The Impact Of Unity Movements On The Church

By H.E. Phillips

“Unity” is defined by Webster as: “1. the state of being one; oneness; singleness; being united. 2. something considered complete in itself; single, separate thing. 3. the quality of being one in spirit, sentiment, purpose, etc.; harmony; agreement; concord; uniformity. . .” (New World Dictionary, College Edition).

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psa. 133:1) Is unity possible? God commands it of His children (1 Cor. 1:10). Christ prayed for unity among His disciples through His word (John 17:20, 21). The Holy Spirit taught unity as a requirement to be right with God (Eph. 4:1-6). We are to practice the same thing (1 Cor. 11:1). To maintain unity in Christ we must all speak the same thing (1 Pet. 4:11). The only standard by which unity can be attained is the Bible. The word is complete (2 Pet. 1:3), and God will not allow any changes in it (Rev. 22:18,19). It will completely perfect a man unto every good work (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).

How Division Comes

Division comes by the doctrines of men (Matt. 15:9; 2 Jn. 9,10). Carnal thinking people are determined to follow courses that are charted by their carnal senses and drives rather than by what the word of God says.

I believe it is vital to the subject of unity to have some historical background of the divisions that have ripped through churches over the past 135 years, but space does not permit this material to be presented at this time. My assignment is: The Impact Of Unity Movements On Th Church. I will briefly address this subject in this study.

The first major rupture of the harmony and unity of churches of Christ in this country came in the middle of the 19th century. The instrument of music was introduced in the worship at Midway, Kentucky in 1849 over the protest of many in that congregation. It resulted in a division. Instrumental music had caused division in some denominations by 1849.

Impact Of Unity Movements

There have been many Unity Meetings and Movements over the past 100 years. What impact do these unity movements have upon the church of our Lord? From several adverse influences these have upon the church, I have selected seven:

1. The loss of respect and love for the word of God is the first real impact they have had upon churches of Christ. In the efforts to find agreement on a subject that separates brethren the sense of compromise will cause some to believe a lie and be damned, because they did not have the love of the truth (2 Thess. 2:10, 11). The compromise of the truth by a few influential men and women in a congregation can take that whole congregation away from the faith. The tendency of unity movements is to affect the church with less love and knowledge of the truth.

2. It stifles the thinking and conviction of babes in Christ. New converts are often influenced by the advocates of some doctrine of man that fractures the unity and harmony of the church. They are left with the impression that “there are many ways that are right.”

Error is error, and it will not be changed into truth by the declaration of some renown cleric, or the pronouncement of an international synod. Truth is truth by its very nature. It, like history, can not and will not be changed. Whether I know the truth or not is another matter. The fact that truth and error will remain what they are, makes it impossible for the two to be brought together in any kind of “Unity Movement” that will have any degree of acceptance with God. Unity of the faith must be “oneness” of belief and action based upon what the word of God authorizes.

3. It weakens the church by compromises with false teachers and denominational error. One of the pillars of strength of the church is its sanctification from religions of men (2 Cor. 6:17). The unity movements have the effect of destroying that distinction from religious error.

It seems that most brethren have always had the inclination to think like Israel of old, and require a king to rule over them “like the other nations.” When these chasms in the body have occurred, the next step is some method to “join” with those of the denominations about them. Then in the course of time, they want to “get together” with their former brethren and form some kind of relationship by which they can feel accepted. They seek a compromise, which they usually call “Unity Forums” or “Unity Meetings.”

4. It stifles the study and search for the truth by the youth in the church. Youth has the natural curiosity for the unknown, and will seek for the right answers. But when the more mature in the gospel differ over major issues taught in the word of God, and some of them suggest that we are all right: we should just agree to disagree – that is what the unity movements really are – the young are discouraged from searching for the answer in the word of God. The whole church becomes weak in the faith, and strong in the social gospel.

Unsuccessful efforts were made about the turn of the century to find some basis for unity. But the instrument advocates and the promoters of the missionary societies would not give them up, and brethren faithful to the word of God could not allow these innovations in the church; so the division not only continued, but the chasm widened.

About 1938 James DeForest Murch of the Christian Church and Claude F. Witty of the church of Christ spent seven years talking about unity, but they never achieved it. They developed what was called the Murch-Witty Unity Plan. They wanted brethren to come together and worship, but they wanted to allow each to hold his respective views. Anyone who is casually acquainted with the issues of that day would understand the utter impossibility of this position.

5. It generates further division in the body and really hinders progress toward bringing about the unity based upon the truth of the gospel.

When the institutional innovations and promotions invaded the church in the 1940s and 50s which developed into full grown divisions by the 60s and 70s, bitter and deep divisions came into congregations all across the nation. It was a rerun of the divisions of a century before over the instrument and missionary society. Many of the arguments and positions were exactly the same, only the subjects were different. Only those who lived through that time will understand the depth and bitterness of that division.

6. It directs the appeal of the church toward world standards rather than to the divine standard. A usual claim for the promoters of these unity movements and meetings is the impression and appeal the church will make upon the world if all stand together, even if we disagree on some minor points. Of course, all points of difference are minor to them. Their appeal is to the world rather than to God. The religious world did not like the preaching of Peter and John (Acts 4:1-22).

An example of this is the unity plea of Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett, with several others who are in full accord with them. In their estimation, they have moved to an upper intellectual and spiritual level, where they have found truth about the great restoration brotherhood, and a fellowship based upon their acceptance of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Nothing else really matters. They have abandoned all conditions of discipleship but acceptance of the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Their pleas for “Unity in Diversity” are well known to those who have read much from the periodicals and journals of the past fifteen years. Unity in Diversity is a false unity. It is an agreement to disagree, but they call this relationship “fellowship.” The real problem of division still plagues all who are involved; what they say about their “unity” does not change the fact that they are not the same and do not agree in vital matters of belief and practice.

7. Every such unity movement seems to foster an ever enlarging class of professional clergymen, who are being trained more to deal with social, psychological, economic and philosophic matters than they are with spiritual things. The deeper we get into the unity movements, the broader the base becomes for those things of this life, and the less need they have for the Bible. The simple reason is that the Bible is no longer a text book for the faith and the way of life.

A big top-level Unity Conference took place in Joplin, Missouri in August 7-9, 1984 on the campus of Ozark Bible College, an organ of the Christian Church. It is reported that fifty members of the Christian Church and fifty members of the churches of Christ participated. The speakers pleaded with each other to let “love” rule their hearts and accept one another. From all I have read about the meeting, it was typical of other unity meetings. Perhaps many in this one were better groomed for compromise on anything but truth.

Most of those who promote major unity movements are gifted at quoting respected writers and preachers of the early restoration period. They go from Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, and Walter Scott to David Lipscomb, J.A. Harding, J.W. McGarvey, and many others. Their quotations are directed to show that these men recognized differences among themselves and other brethren, yet they called for fellowship among themselves. It is pointed out that many of these men opposed the instrument in worship, yet they preached for churches that used them in meetings. This argues that we ought to follow the same course to seek unity among all brethren today while we retain doctrinal differences. This is not the unity for which Christ prayed, and it is not the unity taught in the word of God.

Guardian of Truth XXX: 1, pp. 27-28
January 2, 1986