Before the establishment of the church, Jesus announced, “. . . And there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (Jn 10:16). The Master does not desire that some sheepfold be divided. Sadly, many of the Lord’s sheep are scattered over division which could have been avoided by coming together and reasoning with each other. However, most divisions are over the doctrines and commandments of men.
Just a few hours before going to the cross, Jesus prayed while with the apostles, “Neither pray I for these alone,” said the Lord, “but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one is us: that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn 17:20, 21).
To the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). It is possible for Christians to be of one mind, speaking the same thing.
The saints at Ephesus were urged to walk in a manner worthy of their calling, “endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3). The unity of the Spirit cannot be maintained without earnest endeavor.
The church at Jerusalem exemplified remarkable oneness. The disciples in that city were “together,” “had all things common,” and continued daily “with one accord” (Acts 2:44-46). They were “of one heart and of one soul” (Acts 4:32). When a murmuring arose because certain widows were neglected in the daily ministration, the problem was solved quickly under apostolic supervision. The recommendation of the apostles “pleased the whole multitude” because the authority of the apostles was respected. Today, many congregations are plagued with discord and dissension due to lack of respect for apostolic authority.
In contrast to the church at Jerusalem, God’s people at Corinth were torn with strife. They had a factional spirit. They were saying, “I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ” (1 Cor. 1:12). Paul charged that their envying, strife, and divisions furnished evidence of carnality. This brand of carnality often overshadows true spirituality among Christians.
The Corinthian brethren were going to law with each other before unbelievers (1 Cor. 6:6). They had differences over whether or not it is right to eat meat offered in sacrifice to idols (1 Cor. 8). They were abusing the Lord’s supper, making it a feast for satisfying bodily hunger (1 Cor. 11:18-34). It was for this cause that Paul commanded every church member to eat at home if they were hungry and not when the church was assembled (1 Cor 11:22,34) They needed to learn that there should be “no schism in the body”; all members should have “the same care one for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25).
In order to obtain unity in the church certain biblical principles must be followed. We must stand on God’s platform. Paul outlined the seven planks in this platform in Eph. 4:4-6. (1) There is one body. That body is the church (Eph. 1:22, 23; Col. 1:18). It is not a denomination or a mystical union of man-made religions. There is only one Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives life and direction through God’s word. There is only one hope. The desire and expectation produced by the gospel is eternal life (Tit. 1:2). There is only one Lord. Jesus is both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). He is the head of the church. There is no human head. There is only one faith. That is the faith for which Christians are to earnestly contend (Jude 3). It is the revealed faith. There is only one baptism. That baptism is in water (Acts 8:36-38 cf; 10:47), is a burial (Rom. 6:3-5 f; Col. 2:12), is in the name of the Lord (Acts 19:5 cf; 10:48), and is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38 cf; 22:16). There is only one God. He is described in contrast to idols in Acts 17:24-29.
In order to obtain unity we must walk by the same rule. The word of God must be the standard for our faith and practice. Amos asked, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). Amos was in agreement with God and walking with God. The people of Jeroboam’s kingdom were out of step with God. The New Testament is the revelation of God’s will for us to obey today.
In order to obtain unity we must be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, by accepting as doctrine, precisely and only what is either actually asserted or necessarily implied in the new testament; to speak the same things by speaking what the Bible speaks, and to speak them in the language of the Bible; and to practice the same things by doing simply the will of Christ.
In order to obtain unity we must differentiate between faith and opinion. Faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). Nothing should be urged as a matter of faith unless it is backed by divine testimony. Many times brethren form a personal judgment about something, and that opinion is preached as if it were the law and gospel. We ought to avoid preaching human opinions, and we must never elevate them to the high level of divine revelation.
In order to obtain unity we must endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit. The unity into which the Spirit leads is based on truth, not error. A billion Catholics can be united in the practice of error, but that unity does not transform their error into truth. It is the unity of the Spirit that is to be preserved in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).
Some people have the idea that if we preach the truth unity will result automatically. Paul knew that more is involved. He wrote of “endeavoring” to keep the unity of the Spirit. We must make careful and painstaking effort. This necessitates crushing unholy and selfish ambitions. It includes keeping down strife, seditions, and heresies. It involves the application of Phil. 2:3.
Most of us deplore division in the church. We plead for unity based on the Bible, but in practice a lot of us insist on unity based on our personal whims. Although we dare not compromise principles of right for any purpose, we must be willing to compromise in the realm of human judgment.
Conclusion: There is only one gospel and it cannot be changed (Gal 1:6-9). There is only one doctrine and if we continue in it we are truly the children of God (Jn 8:31 ff; Acts 2:42; 2 Jn 9). God desires that all Christians worship Him in Spirit and in truth (Jn 4:23,24). If we don’t go beyond that which was written, and are grounded in the principle that all scripture emanated from God, then yes, unity in the church is possible (1 Cor 4:6 f; 2 Tim 3:16,17). Then shall we proclaim the same words of the psalmist David, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in UNITY” (Ps 133:1)!