Perhaps you’ve heard it said, “Wherever 2 or more are gathered in His Name, there will be conflict.” It’s funny mostly because it’s true. Unity has eluded Jesus’ church since its founding. Even the Apostle Paul, the founder of many of the early churches, found himself at odds with the very congregations he started.
The number and type of divisions are seemingly infinite, and so are the number of books and articles written to help restore unity. Many of these resort to “best practices” … the 7 ways to do this or the 5 ways to insure that. Most are not unhelpful, but they are an interesting deviation from Paul’s approach. His emphasis is not so much “best practices” but “best beliefs.”
Take, for example, Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Though the letter has an undeniably joyful tone, unity in the church was a serious problem. Individual arguments between members such as Euodia and Syntyche were not isolated but symptomatic of the congregation.
Paul’s practical advice … his “best practice” if you will … was to insist on humility—”Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3, CSB). In today’s world, one would expect Paul to then illustrate humility’s power to bring unity through a variety of illustrations from the more influential churches he’s consulted. That is, one might anticipate Paul to appeal to objective proof that humility “works” with regard to creating church unity. Instead, Paul appeals to belief. He appeals to doctrine. He appeals to the very heart of Christian faith. He appeals to the Gospel.
Take a close look at Philippians 2.
- In vv. 6-7, he speaks of the incarnation.
- In v. 8, he speaks of the crucifixion.
- In v. 9, he speaks of the resurrection.
- In vv. 9-11, he talks of the glorification.
Yes, humility “works.” Otherwise, Paul would not prescribe it. But Paul does not presume upon the faith and doctrine of the church, nor does he think that the congregation “can’t handle all that theological stuff.” Rather, he points them to it directly and elaborates on how right belief leads to right practice.
Paul’s solution to a church divided is not best practices, nor is it ivory tower—it’s a perfect balance of explaining how right belief leads to right living.
Do your preaching and teaching do the same?