In 1 Cor 1:10, Paul wrote to a deeply divided congregation, saying, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
The Bible is the final authority for faith and practice within in church, yet people can’t seem to agree on what it says. Clearly, if there are many different interpretations about what the Bible teaches, most of them must be wrong.
After decades of teaching the Bible, I can confidently say that there are just two basic causes of theological error: (1) ignorance and (2) personal bias. The other thing that I have learned is that I can help people with the former, but not the latter.
Many people are biblically illiterate; they couldn’t list the Ten Commandments or name the four gospels even if you handed them a Bible. Reading the Bible on a regular basis is good because the Bible is the best commentary on the Bible, but proper interpretation and application sometimes requires an understanding of biblical languages, textual criticism, hermeneutics, critical thinking skills, literary analysis, ancient history, oriental culture, geography, and archaeology.
Christians are called to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, therefore, I encourage all believers to learn the principles of inductive Bible study; this is a logical and methodical approach to personal Bible study that allows a person to learn faster with less effort than simply reading the Bible haphazardly. It also helps a person interpret and apply the Bible more accurately.
If Christians would study the Bible daily and follow the principles of inductive Bible study, there should be a gradual trend toward greater unity within a congregation or fellowship, but Bible study alone will not produce unity.
If knowledge alone could solve theological questions, then biblical scholars would all agree about everything; they don’t. People will inject personal bias into their interpretation when God demands that they change their selfish and sinful ways; they will argue with God, justify themselves and reason around God’s commands because they still love sin. Combine this with pride and arrogance, and you have a recipe for disagreement and conflict.
Personal Bible study is a spiritual battle where God demands humility and a contrite spirit, but the flesh resists God and seeks to have its own way. This is a struggle each Christian must face; unity is only possible when individual Christians are fully surrendered and reconciled with God.
Disagreements and doctrinal disputes are an external manifestation of an invisible, spiritual problem. In 1Cor 11:19, Paul warned Christians, “For there also have to be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you” (NASB).
As a practical matter, the apostles worked for unity and reconciliation in the church by stressing humility and repentance in their epistles, but they were not afraid to use stronger measures when the situation called for it.
Rom 16:17 (ESV) I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.
Titus 3:9 (ESV) But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
2John 1:9 (ESV) Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
So, is unity possible? Yes, but it is going to require hard work and spiritual struggle.
Ultimately, God is going to bring about perfect unity within the body of Christ, either through humility and repentance or by excluding those cause division and offenses. Now that we understand the spiritual battle that we face, let us make a firm commitment to be diligent in personal Bible study and fully surrendered to God “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13 NIV).
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