Philippians and the Unity of the Body of Christ

Paul’s letter to Philippi is often mined for theological statements on Christology, but that was not the main purpose of the letter.  Certainly Phil 2:5-11 is perhaps one of the most foundational statements on the nature of Christ, but the reason Paul included the words of this hymn in his letter is to serve his point that the followers of Christ ought to be unified.

Early in the letter Paul praises the church at Philippi for being his “partners” in the preaching of the Gospel (1:5).  This word has certainly been over-used in corporate America and (sadly) as a ministry description.  I hear ministry leaders say “we are partnering with another ministry” as a way of describing the joining of material resources to get some particular job done.  The Greek κοινωνία (koinonia) does have the sense of pooling resources, but that is not the sense in Philippians.  Notice that in Phil 2:1 the church has “fellowship with the Spirit.”  This is not an even-handed sharing of resources, the church is completely dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s point is that within the Body of Christ, there must be some basic unity.  In 2:1 he says that all believers ought to “think the same thing” or “be of one mind.”  This is indeed the goal of much of the ethical teaching which follows and the point his the example of Christ’s humility in 2:5-11. The humble service of Christ, who set aside the very nature of God and took on the nature of human flesh, is an example to the members of the church of how they ought to serve one another.

That unity, however, obviously does have some boundaries since Paul does identify some people (perhaps) within the church who are “outside” what it means to be a Christian.  These “dogs” and “evildoers” pervert the Gospel and therefore are condemned as a destructive influence.  We can comb through all of Paul’s letters and find many examples of “false teachers” which are condemned as being outside of the “unity” of the Body of Christ.  The one who perverts the gospel no longer is”in fellowship” or “in partnership” with the Church.

I have often had discussions with students about the potential Unity of the modern church.  Usually this comes down to doctrinal statements and denominations.  The modern (Protestant) church has doctrinal statements in order to draw lines around their group and define who is “in fellowship” and who is not.  Some doctrinal statements are brief, such as the Evangelical Theological Society (basically Inerrancy of Scripture and Trinity).  Others are rather detailed historic Confessions with detailed arguments supporting theological statements.  Maybe a group uses the Nicene Creed plus their own “special” emphases.

I have the sense that there are two “minds” of the modern college student.  One group wants as “light” a doctrinal statement as possible in order to draw people to Jesus.  The model is Jesus, who turned no one away but ate and drank with all sorts of sinners.  In fact, I have the sense that some people would spend more time defining how worship ought to happen and describing the social interactions within a church than defining doctrine.  In this model, just about everyone can be in fellowship with the church.

On the other hand, there seems to be a solid movement among the twenty-somethings to “return to the Reformation” and define doctrine rather precisely.  Consequently I see occasional stereo-typical angry young Calvinists with copies of John Piper’s latest book declaring people to be heretics for not being Calvinist enough.

Obviously I am painting this picture as two extremes, most people fall in between.  Paul did push for unity, but Paul also called people “dogs and evildoers” and urged his churches to put people out if they did not “have the same mind.”  How can we have unity in the church and guard doctrine and practice?

45 thoughts on “Philippians and the Unity of the Body of Christ

  1. Btw, just to give a wrinkle here, Phil. 2: 5-11, is a liturgical hymn, perhaps. And thus the loss of Apostolic divine or biblical liturgy is profound in the so-called Evangelical Churches today, save some Anglican and Lutheran churches. Historically we can note the Mercersburg Theology (19th century, Schaff and Nevin), and today’s, Federal Vision. Perhaps Protestant theology, has moved beyond the true Reformational & Reformed positions? Note Calvin is/was not a Zwinglian on the Sacraments, and really wanted weekly Eucharist! Not to mention Luther!

    And in the Calvinist area, we should perhaps also note that Geerhardus Vos, keeps both justification & sanctification together closely, though justification is always first and forensically modeled. See his: The Pauline Eschatology.

  2. When I wrote this post I was aware that the Christ Hymn was a pre-existing hymn, although I did not want to make that a major issue. In some ways, if it was an early “creedal statement,” then to a certain extent my point is weakened since “what one believes about Jesus” becomes a boundary for defining “Christian.” I am personally fine with that, since (obviously) this is true! I think the point in Philippians is the preaching of the Gospel. Even if there are people preaching out of selfish motives, they are still within the Body.

