IN THE Pauline Epistles a great deal is written about instructions, exhortations, and explanations of Christian unity. The apostle Paul not only instructs and exhorts the laymen regarding this attribute but in very definite lines he instructs the ministry on this same subject.
The ministry of the church is an indispensable element in building up the kingdom of God on earth. Largely in the hands of the ministry is the important work of counseling the church and the believers. The ministry should be united, because they are sent by God on their mission of mercy to the world. Although the organization of the church ordains the ministers and gives them their charge, as well as directs their work, in the final analysis the ministry is sent forth by Jesus Christ, and He is the pattern of unity; therefore the ministry should be united. The helper of the ministry is the Holy Spirit.
As we study and meditate on the work of the primitive church we cannot fail to be impressed with the great part played by Christian unity in the ministry of those times. The ministry of the early church gathered with the believers in the upper room and there by prayer and supplication, as well as by personal consultation, they all became of "one accord." Minister was closely united with minister, and ministers were united with believers. The outstanding qualification of the apostles was unity. They worked in harmony; they were often found in counsel; they endured persecution together. Togetherness was their first concept of service.
There are some enemies to unity among Christian workers to which we must all be alert. Sometimes it does happen, but I am glad it isn't very often, that differences arise between Christian workers. These differences grow from a small beginning to large proportions. One Christian worker is offended by something another worker may have said. Unintended partiality sometimes appears. When differences arise, the best way of clearing up such situations is the instruction given in Matthew 5:24—"Be reconciled." With all our intellectual light and with the great discoveries made in psychological fields, there is no better method for arriving at unity than by doing what the Lord has counseled us to do. Repent, ask pardon, and forget is the tried and true formula. Note in this passage that the Lord is not talking about the relations between Christians and nonbelievers, but He is here explaining the relation that should exist between brethren. Special kindness to an offended brother will not take the place of a frank, Christian reconciliation. To give the offended one a gift will not weigh in the scales as will reconciliation.
In Romans 12:19 the apostle tells the believers that they should follow the instruction given as follows: "Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." Phillips* translates this as "Never take vengeance into your own hands, my dear friends: stand back and let God punish if he will." When workers become involved to the extent that their relations are disturbed by misunderstandings that seemingly cannot be settled, then they should take the attitude of forgiveness, turning the whole matter over to the judgment of God.
Another enemy of unity is that we sometimes hold to our own opinions beyond prudent limits. Listen to these words from the pen of God's messenger:
As long as we hold to our own ideas and opinions with determined persistency, we can not have the unity for which Christ prayed.—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 30.
Another source of disunity among brethren sometimes arises in groups where one sincere worker is opposed to a group of equally sincere people. When the worker finds this happening, he had better hurry to his closet and seek the reason on his knees.
The ministry of the Christian church is the agency by which, in a special way, unity is to be promoted. I draw my conclusions in part from the writings of the apostle Paul in the fourth chapter of his Epistle to the Ephesians. He tells us there that the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers is "for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith." Complete harmony is to prevail in the church as we reach the end of time.
The apostle Paul was careful to teach unity to young workers. We find him writing to his son in the faith, Timothy, and right at the beginning of the First Epistle unity is the subject. In the case of the question in the First Epistle to Timothy, it revolved about what was known in those days as "fables and endless genealogies." Evidently at that time there were those who had the inclination to place importance on certain aspects of doctrine which the apostle said "minister questions, rather than godly edifying." In the pastoral epistles emphasis is laid on unity in all phases of the work.
Another point with regard to the relation of the minister to unity is that when all activities of the church body are carried on, they should be done in close correlation not only with the principles of local or national church unity but also with the principles of universal or world church unity. In my own concept, one of the places where the apostle Paul struggled for a long time to bring about unity was in the case of the instruction of the Corinthian believers to participate in the collection for * the saints in Jerusalem. Paul understood that one of the outgrowths of unity is sacrifice for the good of the saints in faraway places. It could be that the Corinthians were careful to take care of their own poor and needy, but the apostle wanted them to come to the place where they recognized their duty as saints in behalf of the saints in Jerusalem.
Christian unity should be the thread in the warp and woof of the whole fabric of the Christian church. Both in worship and in service the believers should be united. One declaration in the Spirit of Prophecy, which is right to the point, reads as follows:
Some workers pull with all the power that God has given them, but they have not yet learned that they should not pull alone. . . . Unless they do this, their activity will work at the wrong time and in the wrong way. They will often work counter to that which God would have done, and thus their work is worse than wasted.—Gospel Workers, p. 488.
It is not a good sign when men refuse to unite with their brethren, and prefer to act alone.— Ibid., p. 487.
There are some simple and easy ways to cultivate unanimity in the ministry. I believe in expressing appreciation to a fellow minister for his example of loyalty, diligent work, long service, et cetera. I have observed that appreciation is an element that brings courage and assurance to a brother minister, and unites his heart and hand with those of his brethren. To cease to criticize and find fault with another worker is half the battle in the matter of Christian unity. It is reasonable to believe that Jesus spent much time prayingto His Father for the unity of His disciples. Ministers are to pray for their fellow ministers, and thus a golden chain of unity will be forged.
There is dynamics in our ministry that comes from unity with our brethren. The very fact that we have a clean record with those we work with, and with the God of heaven, will be of inestimable influence in our ministry. The fact that we are a pattern of unity will greatly influence people to listen more earnestly to what we are preaching. If a Christian worker is not at peace with his fellow workers and this report is circulated abroad, the ministry of that worker will be adversely affected.
Christian unity among ministers will be of more and more importance as we approach the end of time. Situations will arise with which men who are not united cannot deal effectively. There should be awakened in the heart of every minister a consciousness of the power and influence of Christian unity as a requisite to the success of all our organizational projects. First we should espouse to ourselves the great fundamental principles of Christian unity, and then we should set about to teach those principles to the church of God, both by precept and example.
A chain is no stronger than its weakest link. The Christian unity of the church of God is in some degree only as strong as each believer's loyalty. Let us make the unity of our church strong.
* From The New Testament in Modern English by J. B. Phillips. Copyright; 1958, by J. B. Phillips. Used by permission of The Macmillan Company.