Written by Dale Ebel
A Review from my last teaching about Biblical Unity
Biblical unity is defined as agreeing with and aligning oneself with other like-minded believers around biblical truths, instructions, and commands. This unity is reserved for fellow Christ-followers because we are likeminded with Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), and with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), who teaches (John 14:26), leads (Galatians 5:25), and empowers us (Acts 1:8).
Our ultimate goal for biblical unity is to glorify (reflect the character) of the true God, Yahweh (Isaiah 42:8) as revealed in the text of Scripture (Genesis 26:24; Matthew 22:32). It also means that together we support each other by giving financially (2 Corinthians 8:2-4), caring for each other’s needs (Romans 12:13), praying for one another (Colossians 1:3), and laboring together to uplift the name of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:29).
Review of Cultural Unity
Cultural unity is built upon a MUTUAL respect for all other people and also people of different ethnicities by being courteous, pleasant, respectful, friendly, gracious, and practicing honest tolerance with one another.
Some Thoughts about Biblical Disunity
If a Christ-follower is asked to be unified by agreeing or aligning with people of a particular ideology or lifestyle that is opposed to Scripture, then cultural unity is possible but biblical unity is not. This disunity is not bad, nor does it make any party bad, or evil. Rather, it means we cannot possibly stand together for a common purpose, because that purpose is unbiblical.
There are some things that can and should limit unity. We don’t pursue unity simply for the sake of unity; it is Christ and His truth that unites us. Nor should we call for “collective unity” or “group unity,” without personal connections or educated contact with people of different ethnicities. Simply assuming there is disunity based on hearsay, or indiscriminate calls for unity is unwise at best, and can potentially lead to an alignment with an ideology that is false.
I am hearing calls from many progressive churches expressed in statements like, “we need to be unified with our black brothers and sisters,” and “there must be racial reconciliation.” The main reason they give for this is that, “We are white and privileged and, therefore, are the ones causing the disunity with the marginalized.” Some go so far as to say, “We are obligated by Christ’s commands to make up for our whiteness, and prioritize the redistribution of wealth and opportunities now for others.” These statements are disingenuous and communicate vague generalities and assumptions about the need for unity. These cries fall into the category of, “following the crowd” which is a warning from Torah.
1 “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness. 2 “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd,” – Exodus 23:1-2 NIV
The Value of Obtaining the Facts
“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings” – Proverbs 25:2 NIV
Study the Scriptures to test what people are saying
“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” – Acts 17:11 NIV
The Validity of Disunity is Evident in The Bible.
Scripturally, we are to separate from professed brothers and sisters in Christ who live in persistent, unrepentant sin (Matthew 18:15–17). 1 Corinthians 5:1–2 says,
“I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you–something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother. 2 You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship.”
We should also separate from those who teach false doctrine. Look to Revelation 2:14-15. Also, Romans 16:17 (NIV), “I urge you, brothers, and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.”
Sometimes Division is Necessary and Instructive.
“For there also must be factions [heresies KJV, divisions, differences NIV] among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.”
– 1Corinthians 11:19 NASV
In the context of the Corinthian passage, selfishness was being manifested while celebrating the Lord’s Supper. The Love Feast was a common meal shared with everyone, prior to taking and receiving the Lord’s Supper (Jude 12). The Apostle Paul corrects some of the believers in the church, for not waiting for one another during the Love Feast. Some who came in late from their work were not getting food because others had already eaten it. Have you ever been at a buffet dinner and all the food is gone because you are at the end of line☺? For most of us , missing one meal is not a big deal, but in poorer situations it obviously is. It is interesting to me that Paul points out divineness as the test for who were and were not living like Christ. It seems like a rather insignificant incident, doesn’t it? The Apostle Paul makes a rather strong comment regarding divisions in a seemingly innocuous incident.
In the New Living Translation, it says:
“But, of course, there must be divisions among you so that you who have God’s approval will be recognized” – 1 Corinthians 11:19 NLT
The sobering reality is, there are pretenders and non-believers in our midst and they are even in our congregations. The Word of God instructs us to expose and stay away from these false claimers.
“I do not sit with deceitful men, nor will I go with pretenders” – Psalm 26:4 NASV
I John 2:18-19 is also germane to this discussion:
“Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” – 1 John 2:18-19 NIV
In verse 18 the first occurrence of the term “antichrist” is found. Its usage is found only in John’s epistles (4:3, 2 John 7). Here it refers to the coming final world ruler energized by Satan who will seek to replace and oppose the true Christ (Daniel 8:9-11; Matthew 24:24). The 1 John passage uses the plural for “antichrists” and refers to many individuals. John uses the plural to identify and characterize the false teachers, false leaders and influencers within the churches who were troubling John’s congregations because their false doctrine was distorting the truth and was opposed to Christ. The term, therefore, refers to a principle of evil, incarnated in men, who are hostile and opposed to God. God writes to expose the false teachers, and key influencers, who were described as wolves in sheep’s clothing, who purvey (provide) damning lies (Ephesians 5:11).
