Searching For Unity
Much has been said lately deploring the division which exists among brethren, and exhorting them to resolve their differences. As surely as unity is good and pleasant in the sight of God (Psalms 133:1), and as surely as division, and the one who causes it, is hated by him (Proverbs 6:16-19) exhortations to achieve unity are worthy of careful thought.
As we work toward unity, however, it must be realized that not all unity advocated by men is pleasing to God. The only acceptable basis for unity is revealed by the Spirit in the gospel of Christ. We are to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit; to strive together for the faith of the gospel (Ephesians 4:3; Philippians 1:27). Therefore, as much as desires for unity are to be appreciated, the efforts that would fulfill them must be measured by the word of God.
Many who have written lately to encourage efforts toward unity have done so appealing to various groups to resolve their differences and become united. Some speak of reconciling "the splinter groups of the Restoration Movement," and others of uniting the "conservative group" with the "liberal group" for a decisive stand against those of the "ultra liberal group." Is such speech, and the concept of unity it reflects, scriptural? Admittedly, there is a great deal I do not know and need to learn. But one thing I have not learned, and know of no place in the Bible where it is taught, is this idea of uniting brethren as groups which exist on a brotherhood-wide basis. If I have missed some text which teaches such a concept I would feel grateful to whomever would be kind enough to point it out.
The New Testament speaks of unity between Christians and God by walking in the light of his word (I John 1:57). It speaks of individuals having fellowship with each other in the sense of each recognizing and approving the work the other is doing (Galatians 2:9). It speaks of the members of a local church (a group) having unity among themselves by striving together for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27). And it speaks of a local church having fellowship with an individual in the preaching of the gospel (Philippians 1:5, 4:15-16). But nowhere, to my knowledge, do the scriptures ever speak of the achieving of unity by the uniting of groups, much less of groups which cross congregational lines on a world-wide basis. In fact, is not this kind of thinking about the church one of the very things which has caused so much division in recent years, as well as throughout the church's history? How can such division be cured by applying for a remedy the same kind of thinking which caused it in the first place?
Let this talk of unifying groups within the church, and the efforts to secure such a scripturally impossible thing, be abandoned. Instead, let brethren simply preach the apostolic word to every individual who will hear it, and with assurance that those who believe it will attain the unity for which Christ so earnestly prayed (John 17:2021). By that word men will achieve unity with God, and with every other person of the same disposition toward the word. Let us remember that both adding and restoring men to the fellowship and unity of the Lord result from the process of conversion, and conversions are individual matters; they come one by one, not in groups, parties, segments, nor any other like thing.
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