Unity is a subject on which there is a great deal of misunderstanding and confusion of thought. Sentimentality, worldly wisdom and deliberate evil intent all contribute to the beclouding of the issue. The only safe course is to adhere to the position clearly set out in the Scriptures.
We must begin with a clear perception of the difference between the Church and Christendom. The Church consists of all who arc truly born again. Christendom is a mixture of saved and unsaved. Divisions between Christians may well grieve us but the unity of Christendom is not the answer, and when it is achieved it will not be the work of God. A Christian is well advised to have nothing to do with a World Council of Churches, which is simply an attempt to unite Christendom.
A great deal of the talk about unity today concerns a scries of compromises which will result in the formation of bigger groups dominated by unsaved people. Rome is observing this carefully. She is only interested in swallowing other systems.
The unity of the church is a much simpler matter. It already exists in the spiritual realm, and has to be recognized and maintained. It is, in fact, the oneness of all believers, produced by the Holy Spirit. As the members of a family arc one because of a common relationship to their father and mother (though in practice they may become disunited) so believers arc one because of a common relationship to the three persons of the Trinity, Eph. 4. 4-6. If I know that my sins are forgiven, and you know that your sins are forgiven, it is the same Holy Spirit who gives us each this assurance. He unites us. If I know that Christ died for me, and you know that Christ died for you, we both trust the same Lord. He unites us. If I know that God loves me, and you know that God loves you, we both thank the same Father. He unites us. So Christians are spiritually one because of their relationship to one Spirit, one Lord, and one Father. This marks them off from the world. They compose one body. 'There is one body.' The unity is there. They do not have to create it.
That believers are fundamentally one is an experience, shared by the saved of all denominations. In this respect it is a grievous sin to think only of those saints who meet as we do. 'Oft we forget that we are one With every saint that loves Thy Name.' We should be ashamed of such miserable sectarianism. The attitude which unchurches all others and casts doubt upon the conversion of true children of God is a product of the flesh.
It is the duty of every Christian to give local expression to this unity. This is where difficulty is encountered. Believers have a deep sense of their oneness so long as they are with other believers, but often they go back to a sphere where saints and sinners are mixed up together, and where they are outnumbered and outvoted by unregenerate 'church members'.
Our business is to provide a local church life where true believers are received, but where unbelievers are excluded. We have no unity with the unregenerate. This explains why spiritual dangers are encountered, and serious problems arise, if we try to organize united efforts with mixed companies. The unity of the Spirit is then lacking and a man-made unity has to take its place.
Many believers involved in unsatisfactory religious systems are aware of the difficulty caused by the admission into membership of the unsaved. Clear teaching as to the unity of the Spirit recommends itself to them. It is the actual condition of affairs in the local assembly that puts them off in some cases. Giving local expression to the unity of the Spirit means exercising great love and patience towards our brothers and sisters in the assembly. We must remember that the average person is unimpressed by a theory of the unity of all believers, but is immediately moved by the unusual spectacle of believers living, worshipping and working harmoniously together. Some of the factors which most commonly undermine this harmony are:
1. Differences of temperament. The reserved man tends to be contemptuous of the bright and breezy brother. He tends to think himself more mature and godly, but this is not necessarily true.
2. Difference of interpretation. As we are only finite beings, and not spiritually perfect, we shall always find that genuine differences exist. But they need not be grounds for ill-feeling between godly men. It may, however, be necessary for those who cannot agree, to meet separately, if the only alternative is silence on some point of doctrine.
3. Jealousy of the gifts of others. This is common, but it is hard to confess that we are guilty of such a childish fault, and we easily delude ourselves into thinking that our motives are quite different.
4. Unwillingness to meet those whom we think have offended against us. Sores are allowed to run for years until they eventually eat into the life of the assembly. The observance of Matthew 18. 15 is a great preserver of unity.
5. Confusion between what is really vital and what is merely traditional. If a brother is not too clear on such matters he will often put up a fight for non-essentials, and may even obstruct the clear will of God. Real spirituality includes discernment and willingness to admit one's mistakes.
6. A love of change and a fear of reproach. Disunity is sometimes caused by men who have a desire for novelty and dislike being out of the prevailing religious fashion. They do not understand their own motives, and think that they are solely concerned about the salvation of souls. One test to apply to ourselves in this respect is, how much real blessing has come out of our past plans?
7. Family differences. These can creep into assembly affairs with terrible consequences. A willingness to discuss the matter after Scripture reading and prayer together, with a real sense of the Lord's presence, is the solution here
as in so much else. Disunity is forced at a great pace in the frame of partisanship. When believers start to take sides, and range themselves with personalities, complete disruption of assembly life is very near. If the energy spent on this were spent on bringing the two parties together before the Lord, the unity of the Spirit would often be maintained. Our unity is a spiritual fact, and its realization always depends upon our spiritual condition.