by Al Maxey

Issue #200a ------- July 23, 2005
The meaning of life consists in
the love and service of God.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)

List of Essentials
Response to a Question

A reader from Florida, after reading my most recent Reflections regarding the question of Unity or Uniformity, wrote the following -- "After reading your article to my ultra-conservative husband, his question to me was, 'Then what would Mr. Maxey say are the things we must agree on?' Would you even want to entertain this, or should I just tell him nicely that he missed the point?" In the previous issue of my Reflections I mentioned that a reader from Alabama had made the bold assertion that unless brethren are in agreement there can be no "Christian unity." I had challenged that brother to provide a list of the essentials necessary to such unity. He essentially refused, saying that we should all simply read our Bibles and agree upon everything taught by Jesus while on earth and everything taught in the NT writings. It is only by keeping all of the laws perceived therein until we die that both unity and salvation would be realized. My article challenged that perspective.

However, the reader's husband, in his question above, raises a valid point. Is there anything upon which we must agree in order to have "Christian unity"? In some ways I would say this gentleman has missed the point of my previous article. The reader from Alabama had insisted that "Christian unity" would never be achieved until there was agreement on everything Jesus taught while on earth and everything that was in the NT writings. My point was that such is simply an impossibility, for one thing, and is never required by our Lord, for another. Unity is not to be found in absolute agreement on such a listing of personally perceived particulars and party preferences elevated to divine decree; a list so enormous that this proponent of that theory freely admitted he could not possibly live long enough to adequately provide the specifics of it. It is also such an elusive list that the moment he did attempt to produce it (or his version of it) he would immediately be disagreed with by every other legalistic patternist who likewise would demand complete agreement to such a list -- their version of it. And yet, even in the face of such realistic obstacles, the brother from Alabama insists that "Christian unity" (and, by implication, our very salvation) can never be attained or maintained until such agreement on such a list occurs (even though he is totally unwilling to provide the specifics upon which such unity and salvation depend). Such reasoning is completely illogical and unbiblical, not to mention, by its very nature, sectarian and divisive.

Having said that, however, one nevertheless does find a few things revealed to us in Scripture upon which all of us would agree that there must be agreement and conviction of faith .... and it does not even begin to take us the rest of our physical lives to try and come up with such a list of essentials to our unity and oneness. "He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Heb. 11:6). I would say that is at the top of the list of things we must believe, and upon which disciples who seek to be united as one must agree! After all, what unity or agreement or fellowship has Christ with Belial, or the temple of God with idols, or a believer with an unbeliever (2 Cor. 6:14-16)? I find it hard to have spiritual unity with an atheist. Thus, one thing essential to unity (and, yes, even to salvation) is a belief in God, and belief in the simple fact that by seeking Him and coming to Him one shall be rewarded. Now, there may be diversity of opinion as to the exact nature of God (we often differ over the meaning of such terms as omnipotent, omniscient, immortal, etc.), but there should be agreement that He IS. There may also be diversity of opinion and conviction as to the nature of eternal rewards and punishments, but there should be agreement that such will be. If one does not believe in God, or that God will call men to account, rewarding those who come to Him and punishing those who do not, then there is obviously no basis for us who are in Christ to have unity with such a person, for they deny our sovereign God.

Second on "the list" would have to be a firm belief in Jesus Christ -- His birth, death, burial and resurrection. These essentials of faith are laid out for us repeatedly in Scripture. Jesus, having come in the flesh, is said by the apostle John to be the emphasis of his teaching so that "you also may have fellowship with us" (1 John 1:1-3). Those "who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh" are deceivers and anti-Christ (2 John 7). Thus, I would say this is something upon which we must agree. Jesus IS, Jesus came. He was real. Those who don't believe that can hardly be one with those who do. When the eunuch from Ethiopia asked what prevented him from being immersed, Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." The eunuch then declared, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (Acts 8:37). Paul wrote, "For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:11). "For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). We are told in Acts 17:18 that Paul went about "preaching Jesus and the resurrection." "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3-4). "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain ... you are still in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:14,17). The book of Acts tells us clearly that the message of the church was Jesus (birth, death, burial and resurrection). There must be acceptance of these facts for there to be unity of believers. Those who deny these facts are not unified with those who affirm them. The Bible is very firm on this. Now, there may be great diversity in our understanding of some of the details of those facts, but the facts themselves should be undeniable truths for those in Christ.

Someone once asked Jesus what the greatest commandments were. Jesus said all law was summed up in just two -- love God and love one another. Paul emphasizes the same in Romans 13. Should there be agreement on this among believers in God and Christ? I believe there should be. There may be significant diversity on the particulars of how one demonstrates such love, but there must be agreement that one must show such love. After all, "we know we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death" (1 John 3:14). "The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. ... God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 John 4:8,16). I would say that makes this an essential, wouldn't you?! All law can be summed up in the commands: "love God and love one another." Those who agree with this biblical truth, and all those who seek to put it into daily practice, are united with God, who is love, and united with one another in love. "Put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity" (Col. 3:14).

