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Unity and fellowship of church

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The church is one in essence, because it is founded on one gospel, united to one Lord and indwelt by one Spirit. Its unity is under constant threat because of the tendency to division that is inherent in fallen humanity, and needs to be continually maintained and actively expressed in fellowship.

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The unity of the church

The church is one

Romans 12:5 NIV
so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
See also 1 Co 12:12; 1 Co 12:20; Eph 4:25

The church transcends all barriers

Colossians 3:11 NIV
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
See also Jn 10:16; Ac 10:28–29; Ac 10:47; Ac 15:8–9; Ga 3:28; Eph 2:14–16; Eph 3:6 The great divide threatening the first Christians was between Jew and Gentile, but the church was able to unite the two into one body in Christ.

The church’s unity reflects the unity within the Trinity

Eph 4:4–6 The unity of the church is built around the persons of the Trinity: one Spirit, one Lord, one Father.
See also Jn 17:11; Ro 3:29–30; Ro 10:12–13; Ga 3:27–28

The church’s unity is the work of the Trinity

Ephesians 2:16–18 NIV
and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
See also Jn 11:52; Ac 10:45–47; 1 Co 12:13; Eph 2:22; Eph 4:3

The purpose of the church’s unity

To lead others to faith

John 17:23 NIV
I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
See also Jn 17:21

To lead believers to maturity

Ephesians 4:13 NIV
until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

The nature of the church’s unity

Php 2:1–2 Emphasis is placed on an inner unity of mind and spirit rather than external uniformity.
See also 2 Co 13:11; Php 1:27; Col 2:2

Appeals for unity in the church

Ephesians 4:3 NIV
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
See also Ro 12:10; Ro 15:5; Ro 15:7; 1 Co 12:25; Col 3:14; 1 Pe 3:8

The church’s unity is expressed in fellowship

Fellowship with God

1 Corinthians 1:9 NIV
God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
See also 2 Co 13:14; Php 2:1; 2 Pe 1:4; 1 Jn 1:3; 1 Jn 1:6–7

Fellowship expressed by meeting together

Acts 2:46 NIV
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
See also Ac 2:1; Ac 2:42; Ac 5:12; Ac 6:2; 1 Co 14:26; Heb 10:25

Fellowship expressed through sharing resources

Acts 2:44–45 NIV
All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
See also Ac 4:32; Ac 4:34–37; Ac 11:27–30; Ro 15:26; 1 Co 16:1–2; 2 Co 8:2–5; 2 Co 8:13–14; 2 Co 9:13; Php 4:14–18

Fellowship through suffering

Revelation 1:9 NIV
I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
See also Ro 8:17; 2 Co 1:7; Php 3:10; Php 4:14; Heb 10:33–34; Heb 13:3

Fellowship through shared spiritual blessings

1 Corinthians 9:23 NIV
I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
See also Ro 11:17; Php 1:7; 2 Th 2:14; 1 Pe 5:1; Jud 3

Specific actions which express fellowship and unity in the church

Sharing in the Lord’s Supper

1 Corinthians 10:16–17 NIV
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.
See also Ac 2:46; Ac 20:7; 1 Co 11:33

Baptism as an expression of unity

Ephesians 4:4–6 NIV
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
See also 1 Co 12:13

Extending hospitality

Ac 28:7; Ro 12:13; Ro 16:23; 1 Ti 5:10; Tt 1:8; 1 Pe 4:9; 3 Jn 8

Greeting one another

Ac 18:27; Ro 16:3–16; 1 Co 16:19–20; Col 4:10; Phm 17

Welcoming former opponents

Ac 9:26–27; Ga 2:9; 2 Co 2:5–8

Divisions in the church

Causes of division in the NT church

Personal ambition:

Mk 9:34; Mk 10:35–41

Ethnic tension:

Acts 6:1 NIV
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.

Differences of opinion:

Ac 15:37–40; Php 4:2

Troublesome heretical leaders:

Ro 16:17; Jud 19

Partisan spirit:

1 Co 1:11–12; 1 Co 3:3–4
1 Co 6:1–6 litigation and disputes

Greed:

1 Co 11:18; 1 Co 11:20–21; Jas 4:1–3

Warnings against divisions in the church

1 Corinthians 1:10 NIV
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
See also Ro 12:16; Ro 16:17; 2 Co 12:20; Eph 4:31; Jas 4:11

Acceptable differences in the church

In secondary matters of conscience, Christians are to respect rather than judge each other. These things need not impair the essential unity that is in Christ:

Ro 14:1–3; Ro 14:5–6; 1 Co 8:9–13

In varieties of spiritual gifts:

1 Co 12:4–6; 1 Co 12:14–25; Ga 2:7

Necessary divisions in the church

Between the true gospel and heretical alternatives:

2 Co 11:2–6; 2 Co 11:13–15; Ga 1:6–9; Col 2:8; Col 2:16–19; 1 Ti 4:1–6; 1 Jn 2:18–19; 2 Jn 9–11; Jud 18–20

Between those truly committed to Jesus Christ, and those apparently part of the church but living sinful lives:

1 Co 5:9–10; 2 Th 3:6; 1 Ti 6:3–5; 2 Ti 3:2–9; 2 Pe 1:20–21; 2 Pe 2:1–3; Re 2:20; Re 2:24; Re 3:1; Re 3:4

Over essential gospel principles:

Ac 15:2; Ac 15:5–6; Ac 15:19; Ga 2:11
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