Is unity of thought possible for New Testament Christians? It must be, because Paul expected the Corinthians to be “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). Unity in the way we think about what the Bible teaches was not an optional matter for the Corinthians and it must not be for us.
While thinking the same way always makes for peace and harmony within the church, there is a difference between revealed matters and matters of expediency. Expediencies concern areas where God has not spoken explicitly in the Scriptures and where we have only general authority to act in harmony with what the Bible tells us. Things in this category amount to opinion. We should recognize that not all opinions are of equal value. Some people do a better job thinking through and forming opinions than others do. Still, people who prize unity will not allow opinions to become the source for strife and contention within the body of Christ. In areas like this, the good judgment of elders becomes very important because it allows them to build consensus and resolve differences of opinion in a way that avoids disruption to the Lord’s work.
Trivial matters can hurt the unity of the body, but it is usually the more serious issues of interpreting what the Bible says that do more significant damage. Here is where it is extremely important that we all understand that we can be united in mind and judgment. It may not always be easy. In fact, maintaining unity of thought requires that we put forth a great deal of effort and time to acquire the skills needed so we can be certain that we are interpreting the inspired text in the correct way. None of us should attempt to bind his view on anyone else until he has studied the issue thoroughly, and is completely convinced that it is biblically correct.
This leads us to the critical question in this discussion: How can we know our understanding of Scriptural teaching is correct?
These three ideas may be helpful as we try to answer that question.
We can be confident that we are correct when we have studied diligently what the Scripture says. “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). This means that we are going to know the subject thoroughly. Truth does not contradict itself, so the student needs to consider all the Bible teaches on the subject. There is no substitute for the discipline and hard work required in actually knowingwhat the Bible says. No shortcuts give satisfactory results if we want to be sure that our conclusions are right.
Do not settle for “off the cuff” explanations that may or may not be true to Bible teaching. It is easy enough to pop off an opinion and even sound reasonably intelligent while doing so. However, unlearned opinions can never take the place of sound Bible exegesis.
Be careful that your view does not pit scripture against scripture. A single statement in the Bible can be divorced from the whole context of Bible teaching on a subject and lead to conclusions that make the Bible conflict with itself. This amounts to wresting, or twisting, the word of God to suit our own purposes (2 Pet. 3:16).
We can be confident that we are correct when we have honestly considered alternative interpretations. The Bereans mentioned in Acts 17:11 serve as models for us. They listened eagerly to what Paul taught even though it was likely quite different from anything they had heard before. They were willing to change their views if they could be convinced that something different was in fact God’s truth. But before accepting what they heard, they compared it with the standard they knew to be true. They searched the Scriptures. When they found that Paul was speaking the word of God, many of them believed (Acts 17:12). In any matter of doctrinal disagreement, we need to go through this process. Listen to opposing points of view. Consider them fairly in light of what the Bible teaches. Be willing to change if ... and only if ... you become convinced that you have been wrong.
We can be confident that we are correct when we are able to refute faulty interpre-tations with Scripture and convince people who have both open minds and mature judgment. Our aim is not simply to agree to disagree. We want to help others come to a correct understanding of God’s truth. Thus, we need to be modern-day Aquilas and Priscillas (Acts 18:27). That requires us to be able use the Bible to show people why they have previously believed error.
Apollos was an eloquent speaker who is described as “mighty in the scriptures.” Yet, he lacked understanding because he knew only about the baptism of John. He needed to be taught about baptism in the name of Christ. Apollos had been a teacher of error even though he had been working with the best of motives. He needed correction and, to his credit, he appears to have received that correction and begun to speak the truth. That Aquila and Priscilla persuaded Apollos to change gives strong evidence that what they told him was correct.
Unity among believers is extremely important. We need to be one in thought and in judgment as we work together in the body of Christ. When we disagree about what the Bible says or what it means, let us be committed to working toward a common understanding based on what the word of God actually says.
John preaches for the Snead Antioch church of Christ in Boaz, AL
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