LESSON ONE: TEACHINGS OF THE UNITY OF BELIEVERS IN SELECTED NEW TESTAMENT TEXTS
Unity of believers refers to oneness of those who have faith in Jesus Christ.
By the end of this lesson you should be able to: –
- Describe activities of early Christians
- Describe characteristics of the people of God
- Explain the meanings of these symbolic expressions
- The body of Christ
- The Vine and the Branches
- The Church / Assembly of God
- The Bride
The early Christians in Jerusalem demonstrated their unity by.
- Holding joint prayer sessions
- Sharing the Lords supper, that is Eucharist.
- Sharing their possessions with the poor.
The showed oneness and unity as believers. They expressed their oneness using various terms, images, metaphors and symbols. They regarded themselves as the people of God, the church and an Assembly of God. When they celebrated the last supper, eating of bread was a symbol of the body of Christ. They saw themselves as belonging to one tree with the vine and branches. As followers of Christ, the early Church saw itself as the Bride of Christ.
Discussion of Symbolic Expressions
The people of God
Read 1 PETER 2: 9-10. Peter has outlined the characteristics of the people of God. He says that the people of God are
Believers in God: through faith in Jesus Christ.
The ‘Chosen race’, ‘a royal priesthood’, a holy nation’ ‘a chosen people’
Those who stand out from the rest because they live a holy and righteous life.
Form a Holy nation chosen to proclaim the works of God.
Not just the descendants of Abraham but people who follow Jesus Christ and His teachings.
The body of Christ
Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, and Ephesians’ 4:1-12.
The Holy Spirit is the one who brings Christians together as one body of Christ to serve the church.
Christians are given gifts for the purpose of sharing the body of Christ.
Jesus Christ is the head of the church. And just as the body has many parts, playing different roles, so has the Church. Every member of the church plays a vital role because different members have different spiritual gifts and callings. Some are Apostles, Teachers, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Miracle performers, Administrators and those who show mercy to others and encourage (exhort) others.
All church activities should be directed to the welfare of the church, just as the function of each part of the body is necessary for the well being of the whole body. To have a united body, members should be meek, and patient in order to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit. For a church to be united, or to be considered as one body, Christians should have faith in God the father, one Lord Jesus Christ, one Holy Spirit and have faith in God through Jesus Christ.
The Vine and the Branches
Read John 15:1-10
The vine represents Jesus. Vine tree was a tree that bore grapes. The vine tree was a symbol of prosperity and peace. Jesus is the vine and the Father is the vinedresser. Christians/ believers are the branches. They are expected to produce good fruits by remaining faithful and united in Christ. Faithful branches bear fruit like good Christians while unfruitful branches are like unfruitful Christians.
Christians should remain united to Christ who is the vine so as to bear fruits. The teachings of Jesus purify the Christians. The dead branches of the Vine trees are cut off and the livings ones are trimmed or pruned. This is done so that the vines may produce high yields. Likewise unfaithful Christians, believers are rebuked and corrected so as to bear high yields.
The Church or Assembly of God. Read Ephesians 5: 21 – 32
Church is a Greek word “““ekklesia””, which means people. People who belong to the Lord. Assembly of God is the coming together of people of diverse social and cultural backgrounds who recognize lordship of Jesus. The church is likened to the relationship between a husband and a wife. Christians (the church) are expected to be united with Christ just as a husband and wife are united in marriage. Just as husbands and wives are expected to love one another, so too, are Christians called upon to express love to one another and to love God.
A husband is the head of a family; Jesus is also the head of the church.
The Bride. Read 2 Corinthian 11: 2, and Revelations 21: 1 – 12
In the Old Testament, God calls Israel a bride. In the New Testament, Christians are referred to as “a bride’ in the New Jerusalem’. God or Jesus Christ is the bridegroom. Christians are reminded that the life on earth is a temporary home. Their real home is in heaven, the Holy city of God. Just as a bride is expected to be faithful to her husband, so are Christians expected to be faithful to God by observing the covenant way of life. Deviation from the covenant was portrayed as adultery. John, who wrote the book of revelations, sees a vision of a new heaven and a new earth in which faithful Christians will be rewarded. Christ will come to take His bride to eternity to live there forever. The relationship between Christians and Jesus/ God is like a marriage. It is a covenant. It is a relationship where the church (bride) is expected to submit to God. Jesus died for the church, a show of His or God’s love. Likewise Christians should be committed in their relationship to God.
SAQ. 1. Discuss in twos who is a bride and what takes place in a wedding.
- Discuss the significance of the symbols used to express the unity of the believers. These are “The people of God”, “The body of Christ”, “The vine and the branches” “The church or assembly of God” and “The bride”.
LESSON TWO: CAUSES OF DISUNITY IN THE EARLY CHURCH
The early church experienced some challenges, which led to divisions among the early disciples and Christians.
