Speakers urge unity within, among churches 

March 2, 2010

PLAINVIEW – Through the opening day of the Panhandle-Plains Pastors’ and Laymen’s Conference, the theme was abundantly clear: Churches need to practice more unity both inside their congregation and with other congregations of believers.

Speakers built on the theme of the 89th annual event, “The Same Difference,” with the key Bible verse from First Corinthians 12:4-6:  “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.”

Dr. Fred Meeks, emeritus professor of religion at Wayland, led a Bible study in the book of Galatians for the conference, using the overall theme of the characteristics of spiritual formation. Meeks pointed out that the forming of Christ within the believer is realized through faith and not the law, which was replaced with a new covenant when Christ died for sin. 

“Accepting Christ as savior means we died to sin and we participate in his resurrection,” Meeks said. “Our salvation is not based on our behavior that the law requires. We’ve been set free from that law.”

Meeks pointed out the various metaphors that the Apostle Paul used in his letter to the Galatians, and he used a few of his own to explain the letter. Faith, he said, loses much of its power when believers renounce the freedom that comes from it or let themselves get seduced by the outside world into legalistic behavior. Faith can, however, be restored to a point by recalling one’s salvation experience.

Meeks noted that on a recent drive through his old neighborhood in Dallas, he happened upon the church building where he was saved and later where he pronounced his calling to preach and was ordained. He recalled how he tearfully “had a revival” right there in recalling those precious memories of the faith.

But Meeks pointed out that Paul was not denouncing the law completely, as it is vital to reveal sin in the believer’s life but cannot remove it. Faith makes believers a family and puts on a uniformity that should unite and remove all judgment about differences otherwise. Legalism, on the other hand, is a return to the idolatry of paganism, which was tied more to events on the calendar than lasting growth.

The main goal of the church is to see Christ both “born” into people – received upon their salvation – and formed in them as they grow in faith and discipleship, Meeks said.

Continuing on the theme, Carolyn Porterfield took her message from Philippians 2:1-4, noting that Christians are to have the same love, being like-minded and united by the purpose of glorifying God. 

“Our world looks at us and we often maim God’s name,” said Porterfield, a multicultural consultant for Texas Baptists and former Texas WMU director. “So often there is little in our actions that bear God’s love. When do we come together and encourage one another?”
Porterfield pointed out that the Apostle Paul is encouraging believers to adopt the character of Christ and his purpose, then walk in a manner that is worthy of the gospel. Using the illustration of a tuning fork used to tune a guitar, Porterfield said tuning our hearts to Christ and his heart means all the other parts of our lives will fall in step with his mission. She noted that many strategy and planning meetings wasted time by debating purpose and mission statements when, “Jesus gave us a mission statement: Go ye into all the world and make disciples of all nations,” and the strategy to do that is found in Acts 1:8.

“We need to embrace the purpose God has for us and be of one spirit. We cannot continue to be effective when we’re in disagreement,” she said. “We are the receivers of God’s grace, mercy and love. We are helpless without Him. When we submit to him, he can take our lives and use us in ways we never imagined.”

Dr. D. L. Lowrie, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church in Lubbock, presented an afternoon message on the theme “We are working on the same building,” with text from First Corinthians 3:5-17. Lowrie spoke of Christians as both the building itself – the workmanship of God formed at salvation and being built up regularly through discipleship – as well as workers on the building – the collective body of believers that grows as Christians share God’s love and message to a hurting world. 

“Each of us in our own way is working on the building,” Lowrie said. “We all have our own task to do.”

Lowrie reflected on the glory of the building and noted the sense of wonderment on Paul’s part that Christians are part of the work crew for the structure, which he noted can only be built on the foundation of Jesus and includes “redeemed individuals for God’s indwelling.”

He also noted that Paul points out that each believer is himself a temple where God dwells for the manifestation of his glory. Rather than in the Old Testament where the holiest place of the temple was reserved for God, Lowrie said the Holy of Holies in modern times is found in the assembly of believers.

Lowrie noted that the task of building the temple requires cooperation among believers as all have different roles, just as in a construction crew on a literal building. The task also requires grace, which both qualifies believers for the building job and enables them to do the task, and great care for the appropriate workmanship for God’s building.

In closing, Lowrie noted that the work of believers will be tested down the road to ensure that the proper materials are used in construction.

“Our character will be exposed when Jesus returns, and we need to be using materials that will withstand the fire, the consuming fire of God,” Lowrie said. “It’s not about how long we’ve been building but how well we’re built and if we can withstand the fire.”