    • Phillip, I see your long point, certainly. But personally, I see the great fragmentation of the whole Protestant and Evangelical Churches now, both in Great Britain and the US, etc. And the whole “Calvinist” and Reformed issues are fragmenting also, the Gospel Coalition does not help here either (and there some good people there certainly). But we cannot measure the Church on the so-called Doctrines of Grace alone. The Ecumenical Councils, start with the Incarnation and the Trinity of God, first. We cannot define the Christian without the Church! This simply the long and the short of it, at least in my opinion, but I am an Anglican (Reformed) and a Churchman surely! 🙂

      • Note Philip, I always see the NT as an approach or quest toward a Reformed Catholicity! Btw, it was Schaff who wrote: “The Reformation is the legitimate offspring, the greatest act of the Catholic [catholic] Church.” However sadly, the essence of the Reformation has been lost in overt and narrow debate, in my opinion. Again, the Federal Vision is not a full “theology” of itself, as a movement, and toward both ‘Word & Sacrament’. I hope that some theolog’s can see this outside the lines of the Presbyterians!

        *Sorry for the ad hoc.

  3. I think you bring up a great question in how to keep unity while guarding doctrine and practice. I think the key to the answer is the attitude. This is clearly supported in Philippians 2. Verses 5-11 talk about the example of Christ’s humility. Verses 1-4 talk about selflessness, and how our attitude should be one that looks to the interests of others before ourselves. Polhill suggests this is the key to Christian fellowship (172). We are to have that like mind, and purpose because we are all believers in Christ. Our attitude should be one of humility, serving others first. Our attitude should be one of unity in that we all have the same purpose, salvation, and God. That is why we should not be so caught up in doctrine that we push others away through our strict rules.

    But the question remains in how to guard doctrine, while keeping unity with others. Having that humble attitude helps, but what else? I think we have to know our gospel well enough to know what things we cannot compromise and what things we can agree to disagree with. Ephesians 4:4-6 says, “There is one body and one spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all in all.” Here Paul is again talking about unity, and he emphasizes that we are one IN CHRIST. There are those things that we must defend to no end that are vital to our faith. To do that, we must study the Scriptures. We must define what we believe, and be unified in our purpose to glorify God.

  4. It’s so difficult to try and answer the question of unity within the church yet still guarding doctrine and practice. Until the Lord comes, honestly, I don’t think we will ever have that unity and uncorrupt doctrine we so desire. But I think we can learn from the Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, and perhaps find a balance. Plong mentioned Philippians 2:1, and I think this may be the key: “Being one in spirit and purpose”, compelled by “Christ’s love” and “fellowship with the Spirit”. Only when our churches are united not just from collaborating/ “partnering” programs or events, but by being one as Christ’s body and are sensitive to the Holy Spirit will we be able to find that unity, and yet the Spirit will guide us in when we must call someone out for preaching false doctrine. Perhaps this is a copout answer as it has no specific formula, but when we place our trust in human will and intellect, we are setting ourselves up to fail. We must, above all put our trust and seek guidance from the Holy Spirit as we search the Scriptures. Later Paul gets specific and addresses two women in the church to “agree with each other in the Lord” (Phil 4: 2). “There can be no doubt that Paul was concerned about the unity of the Philippian Christians. There were differences among the fellowship” (169)

  5. So, I hope I don’t get like kicked outta school or something for this post, but oh well, were supposed to say what we think yes? Well, here goes nothing…

    So, keeping unity and guarding doctrine isn’t to easy to do. Why is this? I’d say its because people are to freaking opinionated. Everything believes something and everyone claims it is the Holy Spirit who has given them their answers. So, if the church truly wanted to create full unity that would require us to do one of two things.

    1). We could not worry about issues like baptism and whether salvation can be lost or not (just to list a few examples) and just believe what we want to believe, and still worship together praises God for the freaking salvation He gave us. But this would be to difficult considering that we worry much to much about things that have close to nothing to do with salvation. Its highly unlikely that we would go to this solution because people enjoy arguing about why they are right to often. So what about solution two?

    2). Lets just forget about everything and stick with the basics. Christianity seems rather easy to me. Christ died, rose again and now (if I believe) I am saved. Simple enough. Why must Theology go beyond that? Also what is a “sin” and what isn’t is rather easy to figure out as well. Before you make a choice, ask yourself what your heart behind your action is. Why are you about to do what you are about to do? If it is selfish, its probably a sin, if not, then your probably fine. And that is Christianity to me, easy peasy, not sure why God would give us a free gift then make it all difficult, but if you want to make it difficult go ahead, I’m go over here and play Halo…

    • Since the word “Freaking” is a euphemism for another rather colorful f-word, I suggest that you *not* refer to the Salvation offered to us by God’s grace as “freaking salvation.” A modicum of respect would be expected here.

