Simply believing as others believe will not bring about unity if such beliefs are not based on the Bible’s teachings. Unity in the body of Christ, the church of our Lord, is a goal for which every sincere and faithful follower of Christ diligently seeks and fervently prays. Why those who profess His name and adhere to His standard should all be one is a matter clearly taught in the Scriptures and therefore, unquestioned by those who respect His will and who confess allegiance to His cause (I Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 4:1-6). However, its realization has in large measure eluded us. Why? The reasons are many, chief among them being the view that unity must be reached on the basis of agreement in certain prescribed areas, one’s soundness being determined by one’s mental assent to the views common to the faction to which one belongs.
This concept, characteristic of all parties among us, is basically and fundamentally unsound because unity in the body of Christ does not necessarily result from agreement among those who constitute any faction or all of them together.
It should be obvious to all that men may, and often do, agree fully on all matters they regard as essential yet are far, very far, from being one in Christ. Unity—conformity to views—may exist out of Christ as well as in Him, but this is very far from being the unity for which the Savior prayed in Gethsemane.
Unity in commitment to a cause is not a necessary consequent of faithful discipleship; agreement on certain creedal matters as a condition of acceptance in fellowship is to resort to a human, not a divine, standard of soundness.
Paul perceived that there were those who would seek to establish their loyalty to party in this manner, and wrote:
For we are not bold to number or compare ourselves with certain of them that commend themselves: but they themselves, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves with themselves, are without understanding (II Corinthians 10:12).
Christ is the source of our lives as He is also the sphere of our total religious faith and spiritual activity. As the branch withers and dies when separated from the True Vine (John 16:1-6), so the members of His body—the church—subsist and are one in Him only as they partake of His spirit, accept fully His teaching, and conform wholly to His will (Luke 6:46). This done, unity with Him prevails and, in consequence, with all others in His body with like motivation.
The truth is the faith that saves is vastly more than simple intellectual assent to a body of teaching; unless it is characterized by love, deep devotion, and commitment without reservation to Him; unless the heart, the mind, and the soul are wholly His; unless one’s thoughts, purposes, and plans all converge in Him is there unity with the Head and consequential unity with all other members of His body (I Corinthians 12:12). Where the one is wanting, the other is impossible.
To seek unity on the ground of common belief in party tenets alone promotes sectarianism and produces more division in the body of Christ. James wrote, “the demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2:19). These demons were of common faith and thus united in their convictions, but the unity resulting was far from that which God intended for His people. One’s views may harmonize fully with those of the party yet be far short of that unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, which Paul approved.
Each factious group among us today began, is maintained, and persist solely on the basis of agreement in a narrow and restricted area of allegiance to a hobby and sectarian view acceptable only to the group which holds it, but which effectively operates as a barrier to fellowship with others of like precious faith in all other areas of teaching and practice! How unutterably sad must this situation be to Him who earnestly prayed that His followers might all be one.
Guy N. Woods