The Holy Spirit has been saying much about unity to the Church in recent years. The Bible tell us that the heavenly Father wants His Church to be one.
Differences don’t have to mean division; on the contrary, true unity is made up of diversity: Unity is not uniformity.
Let’s open our Bible and see what it has to say about the unity of the Church.
1. What is “the unity of the Church?”
The Random House College Dictionary defines unity as “the state of being one single entity; one-ness,” “the state of being combined with others to form a greater whole,” and “having complete accord among persons regarding attitudes, opinions, intentions, etc.”
In light of this definition, the unity of believers (the Church) is the state of being combined (“knit together”) with other believers into one Body (the greater whole), yet each remaining an individual part. Further, it describes the state of being in complete accord with other believers regarding attitudes, opinions, intentions (goals, purposes), etc.
For the purpose of this definition, a believer is one who has received Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and continues in faith and obedience to Him. When we speak of the unity of believers, we are concerned with the relationship God intends each of us to have with any and every believer in Jesus.
2. The Problem:
The Bible teaches us God’s intention for His Church is that it have perfect unity (or oneness); but God’s people have rarely experienced this. History is full of strife, warfare, hatred, and division within the Church. Disunity has become such a way of life that most Christians, though they speak and pray for unity, believe that a certain amount of disunity is to be expected. This is not biblical.
Disunity proceeds from our sin nature and Satan promotes it. Satan has divided the Church for centuries because he knows, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” A Church which cannot stand won’t be able to enforce Jesus Christ’s victory over death and Hell and the grave. In order for the Church to effectively apply Jesus’ power to break Satan’s stranglehold on this world, it must experience the unity God has declared.
3. The Prophecy:
“Thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will put them with it, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in My hand . . . and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations, and they will no longer be divided into two kingdoms’ ” (Ezekiel 37:19-22).
“Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd ” (Ezek. 34:23).
Israel is the Old Testament picture of the Church. Paul and the writer of Hebrews both teach that the Church is spiritual Israel. A divided Israel pictures a divided Church. Since Israel never experienced the unity promised her by this prophecy, we know that it must be fulfilled in the Church. God also reveals how this unity will come about. He will place one king, and one shepherd over the restored nation. He identifies this as David, the shepherd boy become king – a type of the Lord Jesus Christ who is “the Good Shepherd, ” and “King of kings.”
4. The Provision:
”Now the deeds of the flesh are . . . enmities, strife, jealousy, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying . . .”(Gal. 5:20)
”Jesus answered and said . . . ‘Truly , truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God . . . That which is born of the flesh is flesh , and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said . . . “You must be born again” ‘ “(John 3:3-7).
“Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (II Cor. 5:17).
The attitudes which cause divisions and disunity in the Church are sins which come from our flesh nature. This is true with all of us. For men to experience the perfect unity the Bible teaches, our nature must be changed. This is what happens when we believe in Jesus and make Him Lord of our lives: we are born again of the spirit and receive a brand new nature. The “old things” of our flesh nature pass away and “new things” of G0d’s nature come into our lives because we become part of God’s new creation. This is the only way unity is possible.
God’s provision for unity is our new nature filled with the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5: 16 says if we “walk by the Spirit” we will not carry out the desires of the flesh. One of the flesh’s greatest desires is disunity.
5. The Prayer:
‘(I pray) that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me . . . I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love Me” (John 17:21, 23).
After Jesus had completed His earthly ministry and was about to endure the cross and death and Hell, He committed the work He had done to the Father in prayer. The things he asked in that prayer are the things most important to Him. One of these was that the Church be ONE.
The unity of the Church is the key to the Church’s effective witness to the world. Because the Church would be one, perfected in unity, the world would know and believe. It follows that if the Church is divided and in disunity, the world cannot know the Truth.
6. The Promise:
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father who is over all in through all and in all” (Eph.4:4-6).
“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many . . . there are many members, but one body . . . But God has so composed the body . . . that there should be no division in the body . . . Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (I Cor. 12: 12-27).
God has promised that though we may not be experiencing it because of disobedience and unbelief , yet we are one body. Although we differ and have diversity in how we function, we are all part of the same body.
7. The Prescription:
“I , therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4: 1-3).
“If therefore 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. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2: 1-4).
Paul spoke for God when he exhorted the Church to unity. To “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,” means “to act like a Christian!” If we act like God wants us to – like we are supposed to – we will strive for unity (for oneness) with every other believer regardless of their denomination or other affiliations. We will be selfless in our attitude. We will see our relationship with other believers as one of our highest priorities, being ruthless with any divisive attitude.
This is the way of life God prescribes for all believers. Not to walk like this is sin! Not to walk like this gives Satan opportunity to divide the Church and hinder God’s purposes.
8. The Practice:
“And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
“And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:42-47a).
”And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own; but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:32, 33).
The Church began to experience the unity God had promised right from the start. The Scriptures show that oneness of heart and mind characterized the life among the earliest believers. It wasn’t until much later that the divisions with which we are now so familiar began to take place.
9. The Power:
God’s power always accompanies a Church living together in true spiritual unity. In both Acts 2 and 4, the miracle working power of God is mentioned along with the unity of the Church. God promises to confirm the proclamation of His Word with signs and wonders. But God’s Word isn’t only what the Bible says. God’s true word is always flesh: it must be lived out in believer’s lives. ‘If we say we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (I John 1:6).
Just knowing the Bible, and saying we believe it isn’t truth. Truth is knowing and obeying the Word. When the Bible says God confirms His Word with power, it does not mean He confirms the “doctrine” we preach, but He confirms what we preach and live out in obedience.
This helps explain the powerlessness which much of the Church is experiencing today: We say we believe the Bible teaches unity, but we are divided from one another because of doctrines, different worship forms, etc. When we repent of our divisions and come into full conformity with God’s Word we will again see the full release of God’s power in our midst. Then God can confirm His Word with His power because it will have “become flesh”(see John 1: 14)