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* THE BLESSEDNESS OF UNITY IN CHRIST (a bulletin article from Resurrection Lutheran Church, Corpus Christi, Texas; Daniel Fleischer is pastor).

The movement toward union is not a new endeavor in the church, but seems to be accelerating. The question is not whether union is permissible. It is rather what kind of union is acceptable unto the Lord, and therefore is a blessing to the Church.

First of all, we must recognize that union and unity are not one and the same. Even the union of two people in marriage who are not in “unity” demonstrates the fallacy of church union without unity. It is a sham.

God-pleasing union, and therefore a blessed union, is that which is based upon a unity in the Word and faith. Such a union, born of the Spirit of God, is a reflection of the oneness between the three persons in the Trinity.

It is the Lord’s will that union be based on unity in Word and faith (1 Corinthians 1:10). They are blessed who, being of the same mind and judgment, confess the same Lord, proclaim the same Gospel of salvation by grace through faith, trust in the same Savior, live in the same Word, hold the same hope, and rejoice in the same salvation.

A union based on an agreement to disagree contradicts the divine pattern as well as the Word. To enter into union without unity is dishonest and in time bears fruits of discord within the body.

To maintain unity within the framework of union is a continuing challenge to the children of God who appreciate the fact that it is God’s will, and that however difficult it be, it is the way of blessing. “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Ps. 133:1).

There is a reason why the word “union” is not found in Scripture, but “unity” is well spoken of. Unity within the church, created by the Word and manifest by mutual bowing to the Word, is to be cherished because it is but a foretaste of the perfect unity we shall enjoy in heaven by the grace of God, Who “did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep we should live toogether with Him” (1 Thess. 5:9-10).

* A RESPONSE (Written last October by Pastor Paul Krause for his congregations in Clarkston, Washington and Orofino, Idaho.)

A few weeks ago a 21-year-old University of Wyoming student named Matthew Shepard was brutally pistol-whipped and left hanging on a fence like a scarecrow. He later died from the injuries he received. His death made the press nationwide, not just because of the brutal beating, but more so because it is alleged that the victim was beaten because he was a homosexual.

All across the nation people responded with services and prayer vigils. Several groups in the Valley sponsored one such prayer vigil on Tuesday night (Oct. 20th) in Brackenbury Square in downtown Lewiston.

A representative from the YWCA in Clarkston called your pastor to encourage his (and the congregation’s) participation in this vigil. Your pastor firmly refused. No doubt his refusal to take part was not understood by those involved. This is to explain to you why he declined to take part.

The first problem is that participating in such a prayer vigil would involve uniting together in prayer and worship to God with members of various faiths. This type of activity is called “religious unionism” and it is not a God-pleasing form of fellowship. God wants those who worship Him and pray to Him to be united in what they believe and confess. Paul addresses this when he writes: “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment (1 Cor. 1:10).

So whether the prayer vigil was for a good reason or not, we could not participate because of the unionistic fellowship involved.

As for the reasons given for holding the vigil, the following observations can be made. The prayer vigil was held for basically two reasons. One is supported by Scripture, the other not.

First of all, it was held to protest the violent way in which Shepard was beaten. As Christians we agree: violence by one human against another is never in any way condoned. In the fifth commandment the Lord says: “You shall not murder.” Along with Martin Luther we understand this to mean: “We should fear and love God that we do not hurt nor harm our neighbor’s body; but we should help and be a friend to him in every bodily need.” Doing anything harmful toward our neighbor is just plain wrong. God goes so far as to say: “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer” (1 Jn 3:15).

Even though we cannot participate in the prayer vigil in good conscience, we can applaud this type of peaceful and law-abiding statement against violence.

However, there was a second reason given for the vigil. Remember that Shepard was a homosexual. This vigil was also used as a platform to defend and even promote the homosexual lifestyle as being acceptable.

With this we cannot agree. The Scriptures in no uncertain terms denounce the sin of homosexuality. In the sixth commandment God says: “You shall not commit adultery.” Sex is reserved by God Himself for marriage between one man and one woman. Any other sexual activity is wrong–and that includes homosexuality. To condone the gay lifestyle is to condone sinful activity, no matter how well accepted it may be in society today.

What those assailants did to Shepard was despicable and wrong. Violence is wrong no matter who the perpetrators or who the victim, no matter what the reason.

But at the same time, we dare not act or speak approvingly of the gay lifestyle, for that too lies under God’s condemnation.

How can we as Christians respond to Shepard’s murder? Within our fellowship we CAN and SHOULD pray together and privately that the Lord would bring an end to such violence in our nation, that He would bring such murderous offenders to see the wrong of their ways and to repent.

As for our attitude toward homosexuals, may God move us to have compassion on them (as Jesus had on the sinners of His day) and when we have the opportunity bring them, yes, the condemning word of the Law, but also, and more importantly, the forgiving and life-changing word of the Gospel.

In that way, through the Word, the Lord can work on their hearts, moving them to repent and to amend their life. Society would have us believe that it is wrong to try to “convert” a homosexual from that lifestyle. But according to God, such a change is both God-pleasing and possible!

Paul wrote concerning this to the congregation at Corinth: “Neither homosexuals, nor sodomites . . . will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you! But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

May God’s Spirit move us to be a positive force in our sinful world as we continue to proclaim the message of the forgiveness of sin through faith in our Savior Jesus Christ!