Most of us would agree that the world would be better if we all just got along, but at what cost should peace be preserved? More specifically, what is Christian unity, what is it based upon, and what is it not?
“Endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)
The New Testament teaches Christians to have unity of the spirit, but many people today, whether in the ecumenical movement or not, misunderstand what this means. Perhaps it is easier to explain what it is not.
Primarily, unity among Christians is not a compromise on essential Biblical doctrines—on things clearly taught in Scripture. These are issues you cannot, as a follower of Christ, compromise on and still maintain spiritual integrity.
These would involve doctrines such as the following:
Jesus is God
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory…” (John 1:1, 14)
“…For if you do not believe that I am He [the word He is added by the translators; it is not in the original manuscripts], you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24b)
“Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’ Then they took up stones to throw at Him…”(John 8:58-59) [I AM was the name God revealed Himself to Israel in the Old Testament; the fact that they attempted to stone Him evidences that they recognized Jesus’ claim of divinity because stoning was the penalty for a man claiming to be God.]
The Bible is the inspired Word of God
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)
Salvation is a gift of God available through Christ’s death on the cross
“That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace [undeserved favor] in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace [undeserved favor] you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:7-9)
“…and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:7)
“Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (I Peter 1:18-19)
“How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” (Hebrews 9:14-15)
Genuine conversion generates a changed lifestyle
“This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:5-7)”
“If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him…And you know that He was manifested [revealed, shown to us] to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin [as an ongoing way of life]. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceived you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him, and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest [revealed, shown, obvious]. Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.” (I John 2:29-3:10)
The Holy Spirit is a person, not a “feeling”
“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you…But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you…But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” (John 14:16-15:26)
So what, then, is Biblical unity? I believe Biblical unity is not accomplished formally, through a cooperative effort of leaders of various denominations, but rather on an individual basis between the people of God. It is not a connecting of personalities; rather it is what you get when a genuinely converted person fellowships with another true Christian. It is that peace and unity of purpose—the purpose of God—that exists because both have the Spirit of God in them and directing them.
Yet there is a human component. We are exhorted to maintain the unity of spirit in the bond of peace, because our sinful human tendencies are vulnerable to ego and desire to always be right. It is possible for people of God to fellowship without necessarily having to agree on every minutia, and while we hope to turn people to Christ and the righteousness He brings, we ought not necessarily condemn another when he clearly loves Christ and also has His Spirit!
Help us have Your purposes firmly before us; help us recognize error and not compromise on that which is clearly taught in Your Word, but help us also maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace with others who are also born of You. Amen.