Union or Unity?

By Roy E. Cogdill

“In unity there is strength.” This is just as true in the church as in the nation. A strong church must be a united church. We want to study Bible unity, particularly as it is applicable to the local church.

We more often apply unity to the church universally but the most common and fundamental application of the obligation to be united as the scriptures present the matter is to the congregation. Churches of Christ will be united for there is but one divine pattern for them all and when they conform to the divine pattern sufficiently to enjoy identity as such they will have a common faith, a common salvation, and a common hope.

The real problem of unity is not in the singularity of the church as contrasted with denominationalism or many churches. Here the problem is conversion to the Lord. Any attempt to affect unity among the human organizations men have built in their efforts to “establish a righteousness of their own” must necessarily be on the basis of compromise. Where the smaller and weaker will be swallowed up by the larger and more powerful religious bodies in affecting some kind of union without actual unity. This is what the “Ecumenical Movement” amounts to and all it amounts to.

Every union meeting held, such as the Billy Graham campaigns, is a demonstration of union without unity. People who wear different religious names, hold to different religious government and organizations can “go together” into a union-drop their sectarian names, creeds, and organizations either temporarily or permanently but they do not have unity. They have union. They do this they say in order to reach more people and save more souls but if it works for six weeks it would work for six months or a year or all of the time and when they are unwilling to forget their denominational identity for all of the time it proves that they think more of their sectarianism than they do of unity-even though they talk about it a great deal. It proves something else, too. If leaving off their denominational identity will save more people, then their denominational peculiarities stand in the way of and prevent the salvation of men for who Christ died and this is a severe indictment of denominationalism.

This sort of federation or union is what the “Federal Council of the Churches of Christ” have tried to accomplish. They may have federation but they very evidently do not know what unity is in the sight of God. Nor can they affect it upon such a basis. We learned as children in school that fractions cannot be added until a common denominator is found. Even so there can be no unity among people of different religious bodies until they are all converted to Christ and come into the body of Christ.

The Catholic recognizes the voice of the church as supreme; then comes the voice of tradition and least and last of all the Word of God. The Mormon recognizes the Book of Mormon as more perfect and supreme than the scriptures. This is the only basis upon which he can be a Mormon. But a Christian can recognize only the authority of Christ in the scriptures. Therefore, until he can convert the Catholic and the Mormon, and the Baptist, and the Methodist, and all other sectarians to the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice and the sole standard of authority in religion, there can be no unity. Of course, each might make certain concessions and compromises until they affect union but it could never be the “unity of the Spirit” no matter how much peace might exist.

There are no compromises that truth can make for the only variation or substitution for truth is error. When convictions in truth are sold out for the sake of peace then peace with men has been purchased at the expense of peace with God. This is too great a price. Peace at any price is not worth having. You can unite with the Devil on his terms.

When convictions concerning truth are sold out, then one has only policy without principle to guide him. When a Gospel preacher or church surrenders their convictions to the point that they can “come down on the plains of Ono” and even discuss “Ecumenical Movements” on the same platform with a Catholic Priest or a Christian. Church preacher they will either repent and return to their first love or eventually go all the way. There is no conviction or recognition of principles to restrain them.

In California, in a previous decade, there was witnessed a “movement” among us headed by Beam to persuade the rest of us to persuade the rest of us to “fellowship” everybody and everything in peace. This was his conception of unity and his contention was that the basis and means to achieve unity was to love everyone enough to fellowship them and draw no lines against error. I heard him contend many years ago in Abilene that “love will accomplish unity.”

Today we are having some more of the same. Ketcherside and Garrett and Chris Lyles, ahve held, according to the religious news, forums on “Fellowship.” Ketcherside and Garrett have swung from the brand of compromise and are promoting the”Anything-arian” type of fellowship — where anything goes. Chris Lyles formerly stood for the truth but has gone into the liberal camp after the example of his brother, Cleon Lyles, and is now looking around for a “pass” into the plains beyond that flows with the rewards (milk and honey) of popularity and prominence. He will find it too.

There is no ground for unity among unbelievers and the only ground for unity among believers is the Word of God. It must conform to the divine pattern– “The Unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:1-6). Nothing short of it is in harmony with the prayer of Christ (John 1.7) or Heaven’s will as the Spirit reveals it. Every other course is walking after the flesh (Gal. 5) and -will bring spiritual death.

Truth Magazine, XX:23; p. 8-9
June 3, 1976