family with that of Hamor, the Hivite, was based "Only on this condition...; if ye will be as we are, that every male of you be circumcised; then will we give our daughters unto you, and we will take your daughters to us, and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people." (Gen. 34:15-16)

Abraham's descendants had additional safeguards placed about them after they left Egyptian bondage. When the children of Israel reached Sinai, God spoke through Moses to his people saying, "Now, therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be mine own possession from among all peoples: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation." (Ex. 19:5, 6) The giving of the law followed this declaration. Paul tells us that the law was "added because of transgressions." (Gal 3:19) Further in this chapter the apostle says that the law "is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith." (verse 24)

In short, Paul reveals that the law was a safeguard placed around the Israelites "till the seed would come to whom the promise had been made." Special commands were given to the Israelites which kept them from becoming like the nations around them. Upon entering the land of Canaan, seven nations were designated to the Israelites that were not to be tolerated. "Jehovah thy God shall deliver them up before thee, and thou shalt smite them: and thou shalt utterly destroy them, nor show mercy unto them; neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For he will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods." (Deut. 7:2-4) Many years later, Nehemiah found the Jews marrying women of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab. The result was that some of the children spoke the language of Ashdod. So disturbed was Nehemiah over this mongrel generation that he "cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, "Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons nor take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves." (Nehemiah 13:23-25)

Change Of Emphasis In N. T.

The following phrases in the great commission abolished some of the safeguards for unity that had once characterized the Jews: "all the world," "every creature," "he that believeth." Paul expressed the removal of the old covenant restrictions in his statement that "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love." (Gal. 5:6) There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one man in Christ Jesus." (Gal 5:28) "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, nor in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a Sabbath day; which are a shadow of the things to come." (Col, 2:16)

On the eve of Christ's death, he prayed that "all may be one," that the world might believe that God had sent him. Christ's desire for unity was expressed by Paul some thirty years later to a church made up of both Jews and Gentiles: "Let us walk by the same rule." (Phil, 3:16) In A. D. 30 there were no denominations to be considered as barriers to the unity of the one body. However, the unity of the early church was distributed in two ways: first, the spiritual and social tension between the Jews and Gentiles; second, carnality within the congregation. The first menace was an outgrowth of Judaizers who harassed the newly established church, The Galatian letter was written specifically to correct the errors being taught by the Judaizers. The effect of this false teaching is noted in the influence it had upon Peter, (Gal 2:11-14). The second force working against unity is well illustrated by noting the case in the Corinthian church. The immoral conduct of one member gave rise to Paul's pointed statement,"... have no company with fornicators; ... Put away the wicked man from among yourselves." (I Cor. 5:9, 13)

Of the two forces working against unity in the "one body", the departure in doctrine was considered of equal importance in retarding the progress of the church as the evil, carnal practices of fornication and drunkenness. There is, however, a distinction to be made between these two agencies in their method of attack on the unity of the church. A departure from sound doctrine comes from a teaching program that covers a period of time, while the carnal act that may divide God's people often makes a sudden appearance. Again, in a doctrinal departure the entire, church is affected, while more often the carnal sin is localized and can be handled rapidly and successfully before it "leaveneth the whole lump." Paul's drastic method of procedure to be imposed upon the young man who had his father's wife indicates how the matter should be handled.

Plan For Doctrinal Unity

Turning our attention now to the problem of "doctrinal unity," we observe the following plan in the mind of God for the New Testament church. The church was founded upon "the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone;" (Eph. 2:20) with its function to make known "the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Eph. 3:10, 11) To this end Christ "gave some to be apostles; and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ; till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." (Eph. 4:11-13) This work was entrusted to three types of qualified teachers; those directed into all truth by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Jno. 16:13); those endowed with spiritual gifts by the laying on of the apostles hands (Acts 8:17); and faithful men, who were able to teach others. (II Tim. 2:2) Even under these divinely appointed instructors who were working to bring the members "unto the unity of the faith," one of these preachers, Paul, writing of his own time, said to the church at Thessalonica, "For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work." (II Thess. 1:7) Then later he wrote to Titus, "For there are many unruly men, vain talkers and deceivers, especially they of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped; men who overthrow whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake... Reprove them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men who turn away from the truth." (Titus 1:10, 13, 14)

Surely one would be careless in his reading if he overlooked the duty of the elders in the local church to deal with departures from the faith which will cause division. The churches of Galatia that had permitted a perverted gospel to be preached were characterized by Paul as "0 foolish Galatians, who did bewitch you," (Gal 3:1) To the church at Rome, Paul commanded, "...mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent." (Rom. 16:17, 18)

Paul sensed a falling away from the faith as early as A. D. 60, and gave the following instructions to the elders at Ephesus," ... from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them." (Acts 20:30) And to Timothy a few years later, "But the Spirit saith expressly, that in latter times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats." (I Tim. 4:1-3) "But know this, that in the last days grievous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money, etc... holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof; from these also turn away." (II Tim. 3:1-5)

(To be continued)