Unity: but why can’t we?


Christian unity faces a very straightforward question capable of either promoting or tearing at oneness. What question wields such power? “But why can’t we __________?”

If used to empower unity, the form this question simply needs to ask is: “But why can’t we just follow God’s teaching for the church instead of embracing human tradition and ideas?”

More commonly, however, we might encounter a different version of this question. This alternate version could be built upon noble intentions to solve a perceived problem. “But why can’t we ____________? I think this would be so good.”

Passion to solve a perceived problem can tear at the fabric of fellowship, if others view the proposal as either entering the mirky lands of opinion or the truly dark realm of rebellion.

Eager for progress, the clamor continues, “But why can’t we?” Other equally passionate disciples reject the innovation as violating their scripturally informed consciences.

If Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:3, “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” carry any weight at all, it is critical how the church navigates such choppy waters. The direction chosen at the crossroads will reveal the spiritual maturity and priorities of everyone involved.

Unfortunately, tunnel vision over the issue typically envelopes everyone’s outlook crowding out other priorities. Nevertheless, the decision rendered will reveal one’s heart and values.

Which is more important? How we think God’s work can be promoted by our creative ideas or following God’s stated will?

Which priority will drive decision making? My liberty in Christ or maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace?

If we will listen, biblical principles resolve both of these tensions.

Using himself as an example, Paul argued Christians should limit their freedom for the sake of others in the body (1 Corinthians 8:1-9:27). It would seem this idea chaffs many. And so under the banner of “I’m convinced this is permissible,” some will insist on promoting tension, if not division, while seeking their notion of progress.

In dealing with a fractured Christian fellowship due to strong personalities and their ideas, Paul’s counsel to avoid judging something as either good or bad illuminates how extra biblical ideas should be handled (1 Corinthians 3:1-4; 4:5). Furthermore, he insisted the church should avoid exceeding scripture (1 Corinthians 4:6).

Additionally, Paul’s outlines in Ephesians regarding God’s goal “to head up all things in Christ,” God’s provision of the seven unifying ones, and Christ’s unifying gifts for the church, would all seem to suggest God values unity more highly than our bright ideas (Ephesians 1:9,10; 4:4-5, 11-13).

Nevertheless, charismatic personalities filled with deep conviction about the best way to do things will continue to emerge. Invariably in their wake will lie a tattered Christian fellowship.

The question remains, better in whose estimation – God’s or theirs?

“I am praying … on behalf of those who believe in me through their testimony, that they will all be one … so that the world will believe that you sent me” (John 17:20,21).

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Barry Newton

Married to his wonderful wife Sofia and a former missionary in Brazil, Barry enjoys trying to express old truths in fresh ways. They are the parents of two young men.

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