Unity at any cost?

by Stan Mitchell

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they all may be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20,21, ESV).

On March 12, 1938, German troops swept into the country of Austria, and the two nations became one.

This action had been predicted in Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf. He called it Anschluss, or political union with Germany.

After all, Hitler reasoned, Austrians and Germans shared an ethnic background and the same language. They were both Aryan people, comprising the master race.

Film crews showed Austrians in towns and villages cheering the German tanks and troops, waving swastikas jubilantly in the air. Austrian frauleins, their hair coiled tightly around their heads in traditional fashion, ran and embraced the young German troops. Unity – Anschluss – had been achieved!

But at what cost.

  • No one seemed to notice that Austrian Chancellor Schuschnigg and his cabinet had been arrested, and would be put in a concentration camp.
  • No one seemed to notice that streets and public restrooms were being scrubbed by Jews.
  • No one seemed to notice that the military officers in the Austrian army were being either forced to pledge allegiance to Hitler, or thrown into prison.

If you have ever watched that wonderful musical, “The Sound of Music,” then you know this story. The Von Trap family father is a retired naval captain, and he is put under enormous pressure to join the German navy under a NAZI flag.

The reason they have to escape over the mountains into Switzerland is because things will, no doubt, go badly for him if he refuses to join the forces of the Third Reich.

Yes, unity had been achieved. On a surface level unity is a wonderful thing, but it had been achieved at an awful cost.

Unity is deeply desirable among Christians. We should pray for it; Jesus himself prayed for it. But unity cannot be obtained at the expense of conviction.

That’s not unity, it’s capitulation.

It is possible, even desirable, to attain unity on the basis of conviction, however. What a dream it would be to unite on the principle of Christ’s authority and the word of God!

Can you imagine a greater call? Can you imagine any call that comes remotely close to this?

On the other hand, we could, like the political union of Germany and Austria under NAZI rule unite under the spiritual tyranny of men’s teachings. The only true unity of Christians must be unity under the leadership of the Lord Jesus.

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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One thought on “Unity at any cost?

  1. I wish some in the brotherhood understood the difference between the “unity of the Spirit” and the “spirit of unity” (Ephesians 4:1-6).

    Well said, Stan.

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