Christian Unity

by Mike Ratliff

1 Παρακαλῶ οὖν ὑμᾶς ἐγὼ ὁ δέσμιος ἐν κυρίῳ ἀξίως περιπατῆσαι τῆς κλήσεως ἧς ἐκλήθητε, 2 μετὰ πάσης ταπεινοφροσύνης καὶ πραΰτητος, μετὰ μακροθυμίας, ἀνεχόμενοι ἀλλήλων ἐν ἀγάπῃ, 3 σπουδάζοντες τηρεῖν τὴν ἑνότητα τοῦ πνεύματος ἐν τῷ συνδέσμῳ τῆς εἰρήνης· (Ephesians 4:1-3 NA28)

1 Therefore, I, the prisoner of the Lord, encourage you to walk worthy of the calling by which you were called, 2 with all humility of mind and meekness with long-suffering forbearing one another in love,  3 being eager to keep the oneness of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

The requests I receive from readers of these posts concerning discernment issues in their own churches seem to be on the upswing. It is as if we have moved from the trauma of the Purpose Driven/Seeker Sensitive devastation of so much of Evangelicalism to something even more insidious. The seeker movement was blunt force trauma. Now what I am hearing about more and more resembles covert operations deep from within the leadership of churches. One or two of the Elders of a church are solid while others are actively promoting the teachings of men (and women) that are ecumenical, man-focused instead of God-focused, centered around mysticism such as Spiritual Formation or Prayer Circles, or taking the Church’s focus away from the Great Commission and changing it to “social justice” or even “Dominionism.” The “solid Elders” profess to know nothing about what is going on. The requests I receive about these things are nearly always centered around the concern about maintaining “unity.” The concern is that if they address their concerns they will be looked as “divisive” or even as a “hater.” Yes, I get emails and contacts about all that. My reply here is based within my own journey through those choppy waters.

I pray for wisdom and discernment every day. I pray for God to use me according to His will. So, when I found myself face-to-face in church after church where these same or similar issues were going on, what did I do? If I was a member, I went through the proper channels and expressed my concerns to the right people. Was it costly? Absolutely, and it was painful and stressful as well. On other occasions I was just starting to get familiar with a church and was not a full member yet. I would then express my concerns with a Deacon or someone I knew and if resistance was forthcoming then we would leave and being the process of finding another church again. I suppose this why it took my wife and I over 6 years of that first encounter to wind up in the church where we are now.

The Body of Christ, true Christians, are to be unified. This unity is found in the passage I placed at the top of this post in the Greek word ἑνότητα or henotēta the Accusative, Singular, Feminine case of  ἑνότης or henotēs, “unanimity and agreement.” In Greek and Roman philosophy the unity of God and the world is demanded by educated “reason.” in the O.T. [the Septuagint], the unity of God is a confession derived from experience of God’s unique reality. The decisive advance in the New Testament, caused by God Himself, is the basing of the unity and uniqueness of God on the unique revelation through and in the one man Jesus Christ.

We base unity either on reason, experience, or the person and work of Jesus Christ. Biblical unity is the unanimous agreement concerning the unique revelation of God through Jesus Christ. Unless we can agree on the person and work of Jesus Christ, there can be no unity. Yes, my brethren, if we cannot get along because of doctrinal differences that are outside of this then what is wrong?

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17 ESV)

The number one accusation thrown at those who take up the armor of God and use it in the battle as they are called to do, is that they are full of pride. Those who use this fiery dart are equating certainty with pride. Extra Biblical revelation should not be used in the battle by God’s warriors. Instead, the source of truth that is used is the sword of the Spirit itself, the Word of God. Experience is extra-Biblical. Man’s teachings, if contrary to the Word of God, are extra-Biblical. One’s own private interpretation of Scripture and/or experience is extra-Biblical.

These battles may appear to cause disunity in the Body, but unity that is held together through compromise is false. Christians should never seek to be yoked up with those who hold doctrine or beliefs that are contrary to the truth from God’s Word or are based solely on extra Biblical sources. Unity in the Body of Christ is commanded in God’s Word, but that unity is not based in compromise, but love and humility within those who are obedient to the truth based on the unique revelation through and in the one man Jesus Christ.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becomingSo obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11 ESV)

The Greek word Paul used here for “encouragement” is παρακλησις or paraklesis. This word means, “imploration, hortation, solace, comfort, consolation, exhortation, or intreaty.” It comes from the Greek word that means “to come alongside and help.” It is used by our Lord to describe the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of His sheep. What Paul is saying in the phrase, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ,” is that if it is true that our Lord does counsel, exhort, and encourage us then “complete [his] joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