After reading this lesson,
- Identify causes of disunity in the early church
- State causes of disunity in the modern church
- Compare the causes of disunity in the early and modern church
- Suggest possible solutions to disunity in modern church
Causes of Disunity in the Early Church
After Jesus ascended to his Father and left the Holy Spirit to look after his followers, the disciples established congregations or communities to spread the Word of God. As believers of Christ met and prayed together, there were disagreements and divisions brought about by several factors and issues.
Disputes, among early Christians; concerning leadership of the Church. Christians wanted different leaders: Paul, Apollos, Cephas or Christ. Paul told them that Christ couldn’t be divided (1 Corinthians 1:10 -21).
Sexual immorality was another cause of disunity in the early church. Some Christians were doing or having irresponsible sexual behaviours. These were incest, fornication, and prostitution. Paul condemned such behaviours and told Christians to stop sinning and honor God with their bodies. The body of a Christian is the temple of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthian 5: 1-13, 6:12 – 20). Christians settling disputes in civil courts. Paul advised they ought to talk over issues among themselves and agree to solve problems on their own (1 Corinthians 6).
Dispute over marriage and divorce. Some Christians were opposed to marriage. Others were encouraging divorce. Paul addressed these issues in 1 Corinthian, chapter 71-16. Paul advised Christians that it was okay to marry or not to marry. But marriage was needed to stop immorality. Eating of meat offered to idols. Some Christians were eating meat offered to idols while others were against it. Paul advised Christians not to eat anything that will cause their faith to weaken or fail. (1 Corinthians 8 and10: 14 – 20.
There were disputes about dressing during worship. Should women cover their head during worship? Should women shave hair? Should men wear long hair? (1 Corinthian 11:1-16).
Some Christians were overeating and over drinking during the Holy Communion – misuse of the Lord’s Supper, (1 Corinthians 11:17 – 33). Misuses of spiritual gift especially the gift of speaking in tongues. Paul taught that all gifts are equal (1 Corinthians 12).
There was a misunderstanding about the resurrection of the body and the dead. Some were saying there is no resurrection. Paul preached that if there is no resurrection then their preaching was in vain as they were witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15).
Causes of disunity among believers and church in Kenya today
Leadership differences. Some Christians are struggling for power. This has led to formation of splinter groups, divisions and enmity between these groups.
Cultural differences. Christians are divided by their African cultural beliefs from their backgrounds. This culture is merged with Christianity and Western cultural practices forming a unique mixture of beliefs.
Some Christians are permissive, while others are conservative. This has led to disunity, for example in the areas of dressing.
Discrimination. There is inequality within the church between the rich and the poor, the whites and blacks. Some Christians are viewed as more spiritual than others, on basis of the tribe, gender, wealth and social status among others.
Misuse of freedom of worship. Christians are starting sprinter churches, probably because they want to control church finances without supervision by the wider church. To justify their departure, they spread propaganda against the ‘mother’ church, and other churches in order to attract followers. The more followers a church has the more tithe it collects.
Misuse of church funds. Some church leaders and followers misuse church funds
Differences in the practice of baptism
Arrogance and pride by some Christians.
Sins: sexual immorality in the church, divorce and marriage issues.
Some Christian denominations reject the human nature of the person of Jesus Christ; that Christ had both a human and divine nature e.g. Nomiya church.
SAQ. Can you think of factors that led to disunity among Christians in the early church that you have noted in the Kenyan church?
Reasons why Christians should work in Unity.
Christians face many problems and they therefore need to work together in unity to:
Promote oneness of Christians in Jesus Christ.
Promote the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Achieve effective evangelism or ministry.
Adopt a common attitude to the integration of African culture in worship.
Prevent the formation of sprinter groups and cults.
Reduce the internal wrangling.
Have a common stand in dealing with issues affecting the society.
Possible Solutions to disunity
The church should settle issues that divide its members by Christians:
Learning to appreciate and respect the practices and belief of other Christian’s denominations.
Having or forming a common goal
Striving to be guided by the principle of love in solving problems facing them.
Observing the teachings of disciples, prophets, apostles, God, laws of Moses, Jesus and the Bible.
Avoiding doing anything to their fellow Christians that would cause suffering and disharmony.
Activities that the early church did in order to remain united were that they: Ate bread together.
Held fellowships together.
Shared with the needy.
Prayed together for each other
In the current worldwide Church, there is disunity amongst believers or Christians. The most common ones are due.
Leadership differences and wrangles for power.
Cultural differences amongst Christians.
Some Christians are permissive while others are conservative.
Differences in the interpretation of the Bible.
Misuse of church funds
Pride and arrogance.
- Write down terms used in the new testament to refer to believers in Christ
- Identify five causes of disunity in the church today
- Identify factors which cause disunity among the Christians today
- Discuss reasons why members of Christian families in Kenya find it difficult to harmoniously live together
- Explain how the church strengthens family relationships today