“They went out from us …they did not really belong to us,…” These deceivers depart from teaching the true doctrine of the Word of God, they arise from within the Church, and depart from true fellowship and lead people with them.
This instruction also places emphasis on the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Those who are genuinely born again endure in faith and fellowship and obey the truth (1 Corinthians 11:19; 2 Timothy 2:12). The ultimate test of true Christianity is endurance (Mark 13:13). The departure of people from the truth and the true Church is their unmaking.
The sticky part about biblical unity is the question of what one consider’s important enough to divide over?
I listed my opinion about 10 such important truths in my last article.
When addressing the concept of biblical unity, it is necessary to explain the powerful passage in 1 Corinthians 6 regarding the concept of “being yoked.”
What does it mean to be yoked?
A Case for Disunity
“Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together” – Deuteronomy 22:10 NIV
The prohibition found in verse 10 is because two different animals, like an ox and a donkey, couldn’t together plow a straight furrow. Their temperaments, natural instincts, and physical characteristics made it impossible.
The New Testament picks up this concept when addressing unity between Christians and non-believers.
14 “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”
– 2 Corinthians 6:14 ESV
A yoke is a wooden bar that joins two oxen to each other and to the burden they pull. An “unequally yoked” team has one stronger ox and one weaker, or one taller and one shorter. The weaker or shorter ox would walk more slowly than the taller, stronger one, causing the load to go around in circles. When oxen are unequally yoked, they cannot perform the task set before them. Instead of working together, they are at odds with one another.
The ESV Study Bible’s notes on the above passage are illuminating.
“To be unequally yoked” is to e “hitched up” or even crossbred with another animal who is not the same. It is thus an image of or being allied or identified wrongly with unbelievers. In the context, it refers especially to those who are still rebelling against Paul within the church, who Paul now shockingly labels unbelievers.”
The Apostle Paul clearly thinks it’s possible that some are not believers based on 2 Corinthians 13:5, which says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the Faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? —unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”
Paul hopes that they are still in the Faith.
In the meaning of “Examine yourselves,” Paul reminds the Corinthians and us, that it is quite possible for a man or woman to profess Christ and salvation, yet still be unsaved. They may even deceive themselves into thinking that such a profession has saved them. Therefore, we need to examine ourselves and prove ourselves with godly behavior. The sure proof is the realization that Christ is indwelling us by the Holy Spirit, resulting in the godly lives and glad acceptance of the revealed Word of God, as inspired by the Holy Spirit. Every one of us needs to “give diligence to make our calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10 KJV).
34 “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword. 35 ‘I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 Your enemies will be right in your own household” – Matthew 10:34-36 NLT
Though the ultimate end of the Good News is peace with God (John 14:27), the immediate result of the Good News if frequently conflict and division. Conversion to Christ can and does result in strained family relations and division among those who are closest to us (Matthew 10:35-36). Christ will have no one deluded into thinking that He calls believers to a life devoid of conflict and divisions.
Functional Unity Within Biblical Unity
Among Christians there are degrees of compatibility that allow them to carry out God-given purposes hand-in-hand. There are also incompatibilities that arise, which cause believers to divide. Generally speaking, if professing Christians espouse the name of Jesus Christ they are to be considered as genuine Christians, even though they believe certain doctrines and others do not. For example: the conservative Baptists believe in baptism by immersion while Presbyterians generally sprinkle for baptism. Charismatics believe one ought to speak in tongues to indicate they are truly born again, while most evangelicals believe one does not have to speak in tongues to be saved. Some Christians believe that you can lose your salvation while others believe we are eternally secure in Christ once we surrender to Him and follow Him. Denominations have split because of these doctrinal difference, but this does not mean they are pretenders or false believers. Even our Lord was understanding that some believed in Him without being part of His band of disciples.
“38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.” 39 “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. 40 Anyone, who is not against us, is for us. 41 If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded” – Mark 9:38-41 NLT
Over my years of church ministry, I discovered that not all Christians will agree or be unified…even those in leadership. Because of different priorities, political persuasions, doctrinal positions, personal backgrounds, personalities, and an overall outlook as to what ministry ought to accomplish, these differences often result in the parting of ways. This is one reason there are so many denominations. Many of these differences are rooted in preferences and philosophies of how ministry ought to be carried out. When there are doctrinal disagreements, however, disunity is acceptable and, in many cases, necessary.
There are many fine Christ-followers who do, or did, not get along while ministering. The Apostle Paul and Barnabas disagreed over working with John Mark and they parted ways:
36 “After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” 37 Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. 38 But Paul disagreed strongly since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. 39 Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus” – Acts 15:36-39 NLT
Some concluding thoughts:
- What are some key learnings for you from this teaching?
- Explain biblical unity compared to cultural unity.
- Describe the concept of ‘being yoked.’ Why is it important to be unified with other believers? Why separate from non-believers, or from those who are pretending?
Standing fast in the true grace of God with you (1 Peter 5:12)!