“Wrestling With Romans”
The Unity of the Church – (Chapter 16 Verses 17-27)
The Apostle has been writing about the impressive unity within the Churches, including that of Rome, and his mind is still upon that unity as he turns to these next verses (vv17-19). Now remember that some of these Roman Christians were very highly thought of even before Paul was converted (v7) and together they had stood united in the teaching they had been given. But the danger was always there, that one, or some of these lone-rangers would drift into the Church in Rome and spoil what was going on. It only takes one to be out of step, and cause absolute mayhem. They cause divisions with contrary teaching. Oh yes they would say they were convicted, and that by the Holy Spirit, but both Paul and I would argue differently, the Holy Spirit leads Churches, the body of Christ, and when a person or group of persons is out of step with the rest of the fellowship, they’re out of step with the Spirit. They will produce the opposite to the unity Paul is thinking of. Even worse still are their obstacles, their offences, which tear other believers out of the fellowship, these people disturb everybody, but some, because of these people will be made to stumble, fall away altogether (Matthew 18.6). Anyone who opposes the essential work of the gospel, or who stubbornly puts obstacles in the way of souls coming to Jesus Christ for salvation, are guilty of this, whatever they say their reasons are, or however they do it.
Paul has one answer, keep away from them (v17b). Now in the ecumenical ethos of our day the cry would to fellowship with them. Paul says, no don’t. But then there will always be the zealots who will go further and shut themselves off from all and sundry, that is equally wrong. We must learn to discern, we must learn to sort out the good from the bad, we must learn to sift, and to take each Church and individual Christian on their own merits. Because wholesale condemnation, across the board, blanket refusal of fellowship with anyone outside your own little circle is just as divisive. But those who refuse to keep the unity intact, those who disrupt that unity within the body of Christ, Paul is clear, turn away from them. We must learn that that unity is so very precious to God, and to Jesus Christ, who both take a very dim view to say the least of any who break it. That unity is greater than all our little foibles, our religious bugs. It must be protected at all costs along with the truth, as it is in Jesus (John 17.17).
(© James R Hamilton, written September, 1997)