Perspectives on Unity

June 13, 2006

A quick search of the blogsphere will demonstrate that there are conflicting views about what Christian unity ought to be. Some are eagerly pursuing unity with everyone who claims to be Christian. Others are distressed by this, arguing that unity which God approves cannot overlook errors in doctrine. Some are making great efforts to forge unity with other groups. Others say that unity cannot be created through human effort, but must be created by God. Some consider the pursuit of unity to be the top priority for Christians today. Others speak of the “unity cult,” alleging that those pursuing unity comprise yet one more faction in the church.

Let’s look at some scriptures.

Gal 3:26-27
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

What makes us one in Christ is that we were all adopted as God’s sons by faith at the time we were baptized. That is the common denominator upon which biblical unity is built. We are brothers because God adopted us as sons. Those are the people with whom we should have unity.

John 17:20-23
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Jesus prayed for his followers to be one, to be “brought to complete unity” (KJV “may be made perfect in one”). This was his prayer to God, so obviously God has a decisive role in bringing it about. But he didn’t say “Father, make them perfect in one.” Rather he asked that they “be made perfect in one.” So it sounds like there is a third party involved. Who might that be? The scriptures give us the answer.

Eph 4:11-13
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Paul makes it clear that unity does depend in some measure upon the labor of the shepherds, teachers, and others who work to build up the body of Christ. Through their work the church becomes prepared for works of service. These are the things that enable the members of the church to “reach unity in the faith…”

Note also that the church doesn’t start out with unity in the faith. It has to be brought to that point, in a process that takes time (“until we all reach…”). The expectation was that the Christians would live peacefully together despite their differences, as they go through the process that would bring them to complete unity. So peace should precede unity, and should lead us to unity as the various parts of the church perform their God-given roles.

The first step toward unity is peace. We should be peacemakers (Matt 5:9). We should seek peace and pursue it (1 Pet 3:11, Psalm 34:14). Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness (James 3:18).

Where I’ve experienced unity, it has been a beautiful thing. But the process that brings us from disunity to unity can be unnerving, frightening, even painful at times. It takes us from an area where we are comfortable, to another place that is previously unknown to us. Like Abraham, we are called to leave our home and travel to a land that God will show us later. That takes great faith.

So in the interest of unity, let’s be peacemakers. Let’s be patient with those who are fearful of the journey. And let’s not put obstacles in one another’s path as we seek to reach unity.


  1. Very good. Thank you.

  2. Seeking ways to unite God’s children is a worthy goal we, as Christians, should all pursue.If I understand you correctly, you advocate unity can only be achieved based on faith and baptism as the common denominator.The faith part I understand, however, the baptism part can become a real stickler in achieving unity. If baptism is essential to unity, would the various modes of baptism (sprinkling, emersion, partial emersion) be a problem, or would unity only be possible if baptism by emersion is the standard?While I believe the proper form of baptism is emersion, it’s difficult for me to withhold fellowship from a brother/sister who honestly feels their baptism by sprinkling is acceptable.It’s also difficult for me to believe that God would withhold fellowship from a person who believes in His Son, but wasn’t totally drenched during baptism.My comments are not intended to be disagreeable, but an attempt to understand a little better the process of unity.

  3. Larry,Your comments are not at all disagreeable. It’s a difficult area to discern what is best. I’ll give you my best shot based on how I see the scriptures.I agree that the mode of baptism should be immersion. In looking for scriptural guidance on how to approach people who don’t share that view, I find a couple of helpful passages. First, there is Acts 18, where Priscilla and Aquilla taught Apollos more completely about baptism. I think that we likewise should teach those who haven’t understood immersion. Second, in 2 Tim 2, Paul told Timothy to gently instruct those who oppose him. In the first example, Apollos was (apparently) receptive to the teaching. In the second, it seems Timothy was to gently teach and then patiently wait (in other words, Paul didn’t assume the other party would immediately accept Timothy’s teaching). In both examples, the manner seems to have been cordial and friendly, not adversarial. In fact Timothy was specifically instructed NOT to quarrel. I think that would apply to us as well.I don’t think we are at liberty to change what the scriptures say about who has been adopted as God’s son (Gal 3:26-27). And I don’t think we have the liberty to change the meanings of the words. That will undoubtedly limit who I can unite with (who has been made “one in Christ”), but the limitation is directly from scripture.That’s how I read the scriptures and I must be true to that.Alan

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