Monday, December 13, 2010

The Apostle Paul and His View of Unity and "Non-Essentials"

Unity is the subject du jour of evangelicalism and fundamentalism. If you want to move to the head of the line, you've got to push and shove to get in the front on unity today. Important to call your group "Together" or "United" or "Coalition." Like love has been hijacked by syrupy sentimentality, unity has been expropriated by toleration. The Apostle Paul wanted both love (1 Cor 13) and unity. In 1 Corinthians 1:10, he writes this:

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

After thanking God for the Corinthian position in Christ, Paul began addressing consequential behavior, and he starts with unity. Disunity comes first out of all the problems with which the Apostle had begun. Paul desired, and it is no different in any of his epistles, unanimity. His unity was today's unanimity. Today's unity would have been Corinthian disobedience.

First he beseeches. He calls upon their brotherliness. He pleads by the name of their and his Lord. And then he describes what He expects. They speak the same thing. No divisions. Perfectly joined together. Same mind. Same judgment. Wow. They were to agree on everything. Everything. Think the same. Judge the same. Have the same talking points. That is what Paul taught on unity and it is unanimity. Biblical unity is unanimity. It isn't agree to disagree. It is only agree. It seems that about the only thing we've got to agree upon today is agreeing. If you won't tolerate an alternate opinion, you're the divisive one in the contemporary faux unity.

If you want to know the nature of the kind of issues that Paul wanted them to speak the same thing, have no division about, be perfectly joined together, to have the same opinion, to agree upon, then just read 1 Corinthians. That's not so hard, is it? Let's do some of that.

What are some of the subjects on which Paul ordains unity? He wants unity on methods as seen in 1 Corinthians 1-4. They had to evangelize, do ministry, in a biblically prescribed manner, a way that depended on the Lord and brought Him glory. They had to church discipline (chapter 5), couldn't ignore that, and for more than just immorality (see covetousness). They weren't to bring fellow believers to secular courts (1 Cor 6). They were to have one view on divorce and remarriage (1 Cor 7). Fathers had authority over their virgin daughters (1 Cor 7:36-38). No one was to be a stumbling block to a fellow believer (1 Cor 8). The head of the woman is the man (1 Cor 11:3).

When Paul gets to chapter 11 he spends lengthy time on a single dress issue that was based on an application of Scripture. Nowhere in the Bible were women commanded to wear head-coverings until we get to 1 Corinthians 11. So it was based upon principles already written in the Bible. Doesn't Paul know that this is a non-essential? Doesn't he understand that he is majoring on the minors? Isn't he wasting a large amount of space and time that should be used for the deep doctrinal issues, and in so doing actually undermining the gospel? That's what many fundamentalists and almost all evangelicals today would say he was doing, if he he did that today. And to top it off, he deals with hair length on men and women. Doesn't Paul know that God judges the heart? What a legalist!

I know that when I bring up dress issues, fundamentalists and evangelicals say that I'm doing grave damage to the priority of the gospel. I also can't really teach on dress issues with any kind of dogmatism, not anything like what Paul did. That might cause division, hurt some feelings, ruffle some feathers. None of that seemed to be on Paul's radar. He talked about everything without fear of the "non-essential" threat used by fundamentalists and evangelicals. They want to guilt men into refraining from preaching or teaching on subjects especially unpopular with the world. They use this gospel stick to keep men in line. It really is a new kind of left wing legalism masquerading as liberty.

And then Paul spends the second half of chapter 11 on the Lord's Table, communion. And he says that if church members partake of the bread and the cup unworthily, they might get sick or die. Isn't that an overboard reaction for such a minor, tertiary issue?

In 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul sends people speaking in unknown tongues on a guilt trip. He makes women who aren't silent during church meetings to feel they must be muzzled. Certainly he was at least looking for an exodus of the egalitarian men and women at Corinth, opening wide that back door of the church. Three straight chapters of causing division by bringing up needless non-essentials. I would say he was unloving except for chapter 13. Oops. I guess love is supposed to reconcile with Paul's dogmatism about gifts.

