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Conquering the Challenge of Biblical Unity

How do we unite as churches without compromising truth?
Picture of Greg Stier
Greg Stier

“Sanctify them by the truth; your Word is truth.”  John 17:17

Part of my ministry calling that I love is helping unite churches and youth ministries in a city or community for the common mission of “every teen, everywhere, hearing the Gospel from a friend.”

When youth leaders come together in a city to reach the teens of their community, that’s a huge win! We call these groups Gospel Advancing networks. They’re not meeting just to commiserate or even just to encourage one another. They’re meeting because of a common mission—the mission of Jesus as described in Luke 19:10: “to seek and to save the lost.

These networks “work the net” together to catch as many fish as possible (Matthew 4:18-22). Participating youth leaders work together to “steal” from the largest youth group in their cities (Satan’s) to make and multiply young disciples.

But, wherever two or more are gathered in Christ’s name, there’s bound to be conflict. Sometimes it’s a clash of personalities. Other times it’s unholy tension cloaked as competitiveness.

But often it’s theological differences.

At one extreme, many networks never even get off the ground because youth leaders are nervous about other participating churches’ doctrinal views. They preempt any potential awkwardness by just not showing up to the network meeting at all.

On the other side are doctrinally mushy ecumenical leaders who say pious-sounding things like: “Our doctrinal differences don’t matter. We just need to set them aside for the sake of unity.”

Unity matters. In John 17:21, Jesus himself prayed that: “all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” When believers unite, we’re the powerful answer to Christ’s high-priestly prayer!

Unity matters.

But doctrine matters too. As Paul admonished Timothy: “Watch your life and doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16) and “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing” (1 Timothy 6:3-4).

Doctrine matters. But not all doctrine is created equal.

There are many churches that have differing views of eschatology (future things), ecclesiology (church-doctrine things), and other “ologies,” but hold firmly to the core essentials of orthodox Christianity.

 And there are those who, well, don’t.

For eight years of my life, I was in the construction business. I witnessed many new homes being built from the ground up and played my role in the process (I was a roofer). During that time, one of the sayings I coined was: “If your foundation is cracked, your house is jacked!”

You can build a beautiful home with amazing design (and, of course, an outstanding roof!), but if the foundation is cracked or compromised, then the whole house is in jeopardy.

Jesus put it this way in Matthew 7:24-27:

“‘Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.’”

In the same way, there are five foundational truths we must build our networks upon so they won’t fall “with a great crash.”

THEOLOGICAL TRUTH #1: GOD

This may sound like an obvious declaration, but it’s crucial to make sure everyone in your network actually believes in the God of the Bible. A statement such as: We believe in one God, eternally existing in three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He is eternally self-existent, sovereign, righteous, compassionate, holy, loving, and so much more! can ensure someone who rejects the Trinity or believes God is a power, not a person, doesn’t sneak into the group.

Here are some verses that support this statement: Deuteronomy 6:4, Matthew 3:16-17, Galatians 1:1, Ephesians 4:6, Romans 9:5, Colossians 2:9, John 1:1, Acts 5:3-4, Exodus 3:14, Isaiah 6:3, 1 John 4:8.

THEOLOGICAL TRUTH #2: GOD’S SON

Heretics, some of whom rejected Jesus’s humanity, infiltrated the early church. The Docetists believed that Jesus only seemed to be human. Today, there are groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, who attack the deity of Christ.

This is why a statement like this may be helpful:

Jesus Christ is the second Person of the Trinity. He has always been fully God and became fully God and fully human when He was conceived in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. He lived the perfect life we could never live and died the horrible death we deserved. He rose physically from the dead, victorious over sin and Satan. Forty days after His resurrection, He ascended physically into the heavens. He is interceding for us at the right hand of God the Father. He will come back to establish His Kingdom on Earth and rule and reign forever with those who have trusted in Him.

Notice there’s no mention of when Jesus is returning (pre-, mid- or post-tribulation), nor is there mention of one’s view of the millennium. These are side issues that can and should be discussed within the hallways of one’s own church and not around the network table.

Here are some verses that support the doctrine of “Christology” in its most basic form: Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23, 1 Timothy 3:16, John 1:1-14, Philippians 2:6, 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, Romans 8:34.

THEOLOGICAL TRUTH #3: GOD’S SPIRIT

All members of the network should be able to agree on a statement such as the following about the Holy Spirit:

The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity, who was fully active in the creation of the world and is fully active in the regeneration of those who put their faith in Jesus. He indwells believers at the moment of salvation and is with them continuously until the day of redemption. He empowers believers to live a life full of “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). The Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to believers that allow them to serve others, and He empowers them to clearly and confidently share the Gospel with unbelievers.

When it comes to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the inevitable conversation about the existence of sign gifts or the cessation of them arise. It can easily turn into a version of the Broadway musical West Side Story, with the Sharks (cessationalists) on one side and the Jets (charismatics) on the other—without the knife fights of course!

I strongly suggest that the network table should not be the place where we flex our views for or against these gifts. Baptists and Pentecostals have far more in common than not, and these arguments can derail the unity we could have for the Gospel. Again, these are important issues that should be discussed in our own churches, but around the network table and in joint network events/trainings, they can undermine the good work God wants to do.

