THE CALL TO UNITY
Turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 4:1-6. If you don’t have a Bible with you, you can find one in the pew rack and find this passage on page ___. My brothers and sisters, I am compelled this morning to address some issues in our church for the sake of unity. We can no longer dance around the issues. We need to hit them head on. I need to issue the call to unity in our church.
This message has been weighing on my heart for the past 10 days…weighing very heavy! My prayer this week has been for our church! I have been praying for you! Before I address some issues, I need to lay down some groundwork. I ask that we all open our hearts and mind to allow the Spirit to speak to us through his Word. Let’s stand for the reading of God’s word.
Read Ephesians 4:1-6
There are two major points this morning from our passage. Let’s look at the first one.
I. Answering the Call to Unity is Demonstrated in How We Live (vs. 1-3)
Paul exhorts his readers to “walk.” Paul is not encouraging a walking program for the church. Rather, Paul is referring to how one conducts their life…how one lives their life. Paul is exhorting his readers to live their lives in a “manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Paul is not referring to a call to professional ministry or a call to an elite group. This call is for every Christian. It is used of the salvation call. This exhortation comes right after Paul has spent 3 chapters focusing on the foundations of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is exhorting his readers to live their lives in accordance with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Now that Paul has encouraged his readers to live in light of their calling, he explains what that looks like by providing 5 characteristics:
1. Humility (vs. 2)
Humility focuses on one’s thinking. It means lowliness of mind. In the Greek world, humility was an attitude of slaves and was considered a negative trait. For the Christian life, however, humility is to be a distinguishing characteristic. Living with all humility must be expressed in how we live this life.
2. Gentleness (vs. 2)
Gentleness focuses on one’s attitude. It involves being mild spirited or self- controlled. It carries the idea of the willingness to make allowances for others. A person who is gentle has their emotions under control. It is the opposite of arrogance and self- assertiveness.
3. Patience (vs. 2)
Patience literally means long temper. KJV uses the word longsuffering. It denotes the self-restraint that enables one to endure annoyances and challenges over a period of time and without resorting to hasty retaliation.
4. Accepting One Another in Love (vs. 2)
This means to put up with each other in love. Another way of saying this is love motivates us to put up with other people. Husbands and wives put up with each other. This is necessary for a marriage! The same is true in the church.
5. Maintain the Unity of the Spirit (vs. 3)
Notice the word “maintain.” It conveys the idea of ongoing, continuous effort. In other words, unity is active, not passive. We must be zealous in maintaining unity. It is also important to notice that we don’t create unity. God is the one that unites us. Therefore, we must be eager to keep it. We are to maintain unity by the Spirit’s help.
Paul has just given us 5 ways we are to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called. We are to live with humility, with gentleness, with patience, with accepting one another in love, and maintaining the unity of the Spirit. How we live in respect to these five areas indicates whether we are answering or ignoring the call to unity! Let’s look at the second point.
II. Answering the Call to Unity is Evident in What We Believe (vs. 4-6)
Paul now moves from how we live to what we believe. We must understand that Paul is not arguing for unity at any price in which the fundamental truths of the gospel are abandoned. Rather, we need to hold to the truths that unite us as a body. Therefore, Paul gives 7 “one” statements to emphasize the oneness we share ultimately in the gospel.
1. One Body (vs. 4)
There are not several bodies of Christ in different locations. There is one body of Christ and each local congregation is representative of the body. People have been called out of every tongue, people and nation. They differ in color, language, nationality, education, training, and temperament. Each one has their dislikes, prejudices, and animosities that can separate. But through the blood of Christ and the baptism of the Spirit, we are united to Christ as living members of His body. Therefore, we are diverse in background and gifting, but we are united as one.
2. One Spirit (vs. 4)
There must be unity among believers because we all have one Spirit. This is a reference to the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13 speaks to this point:
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
The Spirit dwells inside all believers. And that Spirit is the same in each person because it is the Holy Spirit. He is the one that creates unity and empowers us to maintain it.
