I often hear church people say that we need to have more “unity in the church.” Unity, what does that even mean? Well, it depends on who you ask. There is no question that the Bible teaches us that Christians are to be united, without divisions among us (1 Cor. 1:10), and that we are to be as one, as Christ is with the Father (John 17:21), and to be willing to maintain that unity peacefully (Eph. 4:30). But how should we apply this as Christians?
There is certainly a great deal of bickering in the visible church. We have historically the Protestants arguing with Catholics, the charismatics arguing with the cessationists, the conservatives with the liberals, etc. Is this edifying to the church or is it a distraction that draws attention away from the Gospel?
The short answer is both. Here’s why.
First I’ll start with what “unity” is not, as defined by the Word of God. Biblical unity among believers is not compromising the Word of God for the sake of apparent peace. In the High Priestly Prayer in John 17, Jesus prays to the Father, asking Him to grant unity among believers so that the world will see it and know that believers are one with each other as He is with His Father. The key to understanding Jesus’ request for unity is that it is directed to be “among believers” (John 17:20-21).
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 2that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
He is not asking that we set our significant difference in beliefs aside and join hands together in ecumenical prayer. No, he’s asking that we all be united in the truth—being in full accord and of one mind (Philippians 2:1-3), believing the same doctrinal truths, and taking these truths to the world.
There tends to be a great amount of backlash towards believers who call out other Christians who are in sin or even false believers who are masquerading as Christians. The argument is that it distracts from the love and unity of Jesus. But love is not the only attribute of Jesus—Jesus came to bring truth, a sword (Matthew 10:34), and that truth is inherently divisive. Jesus did not come to tell everyone that they could believe what they wanted to believe, worship whatever idols they want to worship, and seek whatever God they wanted to seek, and as long as we stand in unity, everything would be fine.
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The Scriptures command us to expose false teachers within the church (Eph. 5:11), to demonstrate according to the Word of God that they aren’t really Christians, but instead ravenous wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). Yet, sadly, there are many of these wolves running rampant in Evangelicalism, with very few willing to stand up and call them out. When they are called out, the talking heads of mainstream Evangelicalism tend to bark back at the discerning Christians trying to obey God.
The Bible is clear, we are not to have fellowship with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14). This means we don’t join hands with false churches, false teachers, or false Christians in any spiritual enterprise that gives the world the appearance that we worship the same God. While morality may be a good thing to fight for, we must not compromise the Gospel in doing so. We should stand up against the atrocities of abortion and defend the sanctity of marriage by taking the Word of God to the lost, condemning all sin, and proclaiming the good news of the cross to everyone with a call to repent and believe. However, superficial unity in the midst of doctrinal error is not what Christ wants for his church, and being united on false premises is not unity at all.
So what creates disunity in the church then if it’s not the bickering and quarreling and the argument?
False teaching. False teaching is what creates disunity in the church, and this error must be corrected to regain that unity. Paul says in Romans 16:17,
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.
Notice, Jesus doesn’t say to avoid the ones correcting the false doctrine, He says to avoid those teaching false doctrines because they cause disunity. He doesn’t say to turn a blind eye and join up with them at prayer rallies to promote a political agenda. He says to stay away from them, and expose them for what they are—tools of Satan that
Lack of knowledge also creates divisions. According to the prophet Hosea, people are destroyed because of their lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6). If we stand around and allow people to believe whatever they want to believe while never offering correction, or never confronting their sin, the ultimate end is destruction. Although ignoring false beliefs may temporarily give the appearance of unity, it is no doubt a deception. In order to be united the way Christ calls us to be, we must be constantly building each other up with correction and reproof and constantly drawing people closer to the truth according to the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16). Not only should we correct those outside the Church who mishandle Scripture just like Jesus corrected Satan when he mishandled Scripture (Matt 4:5-7) but we must also hold accountable those inside the Church, even leaders and pastors, when error persists the same way Paul says he opposed Peter to his face (Galatians 2:11).
Jesus says that those who teach and hold to false doctrines are worshiping him falsely (Matt 15:9). If we’re standing in prayer with those caught up in false churches, false gospels, or a false Jesus, we may as well be holding to these false beliefs ourselves. The signers of the ecumenical document, Evangelicals
We must unite around the truth. The truth of Scripture, the Word of God is the means of our unity and Jesus Christ alone is the object of our unity. We can’t know Jesus outside of his revealed word to us. The Church should be a pillar and a buttress of the truth (1 Tim 3:15). In this, we must remain united.
We must remain united in protecting that truth, and standing up for that truth. We must remain united in exposing the false doctrines and false teachers who distort the truth. And we must remain united in our condemnation of sin—for without the condemnation of sin, there is no salvation (Romans 6:23; Revelation 21:8).
Finally, we must remain united in taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the nations, and baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son,
How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore. —Psalm 133