By Mike Willis
Unity is precious to the saints of God. No man who claims to be a disciple of Jesus Christ can be content with division. The preciousness of unity was extolled in Psalm 133. David wrote,
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;
As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.
Unity has the double blessing of being both good and pleasant. There are some things pleasant that are not good for us and some things good for us that are not pleasant. But unity has the double blessing of being both good and pleasant.
The Bible Plan For Unity
Christians do not have an option of choosing to be for or against unity. The Christian must be obedient to the teaching of Christ which demands unity of his disciples. However, not every plan of unity is consistent with the teachings of Christ’s word. We, therefore, begin our quest for unity by considering several of the more important passages of Scripture which teach that Christians should be one. Only then can we know the kind of unity that Christ desires.
1. John 17:20-21: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”
a. The unity of saints is God’s will. The Lord prayed for his saints to be united. Contentment with division is not acceptable. How can we pray, “thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10), without praying for the unity of the saints? Any teaching that accepts the denominational divisions in Christianity as either a good or a necessary-. evil is inconsistent with Jesus’ prayer.
b. The unity is limited to those who believe on me. There can be no unity between Christians and non-Christians. Paul wrote,
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, dearly be-loved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1).
The unity for which Christ prayed is limited to those who are Christians. The unity for which Christ prayed is not for religious people, professors of religion, professed Christians, Christian sects or denominations. It is for Christians. We must understand the conditions for salvation, for being a child of God or a Christian, in order to determine the limits of the unity for which Christ prayed. A person is a Christian who has believed the gospel of Jesus Christ, repented of his sins, confessed his faith in Christ, and been immersed in water for the remission of his sins (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; etc.). The unity of Christians is limited to those who have done this.
c. The unity of saints is to be like that between the Father and the Son. The unity between the Father and the Son is not an organic unity; it is a unity of will and purpose. Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Do you inquire how, or in what sense, he and his Father are one? They are one in mind, in the work of saving man, in the will of God to save men one in the same Gospel, the same Church, ordinances, worship, and every thing. They work in perfect harmony, in the same mind and in the same judgment. There is not a jar nor a discord between them. They cooperate in the same work. This is the way in which the saints should be one as Jesus and his Father are one in the same work, in the same mind, and the same judgment, without a jar or discord” (The Gospel Preacher I:307-308). This unity needs to be distinguished from the unions of denominationalism.
d. This unity will lead to the conversion of the world. Jesus prayed for unity “that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” To the degree that the church is divided, Christians are responsible for the infidelity of the world. How many times have you tried to teach someone what to do to be saved and had to deal with the divisions in Christianity? You have to show them the differences between the Lord’s body and Roman Catholic and Protestant denominationalism, apostasies of brethren, cults, etc. These divisions lead men to throw up their hands in disgust. Were all Christians one, how great an impact this unity would have on the world!
2. John 10:16. Jesus said, “There shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” He foretold the unity which would come when all of God’s people would be united in one church. There were sheep among the Jews and sheep among the Gentiles, but in Christ there would be “one fold and one shepherd.” The unity of saints occurs in the one body (1 Cor. 10:17; 12:12; Eph. 4:4). Paul emphasized that God would “reconcile both (Jew and Gentile, mw) unto God in one body by the cross” (Eph. 2:16). How could this unity occur?
a. The sheep hear the voice of one shepherd. In comparing Christians to sheep and a shepherd, Jesus emphasized that this unity could only be attained and maintained so long as the sheep heard and followed the voice of the one shepherd. The Lord’s sheep do not recognize the voice of a stranger and will not follow him (10:4-5). The Good Shepherd is Christ. When sheep hearken to the voice of strangers rather than the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep, division results.
b. The sheep follow the one shepherd. When the sheep quit following the shepherd, division comes.
3. 1 Corinthians 1:10-13. This text addresses the divisions in the church at Corinth. Here is how it reads:
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
Notice these pertinent points from this text:
a. Christ expects doctrinal unity. He expects his children to “speak the same thing” and be of the “same mind” and the “same judgment.” How different this sounds from the modem mockery that says, “We can no more think alike than we can look alike.” The modem unity-in diversity advocates among us are inconsistent in their application of the idea that men cannot think alike. They expect all men to be of the same mind and judgment and to speak the same things about such things as: the existence of God, the deity of Christ, the inspiration of the Scriptures, the virgin birth, the resurrection, and a few other subjectively chosen “fundamental” doctrines. Of course, the unity-in-diversity advocates expect that every person will become just like them in believing and teaching that “we can no more think alike than we can look alike.” On these matters they expect all men to be “clones” one of another. However, when one moves away from their subjectively chosen list, they belittle the idea that men can understand the Bible alike. In contrast to the unity-in diversity activists, Paul expected the Corinthians not only to be of the same mind and same judgment, but also to speak the same thing.
b. Speaking the same thing. The context of 1 Corinthians helps us to understand how we can arrive at the oneness demanded by Scripture. Paul contrasts man’s wisdom with the wisdom of God, insisting that Christians must confine themselves to the doctrine of Christ (2:4; 4:6). The man who confines himself to the revelation of God has the “mind of Christ” (2:16). To be of the “same mind” Christians must have the “mind of Christ” i.e., confine themselves to the revelation of God’s word.
Having confined ourselves to the revelation of God’s word, Christians can reach the same judgment. Because God’s word does not teach conflicting and contradictory doctrines about any subject. When we abide in the revelation of God’s word, we will reach the same judgment. What other judgment can men who confine themselves to the mind of Christ reach about stealing (murder, adultery, fornication, etc.) except that it is sinful? What other judgment can men who confine themselves to the mind of Christ reach about the action of baptism except that New Testament baptism was immersion in water? Division comes when men cease to have the mind of Christ. Having reached the same conclusion, we can therefore speak the same thing.
Men reject the idea that doctrinal unity is possible because of infidelity based on human experience. They cite the obvious divisions which exist among us as proof that men cannot understand the Bible alike. First, this is inconsistently applied. The same evidences could be used to prove that we can never agree on the existence of God, deity of Christ, virgin birth, resurrection, etc. for men also disagree on these subjects. Second, this impugns the omnipotence and/or goodness of God. Why can’t men understand the Bible alike? God created the Bible as it is for man as he is. Is there a defect in man or the Bible? In either case, God the Creator is at fault. If God wished to make the Bible as it is as a revelation for man as he is, but could not, he is not omnipotent; if God did not choose to give man an understandable revelation and then holds him accountable for obeying it, he is not good. The only alternative to these unacceptable conclusions is to recognize that men can understand the Bible alike and have doctrinal unity.
c. Loyalty to men creates division. When Christians begin to think of men more highly than they ought to think saying, “I am of Paul,” “I am of Cephas,” and “I am Apollos,” they manifest a carnal spirit (1 Cor. 3:3-5). The same carnality is shown when men boast in being a Methodist, Episcopalian, Catholic, Baptist, etc. Paul taught that Christians should only follow him who died for us and in whose name we were baptized (1:13). (Continued in the next issue.)
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 14, p. 2
July 21, 1994