My last post addressing the question, “Is it Time for Churches of Christ to Fellowship Other Groups?” has sparked a great deal of discussion concerning the issue of unity. I would like to share with you a thought about why I believe the church struggles so much with this issue of unity.
I believe the primary reason we struggle to be unified is that we fail to recognize that unity is as much a relational matter as it is a doctrinal matter.
1. Dismissing Doctrine
It seems half of the church emphasizes the relational side of unity and almost entirely dismisses the doctrinal side. They say things like, “All that matters is that we get along and are nice to each other.” But that kind of bond is superficial and meaningless. You can have that kind of bond with fellow members of a social club. The Lord’s church is bonded because of our shared participation in the gospel.
2. Dismissing Relationships
The other half of the church seems to emphasize doctrine and almost entirely dismiss the relational side of unity. They say, “All that matters is that we believe and teach the same things.” But that kind of bond is brittle and stale. The first person to step out of line, to any degree, is dismissed and disfellowshipped. There is no patience, forgiveness, or grace with these folks – some of the very traits which should characterize the Lord’s people.
3. The Biblical Balance
The truth is that unity has BOTH a doctrinal side and a relational side. Read Paul’s instructions on Christian unity in Ephesians 4:1-6:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
In order for the church to have unity, we must be unified in doctrine. We must all be on the same page that there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God. We must all “walk in a manner worthy of the calling.” There can be no depth of unity and fellowship without agreement and submission to the fundamental doctrines of the New Testament. You cannot have your faith and I have my faith. We must be unified in the “one faith.”
But that’s not to say there is no room for weakness and struggle. Paul tells the Ephesians to be gentle and patient with each other and to bear with one another in love. We are still struggling to figure things out. We are still growing and learning. We must give each other some slack and some leeway. That’s not to say we allow sin or falsehood to go unchecked and unchallenged, but we have to be willing to grow with other even as we are admonishing one another.
Saving the most important for last, I must say I believe the most important trait for unity is humility. Paul says we must “walk…with all humility.” Unity in the church begins with humility in you and me. Humble people are teachable. Humble people listen to others. Humble people do not assume they have everything figured out. If we hope to have unity, we must begin with humility.
I hope we can all move forward together. I hope we can be people who will not dismiss the doctrinal side of unity OR the relational side of unity. I hope we will be a people who are biblically balanced.
I love you and God loves you,