Faith/belief in God and Jesus, and demonstrated love, are essential to our oneness (indeed, to our very salvation). When we accept our Lord Jesus Christ in simple, trusting, active, demonstrated faith, we are joined in relationship with Him, and by that union are thereby united with all others who have done the same. Christian unity is based on union with Christ! Those who are "in Christ" are united, regardless of the degree of agreement they may have with one another on thousands of peripheral matters of perception or practice. Our continuing challenge is to learn to accept one another, as the Lord Jesus has accepted us (Rom. 15:7), rather than seeking to compel one another to agree with the preferred particulars of some rigid religious perception. Promoting the latter merely leads, at best, to a forced uniformity (or, at worst, to division); promoting Jesus promotes true Christian unity, for it is only in Him that we are brought together as one!

I mentioned that if we hope to be united with Christ, and, by virtue of that union, united with one another, there must be an active, demonstrated faith. After all, James makes it very clear in his epistle (James 2) that an undemonstrated faith is "dead" and will save no one! It is hard for the saved to be united as one with the unsaved. Thus, an evidenced faith is essential. The question, of course, is -- what evidence of this faith does the Lord expect? Has He been specific in His inspired Word with regard to the desired particulars of this visible demonstration of faith? The answer is Yes, He has, and, again, "the list" is not long. No man should ever fear giving the particulars of that evidenced faith. We must:

  1. Repent. Turn from a life lived apart from relationship with God, and turn to a life lived in blessed union with Him through His Son. When the Jews at Pentecost asked Peter what they must do, he simply said, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized!" (Acts 2:38). "God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent" (Acts 17:30). Sounds like an "item on the list" to me! If we would be in relationship with deity, then we must turn away from a relationship with the world. "Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). Repent! Turn away from friendship with the world; turn toward your God. Such turning to Light leads to union with Him, and such union establishes a state of unity with all others who do the same.

  2. Confess. We must acknowledge Jesus ... not only with our lips, but, even more importantly, with our lives by daily walking with Him in the light where He abides, letting our light shine before others as a lamp set upon a hill. "Many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God" (John 12:42-43). Were these timid, intimidated rulers approved by our God? No. Why? Because they refused to evidence their faith in a visible public confession or acknowledgement of Jesus! "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation" (Rom. 10:9-10).

  3. Be Immersed. Again, this command was given by Peter to those on the day of Pentecost who inquired as to what they must do. They apparently took him at his word, for "those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about 3000 souls" (Acts 2:41). They were added to the Lord; union with Him. The result was they were also united with one another. Christian UNITY is by virtue of UNION with Christ Jesus. And this comes as a result of demonstrated faith. Immersion is a demonstration of that faith, as are repentance and confession; a demonstration required by our Lord Himself. Even after Cornelius and his household had received the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon them, as the Jews had at Pentecost, Peter still "ordered them to be baptized" (Acts 10:48). Demonstrating one's faith is demanded by our God; immersion is one such visible evidence required of those who believe the gospel message, and is thus essential to our union with Him and unity with one another. It is not a work, however; merely an evidence of saving faith.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, lest anyone should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). God saves us by uniting us with His Son, and He then unites into one family all who are "in Christ Jesus." We may disagree on a thousand and one points of interpretation and conviction, but that in no way affects our UNITY, for our unity is IN HIM, not in whether you or I agree on everything on every page of the Bible. If you are in Christ and I am in Christ, we are united. We have both been accepted by Him. Our challenge is now to accept one another to the glory of our one Father, and to gather together around His table in sweet fellowship.

Brethren, "the list" is a short one! It doesn't take the rest of one's life to write it down. It is so simple that even a child could provide it to another. We must believe .... and demonstrate it. When that is done, we spend the rest of our lives in union with Him, united with one another, living daily in visible appreciation for our salvation through works of gratitude. There is no need to regulate these various works, for they are merely faith in action; the fruit of the indwelling Spirit in evidence. Worship is the outpouring of the devotion of our hearts; worship happens daily, and also needs no regulation under the new covenant (Heb. 9:10) .... worship only requires heartfelt demonstration! May God help us to forever abandon this foolish notion that unity and salvation are by virtue of agreement on points of legalistic legislation; legislated law so extensive that its proponents could not, by their own admission, list the specifics of it in a single lifetime. May we, instead, live lives of simple, trusting, active faith; looking to Him, in union with whom we are all united as one family.

This is my "Christian Affirmation," brethren ... my only "creed" is Christ!!

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