3. One Hope (vs. 4)
There must be unity among believers because we all have one hope. That hope is what is promised in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will be with Christ. We will be like Christ. We will be joint heirs with Christ. And, we will be free of the presence of sin.
4. One Lord (vs. 5)
There must be unity among believers because we all have one Lord. That one Lord is Jesus Christ. Romans 10:12 says:
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.
5. One Faith (vs. 5)
There must be unity among believers because we all have one faith. I do not believe Paul is referring to the faith we place into Christ. Rather, I believe he is referencing the essential truths of the gospel concerning salvation. Jude 3 says:
I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
Warren Wiersbe says:
There is one settled body of truth deposited by Christ in His church, and this is “the faith.”…The early Christians recognized a body of basic doctrine that they taught, guarded, and committed to others. Christians may differ in some matters of interpretation and church practice; but all true Christians agree on “the faith”—and to depart from “the faith” is to bring about disunity within the body of Christ.
6. One Baptism (vs. 5)
There must be unity among believers because we all have one baptism. This in no way speaks or teaches that baptism is the means of salvation. Paul is saying that we have all been spiritually baptized into Christ. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:13:
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.
Paul has to be thinking, if people have the same Lord, believe the same gospel, and have experienced the same reality of being baptized into Christ, should they not live out this unity?
7. One God and Father of All (vs. 6)
God has a family. Ephesians 1:5 speaks to our adoption by the Father. This family is entered into by faith in Christ. As children of the same family, we have the same father. That Father is also God. As God, he is over all and through all and in all. God is sovereign over all things and he is omnipotent over all creation.
Answering the call to unity is not only demonstrated in what we do, but evident in what we believe.
SO WHAT ABOUT TODAY?
Seven weeks ago, our pastor addressed the issue of Calvinism. Since that time, some people have asked me what Calvinism is. Calvinism is named after the 16th century Reformer John Calvin. Through his study of scripture, he developed a theology that people have referred to as Calvinism. His theology was not necessarily new. Most of it can be traced back to St. Augustine in the 4th century.
When people claim they are Calvinists, they are not claiming they follow John Calvin. They are simply agreeing with his interpretation of scripture. We don’t have time to go into all the details of Calvinism this morning. However, I do want to provide a brief description. The main tenet of Calvinism is the sovereignty of God. He is sovereign over all things, including salvation, from beginning to end. Calvinists believe we are born sinners and are thus spiritually dead. They also believe we cannot respond to God’s grace on our own. John 6:65 says:
And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
But God has a chosen people which are called the elect. Ephesians 1:5-6 says:
In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
It is here where the dividing line is often drawn. There is disagreement over the doctrine of election or predestination.
First off, election and predestination are biblical doctrines. Scripture refers to them several times. Within the Southern Baptist Convention there are two interpretations concerning the doctrine of election. Some Southern Baptists believe that one is predestined for salvation based upon God looking into the future and knowing what decision a person will make. Based on their decision, God predestined them for salvation. For the sake of today, I will refer to those that embrace this interpretation as non-Calvinists.
Other Southern Baptists believe that one is predestined for salvation based upon God’s own choosing. In other words, God elected certain people for salvation. This is based on God’s purpose and will and his foreknowledge. God’s foreknowledge is not based on a person’s future decision, but that God knew them intimately before the foundations of the world. (Adam & Eve) As a result, those that have been predestined will choose, or decide to repent of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ for their salvation. For the sake of today, I will refer to those that embrace this interpretation as Calvinists.
So, which side is correct? Can we find the answer in our statement of faith, the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message? Concerning the doctrine of election, it says:
Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.
Despite the different interpretations on the issue of election and predestination between Southern Baptist Calvinists and non-Calvinists, both agree with the Baptist Faith & Message. Both sides believe the Baptist Faith & Message is sufficient for both sides and both sides fully and completely affirm the statement.