      • Wow, I had to laugh as I read these posts together. I wouldn’t say that Christianity can be so simplified down to Christ lived, Christ died, and Christ rose again for the purpose of saving the world from sin. To do so would be a reduction of the gospel of Christ, to reduce it’s significance for our lives, and to not glorify the LORD to the extent that He deserves. If one to were reduce the gospel to this phrase it would focus on individual salvation putting the emphasis on ourselves, where the Lord’s gospel is much richer and more fulfilling than this. If a person were to come to saving faith in Christ and leave it that, the person would be very shallow in their understanding of the LORD and the application that the Word demands to our lives. I would go as far to say that not having right doctrine or belief is going to cause others to stray and be influenced in false teaching because it seems what is right and fitting to themselves. Their judgments would be based upon their own understanding rather than founded on the Word of God. I could see this as a cause of great dissension within the Body of Christ if believers do not pursue a more complete view of the gospel. We are called to be sanctified and to be mature followers of Christ. One does not accomplish this through a simple event of believing in Christ died and rose again. Doctrine is very important, theology is very important, and a sanctified believer will not be content with encountering the LORD for one time. I would not say that this is Chris’s main point in his post, however the assumption is that this would fix the issues of unity by adhering to the basics of Christianity. I do not think the problem of not being unified can be described as this simple. P Long mentions that the church must be fully dependent upon the Spirit of the Lord. Paul states in Philippians 3:15 “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you.” Paul describes that God will reveal attitudes of dissension because his Body is called to be unified in the Spirit of Christ (Phil 2:1-2). In the next verse of Chapter 3:16 Paul adheres to following his example and others that have walked the pattern which God has laid out for followers. I remember this phrase that is a beautiful statement it goes: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” There are essential doctrines to the Christian faith that must be believed in order for one to be a Christian, there are non-essential things that often cause dissension, however in all things to be charitable exemplifies part of this attitude one should be looking for in Philippians 2.

      • Ahh yes, because clearly God gets angry at the words we have deemed to be bad

      • Chris, its not that God gets angry, but its using a word that is just a filler word that doesn’t contribute anything and is just used flippantly and minimizes the gravity of our salvation and power of the Cross.

    • I see where your coming from Chris. It should be so much easier than this. We shouldn’t have all these arguments about things outside of salvation. There shouldn’t be all these “divisions” amongst people who actually believe the same things at the end of the day. Why do we waste our time worrying and arguing about doctrine and theology? Right? But then I think about why I am at school. I’ll just be honest, I don’t think I would go to GBC if I was only here to learn about how to lead/work/encourage/help people. I am here and I think many of us are here to learn more about God and to learn what we believe about God. We’re here to learn our doctrine/theology. Because, it seems, the more that I learn about God and the more I learn about doctrine, the more it effects the way I interact with people.

      To answer P. Long’s question, “How can we have unity in the church and guard doctrine and practice?”, I tend to want to use the Philippians 2 passage (vs. 1-5). I see the answer to the question as BE SELFLESS. To be unified with other believers and to continue to have sound doctrine and not fall for the lies of the “dogs or evildoers” there needs to be selflessness. Jesus is the obviously best example to follow and learn from in order to have true unity and have solid doctrine. Pohill put’s it this way and I think puts it best, “Considering others before oneself is the real key to Christian fellowship, and Paul illustrated this quality with the example of Christ (vv. 5-11).” (Pohill 172)

      • I’m also wondering what the early Church did exactly to keep unity and have doctrine that wasn’t controlled by “dogs”?

      • Joe – as for the early church, there was a list of things that could not be compromised, and other things which were “indifferent.” I think as church becomes more institutionalized, that list of things which must be believed grows in detail and complexity.

        Using Chris as an example, he says “let’s forget about everything and stick to basics,” and offers a three-point doctrinal statement, “Christ died and rose, and I am saved.” Why must theology go beyond that, he asks? I would say that belief in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus does not “make you saved” since that is little more than a creedal statement with no real decision to be a disciple. That sort of belief system would mean that the Devil is saved, which would probably annoy him greatly.

        If that is all Chris believes, he is not a disciple of Jesus! (Feel free to defend yourself here Chris, but in doing so you are going to expand your doctrinal statement!) Perhaps a careful reading of the NT is in order here.

