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Historians tell us that around the year 100 AD there were about 20,000 Christians. They were a minority group that at its best was tolerated and at its worst severely persecuted. About 210 years later, when Constantine was in power, Christianity was no longer a minority group, but numbered around 20 million. We see the same scenario in China. In 1950, before Mao introduced communism, there were about 4 million Christians, if you also include Catholics. According to a survey done in 1993, they estimated that today there are over 41 million Protestant Christians in China.
The speed of growth in these two examples is of course extraordinary and I do believe we have a lot to learn from both of them, but I think there is an interesting point to be made here when it comes to Christian unity.
Was it unity that made Christianity grow?
Today we often hear people claim that the reason we don’t have revival is lack of unity between different Christian groups. There could be something to this, and I am in no way implying that we should’t have unity, but looking at the unity among Christians in these two examples gives us another perspective.
We know from both history and the Bible that the first era of Christianity was not particularly known for its unity.
Yes, it’s true that Acts 2:42-47 portrays a Christian community with great unity, but you only have to go 4 chapters forward and the quarrels begin. And as we read on, we can’t help noticing the glitch that quickly arose between the Jewish and the gentile believers.
Studying the backgrounds of the epistles, we learn that there were many different heresies trying to infiltrate the Christians in those days and this was actually the main reason for writing several of the epistles.
The first Christians did not have a collected work of inspired writings, like we have today (the Bible). Some of the writings used by believers in those days actually did not make it into our Bible.
One of the reasons the Bible was compiled was to try and put up a standard when it came to inspired scriptures, and this was done in an attempt to fight the heresies that were flourishing.
I’m not writing this to discredit the Bible that we have today, because I believe that God was controlling the process. My point is to highlight the fact that the first Christians were not known for having the same doctrine and beliefs on all issues.
I believe the true believers had a common ground when it came to basic doctrines, but beyond that there were big differences.
Strange teachings When it comes to the exploding Christian underground movement in China, Christian leaders in the West have been having some concerns. Of course not with the growth, but when it comes to their doctrines.
Since many of them don’t have Bibles, there have been many strange teachings and practices among the believers. You might say that then they are not really Christians, but if someone was willing to risk their life following Jesus, I would assume that they were true believers.
The interesting thing is that this has clearly not hindered God from moving in a mighty way in China.
Not that we should welcome unbiblical teachings, but it’s interesting to notice. Especially for us in the Western culture where we put such a strong emphasis on teaching, and still have so little results when it comes to revival.
I remember reading the book “Living Water” by Brother Yun, who is one of the house church leaders in China. He actually writes that the Christians in China had greater unity before the Christian leaders from the West tried to fix the “false doctrine issue”.
Before, they were all Christians, but of course with different beliefs on some issues, but after the Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals and so on came with their teaching, they suddenly were divided into denominations.
I don’t believe sound biblical teaching is wrong, but I believe it’s wrong to connect sound biblical teaching to our own denomination.
Unity in Christ - not in doctrine
When Paul is talking about Christian growth, he is not talking about getting a Ph.D. in theology - he is talking about becoming more like Jesus. Today we have made the life of Christ a doctrine, and if you answer all the questions right, you pass the test.
Following Jesus, however, is actually something you should be doing and not something you should have theoretical knowledge about.
My goal in this article is not to give a solution to what brings revival, but to highlight a danger when it comes to having a wrong idea of unity.
If what we are fighting for, when it comes to unity, is for everyone to have the same doctrine and beliefs on all issues, then I believe the devil has tricked us into fighting an impossible battle that will keep us busy until Jesus returns.
But if we can have unity in Christ, regardless of looking differently at certain issues, then I believe in unity - and this is something worth fighting for.