Christian Unity (Part 2)
In the first post in this series, I sought to set out six different categories of Christian unity. They were as follows:
1. Spiritual unity
2. Doctrinal unity
3. Practical unity
4. Experiential unity
5. Liturgical unity
6. Ecclesiastical unity
In this post, I'd like to offer some comments on how these different kinds of unity relate and what are some of the practical implications.
1. The greatest and closest unity is when we can enjoy all six kinds of unity in the greatest degrees.
It really is one of the highest human experiences on earth to experience this kind of six-fold fellowship with God’s people (Psalm 133).
2. We can have the five more outward kinds of unity (#2-5) without any spiritual unity (#1).
There can be doctrinal, practical, worship, and ecclesiastical unity without any spiritual unity, without one or even both parties being spiritually united to Christ. There can even be experiential unity, in the sense that two people can agree on the way a person is converted and can describe spiritual experience in the same way and yet neither of them have spiritual life.
3. 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. It’s alarming when we sense nil kinship in areas of doctrine, practice, experience, worship, etc. It may lead us to conclude that there is no essential spiritual unity.
4. 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 (or we) are not united to Christ. In this fallen world, where we all of us have such limited and faulty understanding, it’s possible that there is essential spiritual unity even when we can achieve little or no unity in the other areas. As someone said, when we get to heaven we’ll be surprised at who’s there, even more surprised at who’s not there, and most surprised of all that we are there.
5. We are obliged to work towards unity on both a personal and ecclesiastical level.
So 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?
This involves moving out of our comfort zones and talking to Christians who are different to us to see if we can understand our differences better and perhaps even remove some of them. We study God’s Word together and see if we can grow in our knowledge of God’s truth together. We try to persuade but we also remain teachable ourselves, recognizing that we most likely don’t have all the truth on our side.
6. 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 to them than churches can – it’s 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 manner. That’s not an excuse for ecclesiastical lethargy on this, but it’s facing the reality that individuals can make greater progress towards each other than institutions can.
7. We must distinguish between primary and secondary matters if we are to enjoy Christian unity.
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 totally separate from them and can enjoy no fellowship” - that’s going to be a very lonely, if not a solitary life. Some people actually want that and do that. They end up united only with themselves! A very dangerous position to be in.
8. Christian unity is glorious and beautiful.
Christian disunity, unnecessary Christian disunity, is an ugly blot on the bride of Christ. It is an offense to God but it’s also an offence to the world and creates one of the greatest hindrances to evangelism.
Christians working hard (and it’s really hard work) 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” (John 13:35).