By Randall A. Bach
Most people have times when they feel and perhaps even act cranky. Those were the days that started with burnt toast and kept going that way. You have probably had a day or two like that, right? Mature believers recognize when that is going on inside even if they don’t understand why. They ask forgiveness from the Lord and anyone else who may have felt the brunt of their crankiness, forgive themselves, and move forward. Possible damage to relationships is either avoided or repaired. Loving, respecting, and honoring people in such a way is a reflection of God’s grace. And in God’s family of believers, unity is preserved and nourished when people interact in a way that pleases the Lord and heals others. Unity is not just a good idea. The Apostle Paul exhorts us, Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose (Philippians 2:1-2, NASB). Surely Paul is not telling us to be robots who all think in identical ways, denying us our individuality, is he? The same mind?
What Do We Allow to Divide Us?
In the early church believers were beginning to sue each other in public courts. Paul preached a strong message against that in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. There were quarrels that caused Paul to bring correction (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). At times they became so contentious that Paul said their meetings did more harm than good (1 Corinthians 11:17)! That is a strong condemnation. Disunity can become ugly! The same affliction can affect the twenty-first century church, when Christians seem to be unaware of or forget about their responsibility to build unity with other believers, including with people who hold slightly different views on various subjects. Unity can never be prioritized at the expense of sacrificing biblical truth. Foundational truths of the Bible are not negotiable. But how someone else interprets the application of a truth which you both uphold should not be allowed to fracture unity. In other words, we can be of the same mind with someone because we are in accord about biblical truth while we still have views that differ about lesser matters. For example, you and I may hold similar views regarding our interpretation about the baptism in the Holy Spirit while someone else maintains a different view. That difference should not be allowed to divide us as believers and undermine our unity in Christ. However, we would not be in unity with a person who denies the person and work of the Holy Spirit as the third part of a triune God. There cannot be unity over anything that clearly conflicts with Scripture.
Is It Essential or Non-Essential?
A seventeenth century theologian espoused the following guide regarding unity: In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity. He wrote that guideline in response to the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) during which religious tensions were a primary contributing cause. (Few people remember or know anything about that eventful war, but it cost more than eight million casualties, caused famine and disease, and is considered one of the most brutal wars in history.) The Moravian Church of North America and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church have adopted that guide as their motto. Perhaps it would be well for the rest of us to do the same. Hold to, do not dilute or compromise on essential truth. Allow for differences regarding non-essentials. At all times we should conduct ourselves in a loving, God-honoring manner when interacting about both essentials and non-essentials. The Apostle Paul wrote, Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made (Philippians 3:15-16, NLT). Paul acknowledged that there will be differences between believers. In the early church there were disagreements about diet (vegetarian or not), whether to observe Jewish holy days, and circumcision. People did not always agree! I believe Paul is saying to the early church and to us today, You may not agree about a matter. When that happens, ask God to convince the other person, as long as you are open to allowing the Lord to convince you about a change in your view. Remember, we believers have made significant headway in building unity among us – don’t mess that up!
Matters That Can Splinter Unity
We can grievously damage unity in our churches because of callous insensitivity to people who hold different views about non-essentials. Someone may be on the other political side from you. You may passionately believe your side is correct, but the other person passionately believes their side is. Are you sacrificing your political convictions by choosing to remain united with the other person through and in Christ? Absolutely not. The matter, although important, is a non-essential regarding what the Word of God declares about unity. In eternity, our political differences will be left behind. Paul the Apostle wrote, I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose (1 Corinthians 1:10, NLT). It defies God’s exhortation and heart to allow differences about such matters as political parties, vaccinations, cultural variations of expression, styles of worship, racial distinctives, age-based perspectives and so on to corrupt Christian unity. Frankly, it happens too often, and it grieves the heart of God. Although we are not this public about it some Christians might be comfortable renaming their church “First Church of the Vaccinated,” “No Jab Worship Center,” “Conservative Right Church,” or “Progressive Left Church.” People would know and be welcomed at the appropriate church where non-essentials (in relation to non-negotiable truths in the Word) have taken precedence over essentials. Extreme? Or not far from reality? Are we not allowed to have differences in order to have the same mind? We can’t help but hold different views about many subjects because of differences in background, upbringing, culture, and personalities. However, those differences are not more important than maintaining unity which is built on a foundation of faithfulness to God’s Word and embracing the grace of Jesus. Paul addressed our differences by describing us like parts of the human body: The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, NLT).
Unity is Fragile
Unity is fragile, so much so that without determined intentionality to build and nourish it, disunity springs up like weeds in a garden. Unity is holy whereas disunity is sinful. Unity is uplifting whereas disunity is upsetting. Unity is God-honoring whereas disunity is God-abhorring. Unity occurs when the grace of Jesus is rooted in our hearts and is exhibited in our outlook, speech, and conduct. Jesus prayed that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me (John 17:21, NLT). Jesus is informing you and me that the world is watching, and the believability of our message will be directly impacted by the degree to which we model unity.
The eyes of the world are upon us.
About the Author
Randall A. Bach delights in opportunities to serve the Lord, including his current assignment as president of Open Bible Churches. He earned a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Regent University. Randall and Barbara, his wife, have been in ministry almost as long as they have been married. They are grateful to have celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary in 2021. Randall loves the church, pastors, and church leaders and is convinced that God loves to work through them to make disciples, develop leaders, and plant churches. A voice for Evangelicals, his work has been featured in several publications, including Ethics: The Old Testament, The New Testament, and Contemporary Application. He serves as a member of the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of the National Association of Evangelicals. Randall has produced and edited several publications and other resources, including the Message of the Open Bible, We Believe: Core Truths for Christian Living, and a doctrinal course for youth called We Believe for Kids! He also led the creation of ACQUIRE, Open Bible’s online leadership development site.