      • Oh but P long… People love to use that example. “That sort of belief system would mean that the Devil is saved, which would probably annoy him greatly.” This isn’t even true. Satan, or his demons, are not humans nor were they ever humans. So they are not offered the same chance at salvation that we are. Sooooo no, Mr. Long, it wouldn’t mean that they are saved.

      • Chris, I am sorry to quote Scripture at you (James 1:19), since according to the creed you offered earlier you do not believe in the authority of the Bible. Perhaps you want to add that to your doctrinal statement, but it will that will lead to other doctrines as well. The bottom line here is that you said that the only thing one needs to believe to be saved is that Jesus died and rose again, and that is simply not true. In order for you to actually make that work, you have to define Jesus very precisely, using the Bible, and creating a soteriology. BadaBing, you have a fully formed creed.

        If you want to play at this game, you need to define your belief system as the Nicene Creed, or the Apostles creed. That is going to work much better than a flippant “Jesus died.”

        You are creating a Strawman argument and I am burning it with the light of reality.

      • Not to resurrect a dead post, but I felt compelled to comment on your side issue with Chris. His flippancy notwithstanding, he is correct about the simplicity of the gospel message. He is also correct to call you on the spurious argument about Satan’s salvation.

        The substitutionary death of Christ is only substitutionary because Christ became fully human. Christ would need to have become fully angelic to be able to redeem fallen angels. What Chris neglected to state (but appears to be implied) is that believing that Christ died “for me”, as my substitute, and personally trusting His work to save me… that is the simple message of salvation in the Gospel.

        I believe you intended to quote James 2:19, not 1:19. This passage is not relevant to your argument though. Since when does the gospel involve believing that “God is one”? That has to do with monotheism, not the Gospel of Christ.

        Humbly submitted, in the name of Christian unity.

    • Okay, for starters, I never said that this is all I believed, I just asked why it has to be more than this. Secondly, WHY ON EARTH MUST I CONFORM TO A CREED SOMEONE ELSE CAME UP WITH? Is it like against the law to have my own “creed”?
      Next, its all fine and dandy that you think you have to “you have to define Jesus very precisely, using the Bible, and creating a soteriology” but I don’t. In fact, I’m not so sure you even have to believe the Bible is the word of God to be saved. Now, it would be rather difficult, considering it is the Bible that gives you the information needed, but I’d say it could be done. Its all in your faith that Christ died, not in your faith in anything else.

      • I think that you are coming apart here, Chris. You did in fact say that all you had to do was believe that Jesus died and rose again and you are saved. I simply pointed out that is not enough to be saved if you take into account what the Bible says. If you are OK dispensing with the Bible, then I suppose you can include whatever you want.

        YOU do not have to conform to anything, unless of course you want to get a job in a church which has a doctrinal statement. In that case, you will conform. All churches have a statement of faith, they vary but they have them. If that is not your goal in life, and you are not starting some sort of ministry to lead others into your creedless creed, it really doesn’t matter than you choose to dispense with the foundational doctrines or the authority the Bible claims.

        I do not believe it is against the law to have your own creed (although I am not sure about local statutes in west Michigan), but I am not sure why feel feel so compelled to have your own set of beliefs on doctrine, since alot of people have gone to the trouble to sort out the issues and give you some rather clear options. Why start over when the Nicene Creed is already there defining what it means to believe the right things? You can disagree with any point you like, run down the list. No one will care what you personally do. My problem is when you try to teach other people that they can believe whatever they want.

        Better to sort this out in college while you have the time and people are generally open to discussing things. I mean after college, you are stuck with terrible blog discussions and (shudder the thought) youtube videos.

  6. What a great question! Can I stop with that? Or can I ask what we define as uncompromisable to the life of a Christ follower and the work of the Church?

    I remember writing creeds in one of Loverin’s theology classes and wondering all about this. I have put further thought to this and probably would fall more into the first camp you mentioned (less doctrine more inclusion) as far as what churches should define. That being said, I think it is fine for members of those bodies to possess more specific or lengthy beliefs on doctrine as long as they hold them loosely in the context of the body they are a part of. I value the diversity of voices this allows a community to have as a part of their ministry. I think holding to a concise uncompromisable corporate doctrine is beneficial as it allows for people of all different nonessential beliefs to interact and strengthen the community. I think most churches spend far too much time arguing what I would see as nonessential truths when they could be doing more important unifying works. Guard the essentials (whatever those are for you) and do not fret over the grey areas of other issues. I think this was Paul’s prayer for the Philippians (Philippians 1:9-11).

