How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! Psalm 133:1.
I want nothing less than unity among God’s people. Almost from the day I was saved, I’ve endeavoured to live by the dictum; Unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and love in all things.
Many Christians try to live by this dictum. A pastor recently wrote to me and said that his desire is to “be one and dwell together in unity.” I like that and believe in that. But it’s not enough to say we want unity. While Christian unity is in itself of great importance, to know what it is, and to practice it constantly, is of greater importance. So what’s the nature of Christian unity and how is it best expressed?
To begin with what it’s not: Christian unity is not an agreement around Christian belief, doctrine, principles, or purpose. It’s not assent to a particular form of church governance or organization. It’s not a fraternal association of Christians, however pleasant that may be. And it’s not uniformity or conformity of practice.
So if unity isn’t agreement around Christian belief, good will, sharing common interests, or ecclesiastical organization, then what is it? It’s being with and in one accord with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – nothing more and nothing less (cf. John 17:21-23; Ephesians 4:1-6). Practical unity can only be found and exist on the exclusive basis of the unity we have with the three in one and one in three. Jan Huss, the fourteenth century scholar, puts it well when he says, “Christ alone is the all-sufficient Head of the Church. The Church needs no other. And therein consists its unity. All true unity must have its foundation in Christ.”
It therefore stands to reason that if unity is being with and in one accord with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, then there can be no unity between those who believe and follow the Word of God and those who do not (cf. 1 Timothy 1:3). Thus any “unity” that is not founded on God’s Word and true to His Word is a false unity. That’s not to say that there’s no diversity of action and function among God’s people – there is and there should be. But it is saying that the only basis for unity is conformity to the mind of Christ and the direction of the Holy Spirit in and through His Word. Said slightly differently, the Scriptures are the sole rule and standard for the practice of Christian unity.
We therefore need to be on our guard against calls for “unity” that may in fact be calls for tolerance. There must be no antinomian acquiescence. If someone teaches or practices a gospel other than the gospel proclaimed and substantiated in God’s Word, there can be no unity with that person. We must watch out for people who seek a “unity” based on people’s desires and goals independent of God. There can be no unity with people, even if they call themselves Christians, who disregard or do not have a high view of God’s Word as the sole rule of faith and practice. There can be no unity with people who do not glorify God with one mind and mouth (cf. Romans 15:6). And there can be no unity with people who do not desire the unity that Christ prayed for (cf. John 17) – a unity based on salvation, truth and separation from the world.