In 2012, Frank Page, the Executive Director of the Southern Baptist Convention put together a 20 person Calvinism Advisory Committee. The committee consisted of pastors, denominational leaders, seminary professors, and seminary presidents. These leaders also fell into both camps, Calvinists and non-Calvinists. The committee was commissioned to find a way forward for churches and our convention concerning the disagreement over Calvinism. A year later, they released their report. Listen to one of their exhortations from their report:
It is, therefore, our responsibility to come together with open hearts and minds in order to speak truthfully, honestly, and respectfully about these theological and doctrinal issues that concern us, threaten to divide us, and compel us into conversation. Such engagement is appropriate at every level of Southern Baptist life including local congregations, associations, state conventions, and the Southern Baptist Convention.
They also stated:
With a full recognition of the limitless wisdom of God’s Word and the limited wisdom of ourselves, we urge Southern Baptists to grant one another liberty in those areas within The Baptist Faith and Message where differences in interpretation cause us to disagree...But these particular differences do not constitute a sufficient basis for division and must not be allowed to hamper the truly crucial cooperative effort of taking the Gospel to a waiting world.
It is obvious that the committee considers Calvinism to be a secondary issue and not primary. Therefore, division is not necessary. Unity can be maintained.
So, what about our church? I want to give two exhortations for us this morning. The exhortations fall in line with our scripture.
1. We must maintain unity at Belle Aire in what we believe.
Believing that the Bible is God’s perfect word, we trust and affirm the following:
--We believe that God is one in three persons, The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
--We believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.
--We believe in Christ’s sinlessness.
--We believe Jesus was both human and divine.
--We believe that man is sinful and in need of God’s grace.
--We believe in Christ’s atoning death and his physical resurrection.
--We believe in the physical second coming of Christ, final judgment, and the eternality of Christ’s reign as King and Lord.
These are the essentials of the faith. It is in these doctrines that we must maintain unity because these are primary!
Notice that Calvinism was not mentioned. Calvinism is not a primary doctrine. It is secondary at best. Therefore, division in our church is not necessary. For those that are concerned that Belle Aire will be a Calvinist church, rest assured. Belle Aire will not be a Calvinist church. For those that are concerned that Belle Aire will be a non-Calvinist church, rest assured. Belle Aire will not be a non-Calvinist church. Belle Aire has members in both camps. I am encouraging members of this church to agree to disagree on this issue. I think it is important to say here that Belle Aire has, is, and will be Southern Baptist. That will not change. However, on the issue of Calvinism, we must not divide. Rather, we must maintain unity in the essentials.
I believe our ministerial staff is an example of how to live this out. The ministerial staff has people in both camps. In fact, I still don’t know where one of our ministerial staff lands on this issue. You know how much sleep I have lost over that? Zero! We do not fight or argue or divide over this issue. Our desire is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. We want to be active in living out our faith and sharing the gospel to those that need Jesus Christ. I believe this same approach towards Calvinism amongst the ministerial staff can be reflected within the body. That is my desire. That is the ministerial staff’s desire. I believe we can live in light of Richard Baxter’s exhortation:
Unity in essentials, liberty in incidentals, and in all things charity (love).
We must maintain unity at Belle Aire in what we believe.
2. We must maintain unity at Belle Aire by loving each other.
This goes back to Ephesians 4:1-3. Let me ask some concluding questions. When it comes to how you relate to your brothers and sisters in Christ at Belle Aire:
--Do you find yourself being self-centered or living with humility? Thinking more of others or more of yourself?
--Do you find yourself being harsh or treating others gently?
--Do you find yourself being driven by the tyranny of your own agenda or living with patience with others?
--Do you find yourself living with idealistic expectations or accepting others in love?
--Do you find yourself working against unity or maintaining unity of the Spirit?
Belle Aire, the call to unity has been issued this morning. Will we heed the call? I pray we will.