    Paul talks our distinction as Christ followers by saying, “for its is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Jesus Christ, and who put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). What does it look like to worship by the Spirit of God? How do we keep from putting confidence in the flesh? Maybe its about remembering our citizenship, remembering where our confidence comes from, and remembering in whom our identity, belonging, and mission lies. Are those not the essentials?

    “Whatever the difference, Paul’s antidote, his formula for unity, is timeless and ultimately situationless” (Polhill 169).

  7. In response to what has been brought up by Chris, I would have to agree with Joe. The bottom line about differences in theology or beliefs comes very strongly from upbringing, the churches we were involved in, and the experiences we’ve had with (outside of a relationship with Christ and also in our relationships with Christ). Our view of God, Christ, and salvation shapes how we live our lives. If our relationship with God and our understanding is focused on works and legalism, then our lives will reflect that. Our worldviews and our “theologies” go hand-in-hand. Before coming to college and being challanged in our theology and Bible classes, I had a very shallow understanding of Christ, God, salvation, the body, etc. Through these classes and various conversations, my worldview and theology started to take shape in my mind and heart, and these were in turn challanged. I think it’s healthy and incredibly necessary for Christians to keep searching the scriptures and exploring their worldviews. My worldview is shaped by my upbringing and experiences, which are completely unique to me. Therefore, my relationship to Christ (while similar to other Christians) is completely unique to me. It is vitally important for us as Christians to keep in conversation about these things, but we can’t make it the reason for our existence.

    I believe that the way to keep unity in the churches revolves entirely around the power of the Holy Spirit moving through the body of Christ. There are certain “outer branches” (a Mat Loverinism) of theology where there will be differences in opinion, but they’re not at the absolute center of Christianity. Belief in Christ’s death and resurrection for man’s sinfulness, followed by living in relationship with him because of this is Christianity. The rest, while necessary to discuss and have an opinion on, isn’t vital to life. However, it is very important to discuss, and not throw to the side. If we choose to simply throw aside all of that “stuff” and not think about, I think our relationship with Christ and understanding of him can be limited and hindered. I’m not trying to put God in a box, but we hold a responsibility to renew our mind. (Romans 12:2). We need to set aside our differences in these outer branches of theology if they are to cause division, and stay committed to the spread of the Gospel and keeping unity in the body by whatever means possible. Even if that means biting our tongues when an opposing view of baptism or eschatology is brought up in conversation.

  8. I think that it is very easy to get bogged down in all of the lofty jargon of theology and forget the fact that Jesus Christ died for our sins! Hallelujah! Our lives are renewed, we are reborn within this truth. I know that it is so easy for me, personally, to become lost in all of the large words that often come with theology and it can really make those who become so overwhelmed by that aspect of Christianity and to forget the reason that we have able to rejoice together. We are saved! As Paul puts it in Philippians 3:20- 21, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” We belong to Heaven, and although there are many things that vary from person to person, this is the theology that we should be lost in. Jesus “being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8).

  9. Reading down through the posts I would have to say that this is one of the more interesting threads so far. I believe that doctrine vs. unity is becoming one of the hottest topics in church culture today. It is almost as if the two are competing ideas and functioning more like political parties than they are as equally important aspects of the Christian faith.

    When thinking about the body of Christ and doctrinal views and how the two interact I really like the example that Dr. Loverin gave this year in Theology 213 which I believe Dave alluded to earlier. If we were to think of our Christian faith as a tree we would find Scripture as the root system, God as the thick trunk, and our doctrinal positions (i.e. baptism, spiritual gifts, etc.) as the upper branches. If we could imagine each individual believer as a squirrel we can see how this metaphor interacts well with this topic of doctrine. As we jump from branch to branch on the tree, the tree may sway and bend but the root system and the trunk do not change. As Christians we must realize that there are negotiable and non-negotiable beliefs in our faith. We should humbly consider each other’s views (Phil 2:3), test them against scripture (2 Tim 3:16), and allow God to stretch us in areas that do no compromise the mission and purpose of the faith. I believe that the Gospel message is unifying in its very nature and the fact that so many Christians find doctrine to argue over is nothing more than a testament to our ignorance of the bigger picture.

