Unfortunately, while we hope our flocks will be unified with love, many of us compete with each other and use unethical means to build our churches at the expense of other churches. Many of us avoid any fellowship with other pastors whose doctrine is different. We even advertise our lack of unity on signs we post for the world to see in front of our church buildings, sending a message to everyone: “We are not like those other Christians in other church buildings.” (And we’ve done a good job at educating the world on our lack of unity, as just about any unbeliever knows that Christianity is a very divided institution.)
In short, we don’t practice what we preach, and our example teaches our congregations much more than our sermons about unity do. It is foolish to think that average Christians are going to be unified and love each other when their leaders act differently.
The only solution, or course, is repentance. We must repent of setting the wrong example before believers and before the world. We must remove the barriers that divide us and start loving each other as Jesus commanded.
That means we must, first of all, meet with other pastors and ministers, including pastors of different doctrinal persuasions. I’m not speaking of fellowshipping with pastors who are not born again, who aren’t striving to obey Jesus, or who are in ministry for personal profit. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing, and Jesus told us exactly how to identify them. They are known by their fruit.
I am speaking, however, of pastors and ministers who are striving to keep Jesus’ commandments, true brothers and sisters in Christ. If you are a pastor, you should be committed to loving other pastors, demonstrating that love in practical ways before your flock. One way to start is by going to other pastors in your vicinity and asking their forgiveness for not loving them as you should. That should break down some walls. Then commit to meeting together regularly to have a meal, encourage and admonish one another and to pray. When that occurs, you might eventually lovingly discuss the doctrines that tend to divide you, striving for unity whether you ultimately agree or not on everything you discuss. My life and ministry were enriched significantly when I finally opened up to listen to ministers who were not in my same doctrinal camp. I was missing so much blessing for so many years by shutting myself off.
You can also demonstrate your love and unity by inviting other pastors to preach at your church or house church gathering. Or, your church can have combined meetings with other churches or house church gatherings.
You can change the name of your church so that it doesn’t advertise to the world your disunity with the rest of the body of Christ. You can pull out of your denomination or named association and identify only with the body of Christ, to send a message to everyone that you believe that Jesus is building only one church, not many different churches that can’t get along with each other.
This, I know, sounds radical. But why do anything to uphold what Jesus clearly never intended? Why be involved in anything that displeases Him? There are no denominations or special associations mentioned in Scripture. When the Corinthians divided over their favorite teachers, Paul firmly rebuked them, saying that their divisions revealed their carnality and spiritual babyhood (see 1 Cor. 3:1-7). Do our divisions reveal anything less?
Anything that sets us apart from one another should be shunned. House churches should avoid giving themselves names or joining any associations that have names. In Scripture, individual churches were identified only by the houses in which they met. Groups of churches were identified only by the cities in which they were located. They all considered themselves to part of the one church, the body of Christ.
There is only one King and one kingdom. Anyone who sets himself up so that believers or churches identify with him is building his own kingdom within God’s kingdom. He had better get ready to stand before the King who says, “My glory I will not give to another” (Is. 48:11).
All of this is to again say that ministers should be setting the right example of obedience to Christ before everyone, because people are going to follow their example. The example they live before others is their most influential means of teaching. As Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi:
Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us (Phil. 3:17; emphasis added).