God's Program For Unity

Herbert Fraser
Fort Collins, Colorado

Unity - Virtue, or Vice?

Religious ideas, as political ideas, have a way of changing with changing times. In the past, partyism was both stoutly defended and fervently practiced. And pleas to forsake such denominational discord for the unity as espoused by the Lord went largely unheeded. Though many did forsake the jangling strife of denominationalism for the harmony of compliance with the Lord's arrangement, the plea for such unity was widely ridiculed and ignored.

But religious winds have changed their course. Today, division is decried, and peace is praised. In both Romanism and Protestantism, much is said regarding "ecumenism" - one single organizational entity being envisioned. And much is claimed regarding harmony - with religious endeavors participated in by people of formerly segregated "communions." Nowadays, it is seldom that division is praised, even though the divisive parties are supported.

In the body of Christ, the plea for unity of believers is heard as well. Discordant notes over inconsequential are being widely discouraged, with a plea for peace and harmony widely proclaimed. Oh, fomenters of strife are still vociferous. But largely the emphasis is on unity, not division. There is something good about this altered outlook. It appears that peace is appreciated.

But, when there is a swing away from one error, in many cases the pendulum does not stop at truth, but continues to swing to another error. And, in an aversion to senseless bickering over trivialities, and in a desire for peace, there is a very real danger that the unity for which the Lord planned will not obtain.

It should be kept in mind that unity is not a virtue, per se; and that division is not a vice, per se. The Scriptures both condemn some unity (2 Cor. 6:16-17) and commend some division (Luke 12:51). Conflict (of a certain kind) is as much called for as is peace. In all realms, such as physiology and mathematics, there are items and principles that are clearly incompatible with one another, with such incompatibility to be recognized. And in the highest realm of all, the spiritual, the principle holds true as positively as in any other.

Righteousness, because it is righteous, is distinct from unrighteousness. And this is right. To equate all division with wrong, or to equate all unity with right, is to ignore fundamentals.

Identifying and Effecting Virtuous Unity

Virtuous unity is both identifiable and achievable. And the Lord makes both possible. A part of Jesus, prayer as recorded in John 17 sets forth principles that are applicable. A part of this prayer pertains to "believers" (verses 20-23), with unity being the principal subject dealt with. A study of expressions used should convince that here is both a pattern for unity and a process for achieving it.

1. The unity prayed for is one of agreement. ". . . . that they may be one, even as we (Christ and the Father) are one" (verse 22b). Harmony of positions characterizes the relations of Christ and the Father (see John 10:30). Neither the Son nor the Father holds views that are in conflict with those of the other. The unity here endorsed and prayed for is a unity in which genuine agreement, not artificial tolerance is evidenced.

2. And the unity (agreement) prayed for is one in which the agreement is with God. "As thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee that they also may be one in us" (verse 21). The Lord prayed, not just that all believers be in agreement with one another, but also that they be in agreement with Christ and the Father. The only meaningful unity pertaining to spiritual relationships is that which has to do with acceptance of and accommodation to arrangements of God. Thus attempts to arrive at unity among believers while disparaging or ignoring unity with God cannot be that to which the Lord is here referring. Any "fellowship" that is arranged for by contrived compromise of men, while depreciating complete compliance with the Lord's will cannot be the unity for which the Lord prayed. For such effort refuses to take into consideration the part that God plays in the matter of unity.

3. The unity prayed for is one that stems from provisions of Christ. "The glory which thou gavest me I have given them; (so) that they may be one, even as we are one" (Verse 22). The exaltation experienced by Christ, with the blessings and authority - connected therewith, has as its design, among other things, unity of believers. Every divinely authorized endeavor for Christians is thus a divine provision that encourages unity. By its very nature, the gospel is promoter of proper unity. Nothing else can encourage the unity for which Christ prayed. Additions to, deletions from or an ignoring of any of the Lord's provisions do not promote this unity. Participation in all and only such provisions does.

These general principles pertaining to unity are particularized in Ephesians 4:3-6. Here the "divine chain of unity" is presented, every "link" vitally involved in the process of attaining and maintaining the "unity of the Spirit." They are:

1. One body (church - Eph. 1:22-23; 2:16): one "fellowship" in which all Christians are partners;

2. One Spirit: one Life to animate all who are of that one body;

3. One hope: one ultimate aspiration and objective to be held by all;

4. One Lord: one Master to be served by all;

5. One faith: one system of truth (the gospel) to be accepted by all (Jude 3; Rom. 1: 16) and in which that one Lord is to be served by all (Rom. 1:9);

6. One baptism: one means by which entrance is obtained by all into that new relationship;

7. One God: one source of blessing and object of worship for all.

These "ones," so essential to virtuous unity, are fully adequate for such unity, and all are adequately revealed in the Scriptures. Thus the Scriptures are essential to obtaining and maintaining virtuous unity.

Diversity and Compromise

Christians have ample opportunity to hold and express diversity of outlook without sacrifice of any truth or compromise with any error - the diversity lying wholly within the realm of man's legitimate prerogatives. Legitimate diversity and compromise have to do with legitimately unrevealed (human judgment), not divinely revealed matters. There is a vast area where such legitimate diversity and compromise are both in order and called for. This area could well be noted - to determine both what are and what are not legitimate human judgment matters, and to engage in legitimate compromise where called for.

Yet an otherwise legitimate action would be out of order if it were to encourage any errorist to continue in any error or to be strengthened in his stand against any truth. A study of Rom. 14:19-24 should convince the honest inquirer of this principle. God's plan for unity is the only plan needed or possible for the right kind of unity.

May 1969