Q. Should we stress unity over doctrine? The reason I ask is because my pastor wants to grow our church, so he is stressing what he calls “kingdom unity” rather than “doctrinal division.” Is this what Jesus did?

A. Think about this. Multitudes of thousands of people followed Jesus. They listened to His sermons, heard His parables, were miraculously fed by Him, and saw Him heal people and even raise them from the dead. Yet, at the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus had only about 120 loyal followers (Acts 1:15). How did this happen? Jesus never stressed unity over doctrine.

When Jesus perceived that what He was saying was turning people off, He did precisely the opposite of what most modern preachers would do. Instead of weakening His teaching, instead of dumbing things down, instead of going back to the lowest common denominator between His beliefs and the people’s, He said something even stronger. In fact, when Jesus heard that the people were murmuring at His teachings, He made His teachings even less palatable to drive a wedge between Himself and the grumblers. As He said in Matthew 10:4, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”

There are too many places in the Gospels where Jesus did this to detail in this answer. But I will point out one classic example where Jesus continually made what He said harder to accept until He drove the people away. It is found in John 6.

In this chapter, we read that multitudes came out to Jesus while He was in the hill country around the Sea of Galilee. There were five thousand men, not counting women and children (verse 10). That’s a pretty good start for a megachurch, isn’t it? Using today’s thinking, we would assume that Jesus will do everything He can to hold onto these people so he can preach the Gospel to them week after week, year after year. And, starting with such a large congregation, surely viral marketing will kick in and there’s no telling where the numbers will go. But no, Jesus doesn’t follow the world’s rules.

First, Jesus notices that the people don’t have food. So, He performs a miracle by using the five small loaves and two small fish offered by a little boy to feed these thousands of people. Impressive! Surely, this will keep the people coming back. If Jesus wanted a megachurch, He could certainly have built one based on this miracle. Seeing that Jesus fed them in the wilderness, the people correctly make a connection between Jesus and “that prophet” that Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15 and 18 said would come after him and be like him (verse 14). Not only that, they want to make him a king! (verse 15). By stressing miracles over doctrine, food over hard teachings, He could have kept them unified.

But instead of making an acceptance speech, taking donations for the new 30,000 seat sanctuary, hiring some PR men to keep the ball rolling, and writing a book, He goes off into the mountains by himself. The disciples leave in a boat to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. A windstorm comes up and, no matter how much they work, they can’t make any headway. Then they think they see a ghost. It turns out to be Jesus walking on the water. What an opportunity for publicity! But the crowds aren’t there. As soon as Jesus gets into the boat, they are immediately at their destination (verse 21).

Then Jesus has a second opportunity to build a megachurch. The next day, the crowds come looking for Jesus and come across to the other side where He is. All Jesus has to do to keep this crowd together is to feed them again, avoid divisive doctrine, and teach nice things like kingdom unity.

Is this what Jesus does? Not at all. Jesus immediately picks on the one thing that unifies the crowd—their desire for food: “Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled” (verse 26). Then He tells them what to do: “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed” (verse 27).

The people, making the same kind of mistake as the woman at the well (John 4:13-15), think that Jesus is talking about some kind of food that will last forever. So, they ask Him how they can work the works of God that will result in this kind of food (verse 28). Jesus then begins cranking up the difficulty level and driving a wedge between Himself and the people.

Copyright © 2009 Peter Ditzel. Permissions Statement.