There are ongoing discussions in the blogisphere, in joint meetings, in Christian periodicals, and in individual congregations about “Unity”. What is “Unity” and on what basis can Christians have unity with other Christians? Is Christian unity based on theology or ideology? Are we to be unified based on central historic biblical truths or are we to be unified based on what we do “at church” or how we do it?
Church folk born of the rich heritage of the Restoration Movement, churches of Christ and Disciples/Christian churches, have had meetings specifically to address the lack of unity between the two groups who split many years ago primarily over the use of musical instruments to accompany singing in worship services.
Interestingly, both groups are almost identical twins except for how they choose to worship God. Both groups preach Christ’s sacrificial death, His burial, and His resurrection. Both preach water baptism for the remission of sins. Both groups tend toward the Amillennial view of eschatology, and both groups are largely Armenian, or “free will”. Both groups believe a person can loose their salvation, and then curiously be “restored” without the essential baptism for the remission of sins. Both celebrate the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s day and share a multiple eldership form of church government.
On the church of Christ side of the equation, there are factions and splits that are so numerous it is difficult to keep track of them. There are “One cuppers”, who will use only one common cup in serving the Lord’s Supper. There are “Non Sunday School” groups, groups against any sort of support for orphanages or missions out of the church purse (anti’s) , etc, etc. To my knowledge all of these smaller factions are solidly in the “a cappella” churches compared to the few “Liberal” churches that use instruments in worship.
On what basis is it possible for such diversity of belief and practice to achieve true unity?
First, what is biblical unity? Psalm 133:1 says “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” Surely if people in civic organizations like the Lions Club or a bowling league can get along why is it that people who claim to be “only Christians” can’t get along with each other? You would think that people who have a mandate to love their enemies could get along rather well with brothers and sisters in Christ. Sadly, they don’t.
Other than the one I have mentioned in Psalm 133, the two passages in Ephesians about unity are the ones most of us are most familiar with. In Ephesians 4:3 when the word “unity” is used it is “the unity of the Spirit” and later in chapter 4 the word is used again and this time it is “the unity of the faith”, it is the same “unity” described in different ways. Of course there are many places in the Bible that show us clearly that we are to live in unity, or be together, or as “one”. Psalm 133:1; John 10:16; John 17:11; John 17:21-23; Romans 12:4; and Romans 12:5 all teach the same truth. The John 17 passages are from the high priestly prayer of Jesus when he prayed for “those who will believe because of their (the disciples) witness”. That includes each of us who are believers. Perhaps part of the question about the problems of “unity” among Restorationists is that Jesus was only praying for the saved. I am not implying that none of the Restoration Movement church folks are saved. What I am saying is that perhaps some aren’t.
The oneness that Jesus prayed for and the “unity” discussed in the two Ephesians passages are the same result and the only basis for true biblical unity.
Ephesians 4:1-3 “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.
Ephesians 4:11-16 “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
These two passages clearly show what the problems really are between the “a cappella” churches and the instrumental churches, the “one cuppers” and the multi cuppers, the Sunday school and the non-Sunday school, the ones who have a praise team and those who don’t, and on and on ad nauseam.
1. The “Unity of the Spirit” exists and we are to “keep” it. How? By walking worthy of our calling as God’s people, treating each other “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love. I have seen precious little “lowliness”, “gentleness”, “longsuffering”, and “bearing with one another in love” in the unity discussions have you? In fact, far too often the opposite is true, thus we can’t get along with each other. Carnal Christians, whose motives are fleshly, are going to fight.
2. The reason God has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers is to build us up until we all come to “the unity of the faith” and of the knowledge of the Son of God and that we become mature so that we are like Christ. We must have each other! There is not an option. Verse 16, “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
There is no doubt that if you and I are walking with the Lord we are going to be able to get along with each other and LIKE doing it.
The “Unity” problem exists for two main reasons. Well meaning people are trying to create a counterfeit unity, based not on our common faith in Christ but on our common, or uncommon, acts of worship and service. The former requires only that we walk in the Spirit and love each other. The later requires all sorts of conformity, selfish demands, changing of traditions, pseudo repentance, and catering to huge egos.
Why under heaven should I worry if you raise your hands in worship when you worship across town from me, 200 miles from me, or across the isle from me? Why should I become exercised and call you “liberal” if you have six song leaders and I only have one? I’m sure you get my point. The disagreements have nothing to do with theology, doctrine, or salvation, but are the fruit of immature men who are fearful of their precious identities. When “the way we have always done it” is challenged the person himself is threatened because that is his identity or who he is.
Most of this infighting is born of fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of what someone might think, and fear of being wrong.
There will be no true biblical unity within Restoration Movement camps as long as we are only concerned about ourselves. I say this to the discredit of the majority on both sides. The test of “fellowship” should be on the truth about Christ and faith in Him, not based on a variety of less weighty issues as varied as the people who espouse them.
I have purposed in my heart to love every person who declares his faith in Christ and claims to be my brother. God sees the heart, I don’t. I doubt that I will be in serious jeopardy at the judgment seat of Christ because I have been kind, gentile, and otherwise loving to a person who claims Christ as Lord as I do. I promise you this; I am willing to take that chance.
Grace and Peace