    • I agree with Scott here when he says Doctrine Vs. Unity is a hot topic, I mean look how much of a response this question gets out of us. I can understand Cris Anton’s point and see where he is coming from, but i think we have to remember how powerful words are. Sometimes we forget this truth and get flustered when somebody says, “that is not theologically sound”. The typical response is to go on the defense and say, “why does it matter” or “why is this such a big deal.” Well I would like to encourage us to lean more towards the, “choose your words wisely” view. God spoke the world into existence. He said “Let there be light”, and it was so. So we can see that Words are important to our Creator. I believe Paul understood the power of words and language, which is why he placed such a strong emphasis on “putting out the dogs”. At the same time, unity is one of the most important things to strive for as Christians. “United we stand” as they say. Paul wanted us to be on the lookout for false and blasphemous doctrine. Part of this reason may be because he was aware of all the Judaizers running around telling new Gentile Christians that they now had to follow the law. Was it possible that he was trying to avoid the problem that the Galatians had?

    • Scott,

      Your post makes me think of a lot of religions that are focused on strictly the bible and its contents, vs. actually useing the scripture to develop a realtionship with Christ. They may know the bible front to back, but they don’t know any of the grace that God shares for them. They feel that good works will get them right with God, not the ultimate sacrifice that He made for them. I do agree that this issue to huge in churchs today, especially with all the sin and evil that is in the world today. It is sad to think to that there is so much that is culturally excepted today when it really should not be. Even Christians are being swayed more into the current sinful, culture.

  10. I think the answer to Phil Long’s question “how can we have unity in the church and guard the doctrine and practice?” lies in the 5th verse of Philippians 2: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus”. Basically, follow the cliché saying ‘What Would Jesus Do?’. It’s that simple! Jesus humbled himself and became selfless in order to advance His Kingdom. He loved and respected and held peace and tranquility. However, He never strayed away from what He believed. Matthew 21:12 is a perfect example of how Jesus held to His beliefs. Even as He died on the cross, he never strayed. If we were to be like Christ we would humble ourselves and show love and selflessness to everyone but at the same time, stand firm in what we believe i.e. our doctrine and practices in the church.
    I tend to want to agree with Chris on his first point (however, not in that opinionated of a way): that the reason why this unity will never happen in today’s church is because people are way overly opinionated and (in adding my two cents in here) even way to “immature” in their knowledge to become humble and selfless. In today’s church we are what Paul would say “mere infants” (1 Corinthians 3:1) when it comes to theology. I can attest to the fact that many Christians grow up in a Christian home and simply take the beliefs of their parents without making their faith their own. Because of this, they are very narrow minded. It is hard for them to veer off their path and accept a balanced belief of doctrine as well as a unity that involves love, acceptance no matter what, humbleness, and selflessness.
    To be completely honest, I disagree with what Chris is saying for his second point: “let’s just forget about everything and stick with the basics”. If we do that, when people that are against us (we can even go as far as considering them false teachers or evil doers trying to pervert the gospel) how are we to stand up to them and prove our point? How can we know we are right and they wrong? Better yet, how can we grow in our faith? If we never leave our ‘infantile stage’ then how can we grow to be more like Christ? Agreeing with Joe, I think it is a good idea that we go to school to learn our theology. When we learn more about what believe in, we are more likely to be more confident and stick up for what we believe in.

  11. Wow, it was very interesting reading all the comments beneath this post! Everyone takes a unique stand in his or her answer of P. Long’s question.

    I noticed in the comments that many people said we should go simple, no complications, just a straightforward understanding that God died for us, and if we accept him we will go to heaven…others argued that though a simple understanding is good — what are you going to do when the Judaizers come and start poking at the tiny little cracks in your theology? These are not really stand on unity in the church per se, but rather people giving examples of what type of dissension Paul may have been addressing (of course the church was not arguing about Calvinism) and why he was pushing for unity in the church.

    In answer to P. Long’s question “how can we have unity…and guard doctrine and practice”, I think that it is desperately important that we have love for one another. Before telling the church that they should “be of one mind” (Phil 2:2), he exhorts them to be loving and full of sympathy and affection. If we can love one another fully in the church, that will narrow the chances of dissension itself.

    As to guarding our doctrine and belief, I think it is vitally important that when an issue is brought up in the church that could cause a problem, we as Christians should respond firstly in love, listening to what the person has to say (even the “Judaizers” of our day), and then we can “test and examine our ways” (Lam. 3:40), to see if it is aligned with the Word of God. If it is not aligned with what God says in His Word, then there has to be a point where we are willing to step up and face the person and tell them that it is not in line with the scriptures — and if they do not still agree with the scriptural evidence, there has to be a point where we decide whether it is a matter like in I Cor 1:12, or if it is a matter of false teaching, and act accordingly.

