Unity and diversity are biblical words that have been stolen by the world – the wordly church as well as the wordly world – emptied of biblical meaning, and filled with all kinds of false and perverse ideas. I want to reclaim these precious words and refill them with biblical meaning.
The Unity of Christ’s Bride
The idea of Christian unity has been so perverted over the years by liberal Christianity that there is considerable confusion, both inside and outside the church, about what it is. Another sad consequence is that those who are orthodox have overreacted to the abuses by rarely speaking about Christian unity, except to criticize it, and even more rarely working for it. However, we must not let the precious vocabulary and principles of Christian unity fall into neglect or be stolen form us by those who have deliberately twisted and misused them.
Firstly, we must distinguish six types of Christian unity
- Spiritual unity is the unity that all Christians have in Christ. We may differ in a multitude of ways, yet all those who are truly born again are united to Christ by His Holy Spirit and, through Him, to one another.
- Doctrinal unity is oneness on what we believe the Bible to teach, usually defined by one of the historic confessions of faith, such as the Belgic Confession or the Westminster Confession of Faith.
- Practical unity is unity in what we understand to be the implications and practical applications of the doctrines on which we agree. The unity we aspire to is agreement among Christians and churches on what the Christian life and church life should look like.
- Experiential unity is oneness in our experience of salvation and the Lord’s communion with us. We all know Christians to whom we can confide about spiritual things because they believed the same things we do regarding the importance of the Holy Spirit’s work in convicting us of sin, drawing us to Christ, regenerating us, and so on.
- Liturgical unity is agreement as to how we understand worship to be conducted both in spirit and content.
- Ecclesiastical unity might also be called institutional unity. It is the unity that different churches formally and officially enjoy at a denominal level, or more locally and informally on a congregational love.
Why not use the six types of Christian unity to examine yourself and your church, locally and denominationally, to see if there are any areas where you can pursue Christian unity more zealously and wisely?
Comments on Unity
Here are several observations about these six types of unity.
- The greatest and closest unity is when we can enjoy all six kinds of unity in the greatest degree. It really is one of the highest human blessings on earth to experience this kind of fellowship with God’s people.
- We can have the five outward kinds of unity without spiritual unity. There can be doctrinal, practical, liturgical, and ecclesiastical unity without any spiritual unity, that is, without one or both parties being spiritually united to Christ.
- If there is no unity in areas 2-6, then we have to question if there is any spiritual unity. Not everyone who names the name of Christ is a Christian.
- There can be spiritual unity without much of the other five kinds of unity. Although it is worrying when we differ so much from other Christians in areas 2-6, it is not necessary to conclude that they are not united to Christ. As someone has said when we get to heaven, we’ll be surprised at who is there, even more surprised at who is not there, and most surprised of all that we are there.
- We are obliged to work toward unity on both a personal and ecclesiastical level. What are you and I doing to advance and improve unity among Christians on a personal level and on a church level? Christ prayed for the unity of His people in John 17. What are you doing to answer Christ’s prayer?
- We can enjoy more Christian unity on a personal level than on an institutional or ecclesiastical level. Christians can probably enjoy closer fellowship with other Christians who are different than churches can – it is just much simpler and easier in a personal and informal manner to accept and work with remaining differences than it is on an institutional and formal level.
- We must distinguish between primary and secondary matters if we are to enjoy unity in the church. All truth is important, but not all truth is equally important. If we say it’s all or nothing – if he/she.they don’t agree with me on everything, then I will totally separate from them and can enjoy no fellowship with them – that is going to make for a very lonely, if not a solitary, life.
- Christian unity is glorious and beautiful. Christian disunity, unnecessary as it is, is an ugly blot on the bride of Christ. It is an offense to God, but it is also an offense to the world and creates one of the greatest hindrances to evangelism.
Christians working hard to unite in love of the truth and of one another is the most compelling and persuasive argument to the world: “See how they love one another”.
Read Part 2 on the diversity of Christ’s Bride next week.