The Forgotten Virtue of Christian Unity
August 29, 2020
Among Bible believing Christians, “unity” has often had something of a bad rap. It often feels as if it is a somewhat soft, inadequate, and weak ideal that is used by others (the non-Bible believing) to advocate for theological downgrade. It certainly can be used in that way. I remember a cartoon from the ministry of the late great Keith Green lampooning this wrong approach to Christian unity. In the cartoon there were a whole group of Christians trying to squeeze into a phone booth—remember those?—and as they did so they were jettisoning “truth” and dumping extraneous doctrines into a garbage can outside.
But as much as unity, and appeals for unity, can be used to downgrade doctrine, the doctrine of unity itself must not be relegated into an insignificant matter. Take but two well-known texts that affirm the centrality of real Christian unity. Paul taught that we are to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). And Jesus himself prayed, in his great prayer in John 17, that his followers “may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one” (John 17:22-23). Unity matters, clearly.
And yet where is this idea of unity being propounded among Bible believing Christians today? Instead, people are on their soapboxes, shouting from the rooftops their opinions about any number of deeply controversial issues—COVID-19, mask wearing, politics, etc.—as if it did not matter how many people they alienated along the way.
Brothers and sisters, is this how we should behave? Should we insist on our own way, to the detriment of others, and be incorrigible and not open to correction? Hear me clearly: I am not arguing for some minimalist version of Christianity where we all appear to agree about doctrine, but do not really agree if truth be told. What I am arguing for is a Spirit of unity in the bond of peace. I am arguing that how we talk about complicated matters of doctrine or policy matters. It matters deeply.
If we position our view on something as the only view, and consider anyone who doesn’t agree with us as a borderline idiot and questionably Christian at all, then in what sense are we eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit? We should never jettison truth or our consciences with regard to it. But nor should we jettison love. The two must go together—or else we are violating Paul’s other great injunction in that chapter 4 of Ephesians, that we are to be “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
I hear a lot of truth speaking these days—or what people think is truth speaking. The forgotten virtue of clearheaded reasoning is a subject for another article, but what I do not hear is compassionate truth speaking, loving truth speaking, humble truth speaking. I do not hear listening either: remember what James said, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). That could well be an important memory verse for our angry, truth-as-a-weapon, age. Brothers and sisters, let it not be so among us.
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