  12. I believe you have to humble yourself to have unity and protect doctrine. I agree with Joe on being selfless as well. Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Doctrine and Theology are two things that I think will always be discussed. If we can just humble ourselves and find that common ground among things that are most important then we will have unity.
    Polhill writes, “He knew that this could only happen when they were willing to surrender their own self-concerns in concern for others, as had been the case with Timothy, Epaphroditus … and Christ.” (172)

  13. I completely understand the frustration that Chris is expressing in his post, but I would have to disagree. Yes, we could find core tenants that all Christians agree upon (easier said than done, sometimes the core beliefs are debated), but personally, I think that takes away an aspect of our relationship with God. Now for some people this may be different, but for me, exploration and learning are irreplaceable in my relationship with God. This learning includes things like “doctrine and practice” (Long). Chris, I do not consider Christianity “easy peasy” because I have a drive to know more than the bare necessities. Through this effort I believe we become closer to God.

    Considering Christian unity, I believe it will never be attained absolutely (not until Christ comes or until we are in Heaven). I may confuse some people when I say this, but I think that understanding this will actually serve to enhance unity in the Christian church. As Dave said, things like doctrine and practice are “necessary to discuss and have an opinion on,” but we must take care not to cause dissension because of them.

  14. If we were quite honest with ourselves, if we really looked deep inside of us, we would see the root of dissension within the Body. We would see that evil beast that roars from within us every time a debate about water baptism or social drinking comes up. We would look it in the eyes and hate every bit of it. So we don’t look deep inside of us. We let it live in our hearts and feed it the scraps from the table. We let our little beast, pride, rule our relationship with the Body. Just like most everybody else commenting on this post, I believe that pride and humility are the two factors that make or break unity within the Church. “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3) If anything needs to change, it is not the opinion of the person next to you, it is the heart that rules our words and actions.

  15. “And that is Christianity to me, easy peasy, not sure why God would give us a free gift then make it all difficult, but if you want to make it difficult go ahead, I’m go over here and play Halo…” This statement got me thinking about a section in 1 Peter 4:12-16. This passage is talking about how we are going to face difficulties in our walk with Christ, and that we should take Joy in these sufferings, because we are suffering along side of Christ. I believe what Chris said in this statement contradicts the scriptures. Which is also a reason why we may not have that unity in the Church, people like to say things they believe, that also go contradict the scriptures. God has given us the scriptures straight from his mouth, and the mouth of those who were with Christ, or had seen him. My personal opinion is that for us to get a good hold on unity, and being able to unify the church, we must be able to go by what the Bible says, and make sure we do not contradict the scriptures.

  16. This is kind of a tough one. After reading this it makes me think of the verse that talks about being luke-warm. “So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:16).
    God wants people that are all for Him, not anyone that will not stand strong against the evildoers. No one can blame Paul for his need to people all for God. He is trying to build a strong, unshakable church. Having followers that are lukewarm, will not help the church become stronger.

    “The climax of the hymn is the early Christian confession, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ ” (174). This is very clear as to what is required of a follower of Paul, and if they cannot do that, then they are not part of the church.

  17. This is such a difficult topic in the Church and among leaders and soon to be leaders of the Church. As much as I would like to say, let’s just leave doctrine alone and all get along, it’s not realistic and in my opinion not correct. How we interpret Scripture, and what we believe it says will determine how we live our lives; many of the things we interpret aren’t too big of a deal in our minds, but some of them are monumental. Baptism is a perfect example of this. There are those that believe that baptism is necessary for salvation, and there are those that don’t. What you believe in this area is quite significant because one is right, and one is not. What you believe the Scriptures say will absolutely and totally change your daily life. I believe the problem lies within the arguments and fighting within denominations. We may not all believe the same thing doctrinally, but that’s no reason to fight all of the time with each other. There’s so much we can learn from one another if we take the time to have comfortable and non-confrontational conversations with each other. I think we need to get away from the thinking that we need to bash our beliefs into other’s minds, and describe why we believe what we do in love and in respect.

  18. Due to all the different interpretations of certain passages in the Bible and different theologies, and different viewpoints of God’s intent when it comes to this or that, it is obvious that the church in our time will probably always be striving for unity, and this will always be a question that is presented, “How can we have unity in the church and guard doctrine and practice?” The first question is, what is doctrine? I mean not every Christian believes everything that Driscoll says in his doctrine book. I think my personal belief is that until everyone puts their viewpoints and pride aside in what they think about biblical issues, and can abide by the commands of (Mark 12:30-31) “love the Lord your God with all your heart,” and “love your neighbor as yourself,” the potential unity in the church will be held back significantly. I find Paul somewhat hard to decipher in certain stances like this, reflecting that he would urge to put people out of the church that did not share the same thoughts, but at the same time reflected a desire for unity as well, as reflected in Philippians 4, “Paul became more explicit in his appeal for unity, singling out two women in the congregation” (Polhill, 175).

