Today, I want to examine the concept of Christian unity: what it is and what it is not. From observation, it is apparent that there is quite a bit of confusion surrounding this topic. It is crucial for believers to have a correct understanding of what Christian unity really means.
What it means
In Paul’s first epistle to the believers in Corinth, he starts off by addressing the need for unity. “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10) Paul had received word that the believers in Corinth were beginning to divide over loyalties to different teachers. Some claiming to follow one teacher, some another. Paul was pleading with them to unify. But unify around what? They were to unify around Christ. Christ was to be central to their shared unity; more important than which teaching pastor they prefered. Verse 13: “Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
Paul again explains this unity among true believers in Ephesians 4:11-13 “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” Note, that in both examples unity was among born again believers, based on a shared belief in Jesus as the Son of God and all that entailed.
What it doesn’t mean
Now that we have established what is meant by Christian unity, let’s talk about what unity does not mean. Unity was not intended to exclude truth; truth is supposed to be what we unite around. Because the professing church has allowed worldly influence to redefine their definitions of terms, many have gotten unity upside down. Myriads of professing believers have a worldly definition of unity that says we unify in spite of biblical truth, not because of biblical truth. When I say ‘biblical truth’ I am referring to the essentials of the Christian faith. Another contributor to confusion about unity is the ecumenical movement. Theopedia defines ecumenism this way:
Ecumenism refers to a movement or effort promoting unity among Christian churches or denominations. In a more general sense, it may also refer to movements promoting worldwide unity among the various religions through greater cooperation and improved understanding. The idea is normally expressed in its adjective form, ecumenical, in terms such as “ecumenical thinking,” “ecumenical activities,” or “the ecumenical movement.”
Because the professing church has become so worldly, coupled with the high rate of biblical illiteracy, we have a sizable percentage of professing Christians who view ecumenism as including all sorts of religions regardless of whether their beliefs are in line with scripture or not. This is the concept of unity in spite of truth, not unity around biblical truth. Along with an ignorance of what the Bible actually teaches, we have the redefined (worldly) definition of love that says it is not loving if you say something people don’t agree with and it hurts their feelings. That definition of love, plus biblical ignorance, plus a post-modern mindset that says we can’t really have any absolutes on anything drives this unbiblical ecumenism/unity.
This combination of error results in things like the 1994 ecumenical document Evangelicals and Catholics together. Nothing could be further from the concept of unity taught in the New Testament than this ecumenical document. The doctrine of Roman Catholicism is incompatible with biblical Christian doctrine. Roman Catholicism is another gospel (Galatians 1:8). Remember, Jesus said that His gospel divides (Matthew 10:35). The Word of God is a sword of division, not a roll of scotch tape of adhesion. The truth divides. It is not loving to include people under the umbrella of ‘Christian’, who are following a false religion. It only makes them comfortable on their way to hell. It creates confusion by blurring the lines of absolute truth. Better to offend someone with the truth (make sure it is the gospel that is offending them, and not your behavior) here, than lull them on their way to eternal condemnation. And that is precisely what ecumenism among religions who claim to be Christian, but are not when compared with what the Bible teaches, does.
Christians do not need to fear standing firm on biblical truth. You will not cause someone to not become a Christian by standing firm for truth. If someone who is immersed in Roman Catholicism or Mormonism or Islam is being drawn by the Spirit and becomes born again, the Holy Spirit will lead them out of that false system. Christians help light the way of truth for these individuals by not compromising and blurring the lines of truth in the name of unity. Unity is for believers, based around a shared and agreed upon belief in the essential doctrines taught in the Bible, not in spite of those essential biblical doctrines.
Soli Deo Gloria!