The What & Why of Honoring Church Leaders for Unity’s Sake
Sunday August 24, 1662, witnessed a great turning point in English Christianity. Dubbed The Great Ejection, some 2,000 ministers left the national church for reasons of conscience.
That “Farewell Sunday” Puritan giants like Richard Baxter, Thomas Manton, Thomas Watson, and numerous others delivered parting sermons to their congregations.
Thomas Brooks prepared his own, but apparently never got to preach it. Consequently he preserved his in written form. His conclusion consisted of twenty-seven “legacies” he wished to impart to his people.
The tenth revealed his passion for the church to excel in preserving unity:
Labour mightily for a healing spirit. This legacy I would leave with you as a matter of great concernment. To repeat: Labour mightily for a healing spirit. Away with all discriminating names whatever that may hinder the applying of balm to heal your wounds. Labour for a healing spirit. Discord and division become no Christian. For wolves to worry the lambs, is no wonder; but for one lamb to worry another, this is unnatural and monstrous. God hath made his wrath to smoke against us for the divisions and heart-burnings that have been amongst us. Labour for a oneness in love and affection with every one that is one with Christ. Let their forms be what they will, that which wins most upon Christ’s heart, should win most upon ours, and that is his own grace and holiness. The question should be, What of the Father, what of the Son, what of the Spirit shines in this or that person? and accordingly let your love and your affections run out.
In his first letter to a mostly healthy church at Thessalonica, the apostle Paul issued a variety of exhortations.
One in particular championed Brook’s labor-mightily-for-a-healing-spirit legacy.
Be at peace among yourselves (1 Thess. 5:13b).
The verb is an imperative. He commands this. It is not optional to pursue peace in the body of Christ—and get this—constantly no less.
He uses the present tense. It conveys a continuous kind of action. An alternate translation could rightly read, Keep on being at peace among yourselves.
Hebrews 12:14 slants it this way: Strive for peace with everyone. Paul stressed in Rom. 12:18, If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Brooks nailed it. Labor mightily for a healing spirit.
Do-your-best preservers of congregational unity should bring a lot of energy to peacemaking in the church. It will always rank high in their priorities as members of a fellowship.
In 1 Thess. 5:12-13, Paul zeroes in on the relationship between the people and their leaders. He spells out a practice they must master, if they are to excel as a peacemaking people.
Concluding with some final instructions he writes:
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
The apostle targets principally the followers—the greater majority of any congregation.
The principle for laboring mightily to safeguard unity in this case is this: Peacemaking people in Christ’s church treat their officers with utmost honor given the nature of their work.
In my next few posts I plan to unpack the what and the why of honoring church officers. In the meantime, ask yourself this question:
How does my attitude toward the leaders of my church preserve or threaten my church’s unity?