  19. Yeah, Paul liked to call people out. If someone was going against the gospel of the grace of Christ, Paul had no problem telling them what-for. This was in large part to promote unity within the church Body. If one part of the Body sins or suffers, the rest of the Body suffers as well (see 1 Cor 12, Matt 5). So it would be best for the Body to get rid of the parts that could possibly hurt the rest; be it through sin, dissension, gossip, slander, etc…

    But Paul also loved to promote prevention of such things. Through selflessness, Paul instructs us to serve one another in love; inasmuch being imitators of Christ.

    “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.” (Phil 2:4-7)

    Jesus was in perfect unity with the Father (vs 6), so should we be in perfect unity as the Body of Christ in Him.

  20. This post has certainly taken some interesting threads so far. In response to Chris’ post from earlier on, I agree with you to an extent. There really should not be any disputes over what is sound doctrine or theology. These can create divisions in the church which Paul warns us about. I do however, think it is important to have a good sense of theology and doctrine. I know I am not hear at Grace Bible College learning all I can about youth ministry and psychology and calling it quits at that. I am here also to learn more about God and who he is in our lives, and with that allowing myself to learn more of the mystery of the gospel which directly correlates with our Salvation that is given by the grace of God

    In light of answering P-Long’s question How can we have unity in the church and guard doctrine and practice? I would say the answer lies in Philippians 2:5 where Paul writes “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” It is all about our attitude and having our hearts in the right place so that when we do talk about doctrine, we can still maintain a good sense of unity in the body of Christ.

  21. “How can we have unity in the church and guard doctrine and practice?” It should never be a question of unity versus doctrine and practice, rather it should be sound doctrine and practice of that doctrine that create unity. It seems as though many of the earlier replies are advocating for less doctrine to avoid conflict so to create unity. Some go to the extreme of stripping doctrine to Jesus’ death, resurrection, and gift of salvation. If that is all you teach then that raises all sorts of questions, such as who is this Jesus, why/how did he raise from the dead, what am I saved from, why did I need to be saved in the first place, etc. All of the these questions and the questions that these questions spawn can only be answered by doctrine. Without answers to these very foundational questions, dissension would inevitably follow. Without a strong doctrine and practice of that doctrine, the false teachers, evildoers, and dogs that Paul talks about could easily sway Christians. Some pointed out how Phil 2:5-11 is an example of being humble and how that could be a key to unity. While I agree with this being Christ’s example of humility, there are also some key doctrinal points in it. For example in verse 5 is mentions Christ Jesus and in verse 6 in mentions God. What is a “Christ”? Who is this “God”? Once again, I say it is impossible to have unity without sound doctrine. But sound doctrine is not enough. We must practice the doctrine. The ESVSB identifies the dogs of Phil 3:2 as the Judaizers. These were Jews who insisted that Gentile Christians must uphold the Mosaic Law. This is a wrong practice of the doctrine. By this wrong practice this will lead to disunity. Paul warns the Philippians to look out for these dogs and evildoers because they can lead to faulty doctrine and faulty practice which leads to disunity. Therefore unity can only be achieved by guarding doctrine and practice. It is not an either or. It is both. You cannot have unity without guarding doctrine and practice.

    • Ah! I can’t believe I didn’t comment on this yet. “There is something on your back.”

  22. I think there are always going to be different opinions in a congregation and we must learn to live with them. There are those that hurt the church (dogs and evildoers) that use their opinions to cause people to stumble. These people need to be confronted and asked to change and if the change does not occur they need to be thrown out of the church for their acts of disunity.

    Polhill summarizes Paul’s emphasis on unity in Philippians nicely when he says on page 169,

    “Paul called on them to stand firm in their faith despite all opposition, to be one in concern and in purpose, following the self-denying example of Christ, working toward their salvation, shining together as blameless children of God in a wicked world.”

    I do not think that different opinions have to lead to these scenarios all the time though. If we live the way that Paul suggests love will preserve relationships. Working together to fight off opposition and being unified in the truth of Christ causes one to forget differences.

  23. Wow! Just… wow. I would take the time to respond as a friend and as a brother, Chris. But, would you really listen? Would you really respect my thoughts and opinions? You are going down a dangerous road. Don’t start fights just to start fights. Then you become like those who “argue” too much

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