BUILDING CHURCHES FOR UNITY
According to the Blueprint of Christ
by William C. Hawkins
Jesus must have been deep in thought as He made His way up into the mountain that special evening. There He would continue all night in prayer before selecting twelve unique men whom He called apostles. There He laid the initial foundational blocks which would flank the massive Cornerstone of an institution that would bring glory to Him "throughout all ages" (1 Cor. 12:28: Eph. 2:20; 3:21). Long before a foundation is laid, a master architect shall have completed a design concept with all the features and details of the "blueprint" precisely conceived and arranged to achieve all his purposes for a building. Jesus is the Master Architect of the building He called "my church." And it seems elementary, though extremely important, to realize that every feature necessary to achieve His every purpose for His church was already clearly in His mind before He started to lay the foundation that night.
The purposes to be served by His church are many, but I want to focus on a few design features that, if properly implemented, would serve one of His most important purposes: the unity of the faith in truth.
THE CHURCH IS PERFECTLY DESIGNED FOR UNITY
If it is the will of Christ that "They all may be one … that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17:20-23), then we may rest assured that the church which He designed, authorized, and empowered as His official representative to the world was, in the mind of Christ, perfectly de-signed for unity. The church as His body is to reflect the mind of Christ, the Head, even as the human body's actions reflect the human mind. The body does what the mind commands. The churches of Jesus Christ are in-tended to be the products of the mind of Christ: and to the degree that they actually are, there will be unity within and between such churches.
Now if it is in Christ's mind that his authorized representatives on earth should be unified, then we would expect Him to build His churches with the perfect design for such unity. Per-haps this is one reason we see the first churches so strongly exhorted to obedience to the ecclesiology of Christ and so sharply rebuked for their disobedience and variation from it (Rev. 1-3).
We too must be so exhorted and seriously seek to implement the ecclesiology of Jesus. It behooves us then to look more closely at the design features conceived in the mind of Christ.
BAPTISM — DESIGN FOR UNITY
The first unifying feature in the design of the church encountered by a new believer is baptism. This means of entering the church as a new member was set forth carefully out of the mind of Christ. Those who were added to the church at Jerusalem were those who first "gladly received the word" and then "were baptized" (Acts 2:41).
Is this part of Christ's design for unity? How can a people be unified if they are not of the same mind concerning their sin and concerning the Gospel remedy for their sin? John the Baptist would only baptize those who showed fruits of repentance (Matt. 3:8). Baptism is the answer of a good conscience toward God (1 Pet. 3:21). Christian unity would require that Christians enter the covenant community together at the same door of obedience, with the same heart and attitude toward Christ, salvation, and baptism. The Scriptures unequivocally set forth a regenerate church membership of baptized believers. The protestant denominations that baptize infants and fill their churches with unregenerate members is a source of discord. Notice that Acts 2:47 says of those baptized believers at Jerusalem (v. 41) that "The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved."
Now in considering the unifying character of this ordinance, we see again the genius of Christ's ecclesiology. Scriptural baptism with its slightly discomforting immersion, calls for humble obedience to Christ as Lord. It speaks of a death to sin and a deliberate commitment to a new walk (Rom. 6:1 -8). Many who promote putting on the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5) forget that this involves humble obedience (v. 8) to the entire will of God.
Baptism should be seen not as an apocryphal appendix to the will of Christ but as a feature central to His will and as an ordinance that came out of His heart and mind in wisdom. See Him submitting to His own ordinance, and hear the voice from heaven approving this action (Matt. 3:13-17). See His people uniformly following His example (e.g., Acts 9:18). See those who received a "baptism" inconsistent with the mind of Christ submit again to scriptural baptism (Acts 19:3-5) consistent with the mind of Christ.
Scriptural baptism is a critical starting point for unity. Those who were unified (Acts 2:46: 4:32) in the early church started their association by baptism and continued with a faithful walk, according to the mind of Christ: "And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine ..." (Acts 2:42).
THE PASTORAL OFFICE — DESIGN FOR UNITY
Christ planned His church to be a continuing, growing, representation of Himself on the earth. He placed pastor-teachers in the church to teach, preach, and exemplify the Word for edification and stability (Eph. 4:11). He could not have expected unity if the saints were "tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine" (v. 14).
Consider now the context of this great principle. He wants us to grow up as His body into Him — the head (v. 15). Thus the body will be "fitly joined together and compacted" (v. 16) or properly unified. This architecture for church edification and unity through the ministry of pastors was by deliberate design out of the mind of Christ.
To achieve His purpose, the design of this office was critical. Pastors were to be ordained from among the people of the church only after they were considered by the church to meet Christ's qualifications (1 Tim. 3; Titus 5). They were of the same "stuff that composed the body. The pastors were to be servants (Matt. 20:25-28). For how else could they lead the body of Christ to be consistent with the mind of Christ? "Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister" (v. 28).
There was no provision made for preeminence among pastors or for a clergy above the people. In fact, considerable provisions were made to preclude such practice. For example, the earliest practice, straight from the mind of Christ, was a plurality of co-equal pastors co-laboring together. This was the consistent pattern in every New Testament church in all known cases. It is consistent with Christ's genius to include in His ecclesiology something that would wonder-fully "startle" the world where "they that are great exercise authority upon them" (Matt. 20:25).
Imagine two or three or four dynamic, spirit-filled individual leaders pulling in the same harness to plow in the same vineyard because they loved the harvest and the Lord of the harvest more than their own "place." preeminence, or accolades. This itself is a picture of unity which, if it were still practiced, would be an example to the church and make an impressive distinction between the church and the world.
