Unity of the Churches?
by Lonnie Kent York
UNITY! You will hear this word echoing from a variety of religious camps and it will mean different things to each group that makes this cry. Unity is a beautiful idea, and the scriptures support such a concept. Yet, the type of unity the scriptures encourage is significantly different from what is being advocated by religious unifiers of today.
The unity commonly preached today is unity in diversity - which is a misnomer. This type of unity is like that found in the feet of the great image in King Nebuchadnezzar's dream in Daniel chapter two. Here we find iron mixed with clay. They were united, yet there was no union between the two elements. As the text says they were divided. Their union was destined to come apart, because these two elements cannot be united in any useful form. Unity is opposed to diversity, and any attempt to form such a union is bound to come to ruin like the great image of Nebuchadnezzar.
This type of unity is spoken against by Paul in II Cor. 6: 14-18.
- Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people." Therefore "Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you." "I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty."
Here we find that the things of God cannot be yoked with the things of this world: believers with unbelievers; righteousness with unrighteousness; light with darkness. Like the iron and the clay, they cannot be joined together to form a unity. As John says,
- "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." (I John 2: 15, 16)
What is the substance of the new unity movement? Different as they are, there is one underlying characteristic found in all the movements. They all contend for a unity that ignores essential differences of doctrine, or a system of compromise. They want to compromise in those essential areas where the differences are most distinct. In effect, they want to agree not to discuss or impose such differences in the hope of effecting a union.
Again this is not a scriptural concept. God is a jealous God, and does not want man to worship any but Him. This also extends to His teachings (doctrines). To Israel God warned against any alterations to His word:
- Deuteronomy 4:2 "You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you."
This is also the New Testament attitude toward God's word.
- Revelation 22:18-19 For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
A Christian cannot compromise the truth in any form. Thus, unity based upon compromise is not Biblical unity.
The scriptures do teach the concept of unity. The hope and prayer of our Lord was that His disciples would be one, or united and not divided. In the ministry of our Lord, we find that He taught that a house divided against itself cannot stand (Luke 11: 17). Men know the need for this same type of unity. Even Abe Lincoln warned against the dangers of a divided nation. So, the unity spoken of by the Lord must be different than that advocated by people in our day and age.
The unity our Lord prayed for was one like the unity He possessed with His Father. To know what this type of unity is will help our understanding of true unity. How are the Father and the Son one? Christ said that to see Him was to see the Father, thus they are the same in some respect, yet different in personality. They are the same in that they did not differ in purpose or doctrine.
Christ said that His words were not His own, but what the Father had given Him (John 12: 49, 50). Or, they were one in doctrine because Jesus never spoke except it was what the Father had given Him to speak. Note that God taught Him the words.
- John 8:28 Then Jesus said to them, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things."
Even the Holy Spirit could not speak except that which He heard, which were the words of Jesus - God's Words.
- John 16:13 "However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come."
If any man speak, they should speak as the oracles of God (I Peter 4: 11). Therefore, the unity the Lord prayed for was a unity of doctrine. This would, then, exclude a unity based upon a diversity of doctrine.
Divisions did occur in the early church and a plea was made for unity. Paul, in I Cor. 1:10 pleads for unity.
- 1 Corinthians 1:10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
Here we learn two important facts. First, God hates division. The reason is obvious. Division in a body weakens that body. It cannot stand. Therefore, Paul pleaded for unity. Secondly, we find the way that will bring brethren back to a united body. Paul provides three ways that can and will lead people to religious unity:
- speak the same thing,
- have the same mind,
- and the same judgment.
A careful examination of I Cor. 1:10 will provide the scriptural means for achieving unity among Christians. The first statement, "that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you" presents the first element in achieving unity. How can there be unity if we do not speak the same things? This was Paul's point. The word for "speak," according to Thayer (p. 374) means,
- "to say a thing ... to profess one and the same thing, I Cor. 1:10."
If brethren are not speaking the same things, how can they ever expect to have scriptural unity? This is the reason for the next statement of Paul regarding no divisions. If brethren are speaking the same things, that is speaking on doctrinal subjects, then there will be no cause for divisions.
This part is illustrated by Paul in the next few verses, where some were saying that they were of Paul, or of Apollos, or of Cephas, or of Christ. Paul's response to this division was "is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" In each of his rhetorical questions, we find an appeal to what the scriptures teach, or to the doctrine of Christ. If they all spoke the same thing, then they would realize that Christ is not divided; that Paul did not offer his life for their salvation; and that they were not baptized in the name of Paul. If we could just listen to what we are speaking, and then compare that with the scriptures, we would be able to resolve most of the divisions that exist today in the body of Christ.
In this statement we also find the command for Christians to seek unity. Considering the situation in the church at Corinth, there had not yet occurred an open division, but the brethren were divided in their views. Paul's appeal was that they put back together the torn pieces of their division and heal the body of Christ. This could only be accomplished when they spoke the same things, or returned to the scriptures as the only basis for speaking spiritual things. Thus, we find the next two parts are presented to assist brethren in this process.
These brethren were to be "perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." The "perfectly joined" implies, by definition, that action of putting back together something that had been torn, or bringing harmony back into a situation. If the situation would continue, then there could well be an open division, therefore they were to restore the congregation back to the way Paul taught them in the beginning. This can only be done if they possess the same mind and judgment.
To have the same mind and judgment in something is, according to Lightfoot, to have the "frame or state of mind, ... the judgment, opinion or sentiment, which is the outcome ..." of the same mind (as quoted by Robertson in "Word Pictures in the New Testament" Vol. IV, page 72). To possess the same mind about something is to think like or possess the same state of mind on that subject. This word is used many times to refer to the "mind of Christ," therefore if we possess the same mind on something spiritual, we will go to the scriptures and seek the mind of Christ as revealed by the Holy Spirit through the apostles and prophets. Next, we must have the same judgment or opinion on the matter. Such comes from our understanding of the scriptures. By possessing the same mind and judgment on scriptural matters, we can mend the fractions that occur in the body of Christ.
The emphasis of this article is to show that the current movements for unity are not founded upon scriptural foundations, thus must be avoided. The only true way for unity is to return to the scriptures and return to the New Testament way of faith and practice. May each of us seek Bible Unity.