Wherever you stand on these issues, all of us can learn from Jesus’s response to the disciples in Luke 10:17-20:

“The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’ He replied, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in Heaven.’”

In essence, Jesus is reminding us to focus more on the steak (salvation: “your names are written in Heaven”) than the sizzle (miracles: “even the demons submit to us in your name”). We praise God for miracles but praise even more for the miracle of salvation—the biggest miracle of all.

On the other side, there are Christians who never even mention the Holy Spirit. Their version of the Trinity is “Father, Son, and Holy Scriptures.” This too is dangerous. Without the Spirit we have no power and no fruit that remains.

Here are some crucial Scriptures on the Holy Spirit: Genesis 1:2, John 14:26, Acts 1:8, Acts 5:3-4, 1 Corinthians 12:4-13, 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, Ephesians 1:13-14, 1 John 2:20.

THEOLOGICAL TRUTH #4: GOD’S WORD

The following statement can be used as a uniting truth regarding the Bible:

Scripture was written by men but inspired by God. This means that every word, passage, and chapter of the Holy Scriptures, though penned by humans and retaining the writing style and personality of the human authors, was inspired by God Himself. The human authors came from various backgrounds and lived in many different places and time periods, but the Holy Spirit guided each author as he wrote. God’s word is reliable, not only in matters of faith and practice, but on every matter it touches.

Here are some supporting Scriptures: Psalm 19:7-11, Psalm 119, Matthew 5:18, Luke 24:44-46, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Hebrews 4:12-13, 2 Peter 1:20-21.

God’s Word is inspired. Which means it’s inerrant. Which means it’s in charge.

Because God’s Word was inspired (literally, “breathed out”) by God (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then every word of the original manuscripts is inerrant (without error), because according to Proverbs 30:5, “every word of God is flawless.” God’s Word is God’s words, and those words are all true.

Because God’s Word is all true, it should be completely in charge of our beliefs and behaviors. This is a crucial issue today. In a world where everyone does “what is right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25) and defines truth by what they can find on Google, it’s vital that we look to God’s Word as our plumb line for truth and that we submit to it.

Of course, we must do everything in love. But we must never compromise the Word of God when it comes to standing on the truth that God’s Word is inspired, inerrant, and in charge. To truly have a Gospel Advancing network that can change a city, a group of leaders must agree on those three points.

THEOLOGICAL TRUTH #5: THE GOSPEL

The Gospel (“Good News of Jesus”) tells the whole story of creation, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. It’s a clear and simple message that profoundly and eternally impacts those who receive it by faith.

At  Dare 2 Share, we use an acrostic of the word GOSPEL to not only train teenagers to evangelize but also to create alignment among our leaders.

God created us to be with Him. (Genesis 1–2)

Our sins separate us from God. (Genesis 3)

Sins cannot be removed by good deeds. (Genesis 4 – Malachi 4)

Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again. (Matthew – Luke)

Everyone who trusts in Him alone has eternal life. (John)

Life with Jesus starts now and lasts forever. (Acts – Revelation)

This acrostic is pretty self-explanatory, but allow me to add a little meat to the bones of it. God made humanity in His image (Genesis 1:27), to be in fellowship with Him (Psalm 100:3).

But when Adam and Eve sinned, their sins separated them and the rest of humanity from God (Romans 3:23). The consequence of sin ultimately leads to suffering God’s wrath in Hell forever (Revelation 14:10-11, Revelation 20:11-15).

Sins can’t be removed by our good deeds, contrition for sin, spiritual commitments, or religious acts (Ephesians 2:8-9). These simply mask the sin that’s in our hearts (Isaiah 64:6). That means humanity is separated from God—headed to Hell—and there’s nothing we can do about it.

So 2,000 years ago, Jesus—the Son of God—became the Son of man. He became one of us. Jesus lived the perfect life we could never live, and then, paying the price for sin, Jesus died in our place. He suffered God’s wrath in our stead on the cross. He died as a substitutionary atonement for our sin (Romans 3:21-31), nailing all of our sins to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14). After paying the price for our sins (past, present, and future) in full, Jesus rose from the dead three days later, proving He was God in the flesh (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Now, everyone who trusts in Jesus alone (John 6:47, 14:6) receives the free gift of eternal life (John 3:16). This salvation comes not as a result of turning, trying, or crying, but by simply trusting in Jesus and what He did in our place on the cross, for the salvation of our souls.

This gift of eternal life is a personal, permanent relationship with God (John 6:37-40) that brings life on three levels: life as a child of God (a new identity: Galatians 4:5), life with the people of God (a new family: Ephesians 5:1), and life for the mission of God (a new purpose: Matthew 28:19-20).

The G.O.S.P.E.L. is the fifth and final foundational truth of biblical networking. We must align fully on the message we’re mobilizing teenagers to share with their peers.

When I explain these five truths to youth leaders and pastors, I often hold my hand up and say, “If we’re in agreement with these five truths, then we can put our hands in the middle,” as I put my hand down as if it’s in the center of a huddle full of teammates. “And, if we agree on these five things,” I continue, “we refuse to get distracted by lesser things, for the sake of the ‘one thing’—the advancement of the Gospel to and through the next generation.”

Adapted from my book Gospelize Your Youth Ministry (revised and updated). To download a free copy, click here.

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