Unity in the Church
I often hear church people say that we need to have more unity in the church. Unity, what does that mean? Well, it depends on who you ask. There is no question that the Bible teaches us that Christians are to be united, without divisions among us (1 Cor. 1:10), and that we are to be as one, as Chris is with the Father (John 17:21), and to be willing to maintain that unity peacefully (Eph. 4:30. But how are we suppose to apply this as Christians. There is certainly a great deal of bickering in the visible church. We have historically the Protestants arguing with Catholics, the charismatics arguing with the cessationists, the conservatives with the liberals, etc. Is this edifying to the church, or is it a distraction that draws attention away from the Gospel. Well, the short answer is both. Here’s why.
First I’ll start with what “unity” is not, as defined by the Word of God. Biblical unity among believers is not compromising the Word of God for the sake of apparent peace. In the High Priestly Prayer in John 17, Jesus prays to the Father, asking him to grant unity among believers so that the world will see that unity, and know that believers are one with each other as he is with his father. But the key phrase here is “among believers” (John 17:20). He is not asking that we set our significant difference in beliefs aside, and join hands together in ecumenical prayer. No, he’s asking that we all be united in the truth, being in full accord and of one mind (Phillipians 2:1-3), believing the same doctrinal truths, and taking these truths to the world.
There tends to be a great amount of backlash towards believers who are quick to rebuke other Christians who are in sin, or even false believers who are masquerading as Christians. The argument is that it distracts from the love of Jesus, but love is not the only quality of Jesus. Jesus came to bring truth, a sword (Matthew 10:34). Jesus did not come to tell everyone that they could believe what they wanted to believe, worship whatever idols they want to worship, and seek whatever God they wanted to seek, and as long as we stand in unity, everything would be fine. Jesus commanded us to expose false teachers within the church (Eph. 5:11), that they aren’t really Christians, but ravenous wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). But sadly, there are many of these wolves running rampant in Evangelicalism, with very few willing to stand up and call them out. Yet, when they are called out, the talking heads of mainstream evangelicalism tend to bark back at the discerning Christians trying to obey God.
The Bible tells us not to have fellowship with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14). This means, we don’t join hands with the false church of Rome, giving the appearance that we are brothers and sisters in Christ, in order to advance and protect the sanctity of marriage, or to protest against abortion. While these may be good things to stand up for, we must not compromise the Gospel in doing so. We must stand up against the atrocities of abortion, or protect the sanctity of marriage by taking the Word of God to the lost, condemning all sin, and proclaiming the good news of the cross to everyone. Being united in error is not what Christ wants for his church, and being united on false premises is not being united at all.
So what creates disunity in the church then if it’s not the bickering and quarreling and the argument? Error. Error is what creates disunity in the church, and error must be corrected to regain that unity. Paul says in Romans 16:17, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” Notice, he doesn’t say to avoid the ones correcting the false doctrine, he’s saying avoid those bringing false doctrine because they cause disunity. He doesn’t say turn a blind eye and join up with them at prayer rallies to promote a political agenda. No, he says stay away from them, expose them for what they are—tools of Satan that cause disunity.
Lack of knowledge also creates divisions. According to the prophet Hosea, people are destroyed because of their lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6). If we stand around, and allow people to believe whatever they want to believe, never correcting them, and never confronting their sin, the end is ultimate destruction. Although this may temporarily give the appearance of unity, it’s a deception. In order to be united the way Christ wants us to be united, we must be constantly reproving error, and constantly drawing people closer to the truth according to the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16). We must correct those who mishandle Scripture, just like Jesus corrected Satan when he mishandled Scritpure (Matt 4:5-7).
Jesus says that those who teach and hold to false doctrines are worshiping him falsely (Matt 15:9). If we’re standing in prayer with those caught up in false churches, false gospels, or a false Jesus, we may as well be holding to these false beliefs ourselves. The signers of the ecumenical document, Evangelicals and Catholics Together, obviously don’t understand this concept. The signing of this false unification document has resulted in a watered down Gospel, and has led many unbelievers to believe that they are in right standing with God, regardless of their belief in another gospel (2 Cor 11:4).
We must unite around the truth alone. The truth of Scripture, the Word of God is the means of our unity, and Jesus Christ alone is the object of our unity. We can’t know Jesus outside of his revealed word to us. The Church should be a pillar and a buttress of the truth (1 Tim 3:15). In this we must remain united. We must remain united in protecting that truth, and standing up for that truth. We must remain united in exposing the false teachers, and false doctrines. And we must remain united in our condemnation of sin, for without condemnation of sin, there is no salvation (Romans 6:23; Revelation 21:8). Finally, we must remain united in taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the nations, and baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and passing the torch.
How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore. – Psalm 133