In Acts 15 the entire church with its several elders (v. 22) made a unified decision (v. 25) concerning a serious doctrinal matter (v. 5. 28. 29). Clearly this action was not the result of one man effectively pressing His will upon the people. The leadership of Peter, Barnabas, Paul, and James was exercised and the "disputing" (v. 7). undoubtedly a valuable part of the process of consideration (v. 6), gave way to a pleasant unity (v. 25). The plurality of elders helped produce this unity and served to demonstrate it as well.
This continuance in the things consistent with the mind of Christ was not left solely to the pastoral office. A plurality of deacons selected by the church worked in accord with its directive, that the pastoral attention might be more focused on the Word (Acts 6:1-7).
A DECISION-MAKING MEMBERSHIP — DESIGN FOR UNITY
The officers" work and ministry did not diminish the answerability of the collective body or of each member to Christ the Head. On the contrary, it is the task of the pastors so thoroughly to teach the church that its collective resident wisdom can render wiser decisions than any one of the pastors individually. Each member is person-ally responsible before God to interpret and obey the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) and to participate in the collective decision-making process (Matt. 18:17,18; Acts 1:23-26:6:3; 1 Cor. 5:4. 5, 12, 13; 2 Cor. 2:6).
The idea of the church "catering" its responsibility for decision-making to a single executive pastor or a board of deacons is foreign to the mind of Christ. This departure from Christ's architecture has caused countless splits or has resulted in an "empire" of trucklers held together by an iron-fisted pastor. As the people in Acts watched and participated according to each member's responsibility, the body was drawn together in its purpose (Acts 2:42-47).
CHURCH DISCIPLINE — DESIGN FOR UNITY
Individual participation includes the loving confrontation commanded by Christ as a merciful means of purification of the body (Matt. 18:15-18). Christ gave authority to the church (Matt. 16:18-19) and the responsibility to invoke that authority in matters of sins of heresy (1Cor. 5:4-5: Matt 18:17). How can a body be unified when those who have entered by the same door and have started to grow together do not continue together in their deportment or their doctrine? Church discipline will either bring those members who will repent back to the place of unified service or will purge out the ones who persist in discordant sin. This is perhaps the most important design feature for the maintenance of church unity that has come from the mind of Christ.
This continuance in a disciplined unity is further enhanced by the periodic observance of the Lord's Supper as an internal means of remembrance and self-examination (1 Cor. 11:28).
Have we lost sight of the importance of all these and other provisions Christ has made that we may continue unified in the apostles' doctrine? How many other aspects of the mind of Christ' in ecclesiology bear on this subject of unity?
REPRODUCTION IN KIND — DESIGN FOR UNITY
Consider one more critical design factor for unity: Christ designed His church to reproduce itself in kind while fulfilling His will to preach the Gospel to every creature. From the beginning everything God has made has been "very good" (Gen. 1:31): the church is no exception! And God designed every good thing so that it could reproduce "after his kind, whose seed is in itself (1:11). Again the church is no exception. It is designed to reproduce after its kind, which re-production is Christ's provision for unity between churches. If a new church is "genetically" like its "mother." and they each maintain the unity within, as described above, there will always be unity between them. When we see how this worked in the approved examples of the New Testament, the importance of Christ's ecclesiology is again highlighted as a marvel of insight and wisdom.
Notice, now, that the church at Jerusalem — with its baptized believing constituency, its discipline, and its many pastors — made unified corporate decisions (e.g.. Acts 1:24-26; 15:22-25) including those necessary to press the Word into other places. Thus the church at Antioch was formed out of the deliberate efforts of the church at Jerusalem (11:22-26): "they sent forth Barnabas" for this work, and Antioch had the same characteristics and was unified — after its kind — with the church at Jerusalem.
Then the church at Antioch, with its five pastors co-laboring together, was led by the Spirit to make a corporate decision to send out two pastors for the purpose of reproducing churches of the same kind in Asia and elsewhere (Acts 13:1f).
If there was genius in designing the apple (and there was), there was double genius in designing an apple that would reproduce itself in kind. Likewise, there is double genius in Christ's design of the church. It reproduces itself in unified bodies wherever Christians follow the mind of Christ.
Whenever a system works for such immense good, it is criminal to change it! It is ecclesiological suicide to drift from these principles or to proliferate new movements or competitive para-church organizations to "improve" upon the design of the mind of Christ.
This is inherently divisive. These hybrids are not necessary, and they never enjoy the genius of Christ's architecture. They are formed out of the minds of men — so inferior to the mind of Christ!
No wonder the world is confused about the mind of Christ. Those claiming to represent Him come in the eclectic trappings of mission boards, evangelistic associations, self-created "churches" and denominations. They reflect confusion and not unity. Remember, Christ wants the world to see Him by watching His church.
We cannot afford to make the mistake of separating the ecclesiology of Christ from the mind of Christ. When we speak of the unity Christ prayed for, we must also think of implementing the unity He desires and will achieve through the unified ministry of His body here on earth as He reigns from God's right hand: "Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church. Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all (Eph. 1:21-23).
If the church was designed out of the mind of Christ, then following that design is absolutely mandatory. His attributes of humility, sacrifice, and obedience (Phil. 2:5-8) are supposed to be our attributes "that ye may be blameless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world" (Phil. 2:15). There is no better way to showcase all the qualities of Christ than through unified churches made up of disciplined, obedient, believers led by the example of humble pastors toward the greatest objective in all the world: "That ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9).