The first pair of brothers was not united. Cain was jealous of Abel and killed him because of his righteousness, Genesis 4. Unity has always been a desirable pursuit, Psalm 133. It has not always been an easy exercise. Moses dealt with rebellious siblings, and Joseph was betrayed by his brothers. In Israel, tribe rose up against tribe. Abram’s sentiments to Lot are rarely heard: We are family, so let’s not quarrel, Genesis 13.8.
The early church dealt with challenges to unity at every turn. Judaizers, promoters of human philosophies, libertines, and greedy opportunists sought to slice the family of faith into pieces and prey on the weak.
Anyone with a cursory knowledge of Scripture has read the verses. Jesus praying that all believers might have the unity he shared with the Father, John 17. Paul’s rousing condemnation of division in the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians, as well as his spelling out the attitudes and bases of unity in Ephesians 4. The constant admonitions to sincere love, deep humility, and disposition to serve selflessly like Christ.
People talk nice about unity, and go their own way.
When it comes to the bottom line, who is willing to take the necessary steps to unity? Most are like Juan Carlos Ortiz who decried the divisions he saw in Christendom, but in the end what was his advice? Each one remain in his denomination and think nice thoughts about the others.
Men glory in their divisions. You see it in black and white, written down for all to see. A Brazilian Baptist preacher spoke years ago to graduates of one of their seminaries and told their future pastors to be proud of being Baptists. His remarks were published with approbation in the denomination’s theological journal. A Presbyterian minister told his congregation — I heard this with my own ears — that one of the essential things of Christianity was being a Presbyterian. Out on the street the sectarians call each other “brother,” but within their own buildings, they pride themselves on being a superior division. Such hypocrisy cannot be otherwise. To glory in human names and doctrines is to put those particular tenets forward as being better or more spiritual or more correct than other groups with different human names and doctrines.
Thus, the appeal to return to the teaching and practice of the New Testament as the basis for unity is always relevant. And not only relevant, but necessary. Unity is not only a realistic pursuit, but one driven by God’s own purpose. It challenges carnal interests, human structures, and power struggles in the halls of denominational hierarchy.
There is no option but to abandon the centuries of religious departure from the sacred pattern. Ignoring division by merely mouthing the name of Jesus is nothing but bald-faced falseness. The name Christian admits to no hyphenation. It stands alone, in all its holy purity and divine approval.
Unity is not only realistic, but essential, for it is a salvation issue in the eyes of God. The call to be one in Christ may be ignored today, but before the Judge of all, its refusal will carry eternal consequences.