And finally Paul gets to 1 Corinthians 15, where he talks about the resurrection. Shouldn't that have been in chapter 1? And if the gospel really was "first of all," then why is it appearing first in chapter fifteen? If you bring up hair length before you speak of "death, burial, and resurrection," isn't that indicative of a person who sadly majors on the minors? I think we could safely say that Paul's subject order might confuse someone about the importance of the gospel. And to top it off, in chapter 16 he brings up money and giving.

The church was to be of the same mind, same opinion, and same speech on at least this wide array of varying doctrines and practices. In Romans 16:17-18, Paul told the church in Rome that if there were those who would cause division on anything they were taught, they were to be marked and then avoided. Paul required absolute unanimity in the church without mention of essentials or non-essentials. A total everythingist, that Paul.

I call on all true preachers of God's Word to stand against the attack of fundamentalists and evangelicals on the preaching of the whole counsel of God's Word. If it's taught in the Bible, you teach it. If God said it, you say it, and you apply it. The Bible is to be applied. Paul did. You do that too. Essentials, non-essentials, tertiary, primary. All.


d4v34x said...

"Paul required absolute unanimity in the church without mention of essentials or non-essentials."

If he had so required we wouldn't have Romans 14 or I Corinthians 8, both of which help us deal with areas in which we are not unanimous.

Gary Webb said...

AMEN! The Bible is pretty clear on this, isn't it? The problem though with fundamentalists & evangelicals is that they have an unscriptural ecclesiology that says that the unity has to be in "the CHURCH" - meaning all Christians.
Of course, Pastor Dave Mallinak hit the nail on the head too (in the panel discussion for the 2011 conference) when he said that most Christians have too many pastors. Church members are getting their doctrinal positions, etc. from preachers on TV, radio, Fundamentalist conferences, etc. rather than from the shepherd of their church. No wonder churches do not have unity.

Anonymous said...

One question I had as I was reading through I Cor. 10 in my devotions this morning, is why do so many professing Christians emphasise Chs. 8-9 to support their arguments for "Christian liberty" in any number of areas, even going so far as to call people who hold standards in these areas "weaker brethren," when Paul himself turns that on its head in Ch. 10?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi D4,

Paul required unanimity on head-coverings. Isn't that a Romans 14 issue?

Romans 14 issues are non-scriptural issues. Non-scriptural. I said it twice just for emphasis. In other words, paper or plastic. That's not a gap to drive through unscriptural belief or behavior.

So you think 1 Cor 1:10 isn't teaching unanimity?

d4v34x said...

Not the way you define it.

If you are purposing to forbear on behalf of another who does not have the same mind, you don't have absolut unanimity.

I think I Cor 1:10 is primarily in reference to the following few verses. He's warning against sectarianism based on distinctions meaningless to the gospel, lest the Cross of Christ be (effectively) emptied of its power. Could he be referring to the power to unify?

Kent Brandenburg said...


This is where it seems to me that you take your experience and conform scripture to it. I know that is a sharp point for me to make, but Paul expresses unanimity as plainly as it could be stated. Many would call it redundant, he uses so many descriptors.

The doctrine and practice of the church was to be identical---they were to agree on everything.

11-17 are about 10, not vice versa. Paul desires unity (10a). He defines unity (10b). He confronts disruption of that unity (11-12). He provides the doctrine that requires unity (13-17). 17 segues into v. 18. Christ does not receive the glory He deserves when there isn't unity, because He is one. Paul beseeches them by Him (v. 10a). The unity is based upon their fellowship with Him (v. 9).

The common ground between 10-17 and then 17 through the next few chapters is bringing glory to Christ. Unanimity is his unity. The gospel is His way to save, how He saves. Preaching.

He's not referring to the power to unify in v. 18. They have the power to unify because of their salvation 1:1-9---they don't lack in any gift. The disruption is about self, just like the wrong type of methodology at the end of 1 and into chapter 2 is about self.