Unity is one of the key ingredients needed for a church to possess if it wants to be effective in evangelism. Unity is a major biblical theme , the creation of man and woman has echoes of the relationship that exists within the trinity (Exodus 1 and 2 and Deuteronomy 6). It is the prayer of Jesus in John 17 , in my opinion the church has never taken seriously enough its lack of unity, being more concerned about theological soundness than how we treat each other.
The ecumenical debate has done much over the last 50 years to bring the major denominations together, however in this short article I want to focus not on denominational unity but on unity within the local church. Unity is something we all desire , we all look for meaningful relationships with others, but we are not good at relationships, look at the divorce rate, family breakdown or, for our purpose in this article, people who leave the local church because they have been offended and hurt in some way. The Devil’s work is to destroy the life and work of the church and disunity is his main means of achieving these goals.
We are a contradiction, on the one hand we desperately want to be united with others but on the other hand we fail to be committed enough to make relationships work. I think this is because we are scared of being hurt or rejected or are not prepared to pay the price of what those relationships will cost. The Bible teaches some truths that we need to understand and acknowledge about unity.
Number one, when we join a church we become brother and sisters. The idea of this is rooted in the Jews having a common father in Abraham and that as Christians we are born again into the family of God (John 1 vs 14). In my opinion there is too much of “I” in current Christianity and too little of “we”. Did you know the Bible never uses the word saint? It only ever appears in the plural! The mission of the church is about us not me.
Number two, we have a common body (1 Corinthians 12) whatever part of the body we are , whatever our gifts are, we can only do anything for God as part of the body. By example think about your hand, it would be of no use if it was separated from your body. In Revelation 3 Jezebel calls herself a prophetess, we need the body to be in agreement about what part we are to play in it and not appoint ourselves to roles or to refuse roles that the body appoints us to. The Body is to be co-ordinated; we’re to function together. If any ministry causes problems within the body then we’re doing something wrong. The Body is to function in harmony.
Just so we do not get confused, we must not mistake unity for unison. If you sing in a choir or listen to one they sing the same song, but sing different parts; and that’s what makes it so beautiful. We all don’t have to sound the same note. As a matter of fact, God puts different members in the Body, and we don’t have to be a church full of clones to have unity.
Nor is unity uniformity. Do you know the difference between unity and uniformity? Uniformity comes from pressure from without; unity comes from life within. The Bible makes it very plain that there is a reason for unity. One, we will not grow on our own but only through relationship with God and relationship with others. In Ephesians 4 vs 13 Paul says “till we all,” his idea is that we will all grow together, if I go back to my hand analogy then my hand has only grown as the rest of my body has grown, there are lots of lessons in this – if I want to grow I need to be a facilitator of growth within the body.
Two, A church that is united will be blessed, as God wants to bless us. If Jesus is sat down at the right hand of the Father interceding for us then I think he is still praying his John 17 prayer for unity. Jesus lives in harmony with the Father and the Spirit – if we want the power and blessing of God to flow in us we need to have a relationship with God and relationships with each other, if you like that is our trinity, God, me, and the others within the church.
Three, For witness, there is I believe a fallacy going around that persecution causes the church to grow, people cite the example of China, however it is not always true, in the 14th century there was a thriving church in North Africa which became persecuted following the Muslim invasion, the church was almost completely destroyed . However why I think the persecuted church sometimes grows is because persecution causes the church to become more united. What turns many people away from the church is their experiences of the behaviour of other Christians towards them. The early church grew not because they were doing good deeds, but because they were talking the gospel and because they were loving and caring about each another in a way that was attractive and is still attractive in our selfish materialistic society.
What is unity then? It is living the life of God in our human relationships. It is putting others before self, it is going the extra mile, it is loving God and our neighbours as ourselves. It is supporting what the church decides to do even when we disagree, it is loving those who treat us badly it is forgiving and giving and not counting the cost.
Unity is the desire of Jesus for us, it is the work the Holy Spirit desires to achieve in us.
Unity of Christians is the Devil’s greatest fear.