Paul is saying that believers must cultivate the mind of Christ and the product of that will be to minister to one another the way He ministers to them. Paul tells them that his joy will be complete if he finds that they are doing this. Paul’s joy was tied to concern for the unity of believers. This unity is not one of compromise with heresies or disobedient brethren. It is one that is cultivated in common obedience to God’s appointed leaders who keeps watch over their souls.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17 ESV)

Those who are unified this way are bonded together because everyone operates together as each other’s servants. Selfish ambition and conceit are attitudes that are used by our enemy in the form of temptations in order that he may sow discord in the Body. As long as we see everyone else in the Body of Christ as as better than us then we have the right mindset. Not only is this concern an attitude, but it is action in us looking after the interests of others. We minister to each other as family.

Unity in the Body of Christ is commanded in the Word of God. We must seek it in all humility and service to one another. However, this is not a command to be unified with those who hold false doctrines and heresies or are under the teaching of heretics and false teachers. We must not be unified with wolves in sheep’s clothing. We must not base our own theology on extra-Biblical sources, no matter how much we respect the one who is leading us into their teachings. In fact, we must seek to correct those who are in these errors, gently yet firmly always with the intent of restoration as they repent.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men. (2Timothy 3:1-9 ESV)

Soli Deo Gloria!

10 thoughts on “Christian Unity

  1. Thank you, Mike for this article! We as believers who take on the fiery darts of our attackers because we love God’s Word and His people are made to think that we are the divisive ones in the church, not those who are teaching false doctrine. God bless you!

  2. “We must not base our own theology on extra-Biblical sources, no matter how much we respect the one who is leading us into their teachings.”

    There is a real need to tread with care regarding statements such as these. The reality is that everyone’s theology, to some degree or another, is based on extra-Biblical sources, whether that be our parents, the pastor of our church, favored teachers both living and dead (Calvin, Luther, Arminius, Wesley, just to name a few big historical ones). We tend to gravitate towards certain theological systems that are themselves extra-Biblical, although they draw on the Bible. And we all have our personal heresies that we’ve gathered as we live our life…to believe otherwise is to deceive ourselves.

    The key, I think, is to recognize that there are genuine, thoughtful men and women who have gone before us, and become part of the “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) urging us forward in the faith. We can and should stand upon their shoulders to aid us in our understanding of the person, nature, and plan of God. However, realizing that they are human, and therefore cannot perfectly understand or communicate the whole truth of Scripture (1 Cor 13:9), we must be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11), ensuring that what we receive as spiritual, doctrinal, and moral truth is consistent with the whole witness of Scripture. And, as the apostle Paul wrote, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Php. 4:8)

    And finally, realizing that we are likewise human, and therefore cannot perfectly understand or communicate the whole truth of Scripture, we should examine ourselves prayerfully with care and humility to ensure that our understanding is complete and correct before we presume to correct (speaking the truth in love – Eph 4:15) another believer.

  3. Thanks Mike. Finding Unity in these troubled waters is nothing new, otherwise Jesus would not have prayed for it in John 17. Church History is rife with the on-going battles of false teachers and power struggles. At this time in my life I find myself “in the wilderness”. I no longer attend a local church. Not that I don’t want to. It’s just that I find all of the leadership essentially the same. Pastors of all denominations act alike, even the ones I agree with doctrinally. They all treat “their” churches like small businesses with themselves as the CEO. Most of them have their wives and other family members in leadership even if there are more qualified and experienced men in the church. Once again, nothing new under the sun. We know Roman Catholic priests appointed their nephews and cousins to become priests, etc…. Nepotism and other forms of corruption are acceptable practices in all denominations. Pastors know it is wrong, but they do it anyways. They justify it . . . just like the world.

    ps: Amen Bob

  4. Mike,

    Great post – as usual :-) One thing I’ve run into that is just as essential in true unity is the willingness to obey Scripture in confronting a brother who you think has done you wrong. As Ken Sandy points out in his book, The Peacemaker, running away is not a biblical mode of conflict resolution. Far too many Christians refuse to confront one another, allowing a root of bitterness or hardness of heart to start growing.

    Humility all around is needed – none of us is perfect and has any reason for being prideful or condescending.

  5. Hi and blessings to you!

    It is so simple. We must stand firm in and for the Truth of God’s Word. True unity of the brethren will be gathered around the Truth.

    Those who stray from the truth or decry those holding firmly to it, they are the ones separating themselves from the true unity around the truth, not us.

    They must come to us and not us to them, we must unite around the truth of God, not the lies of the enemy. They are welcome to join us in the truth anytime they are ready… ( :

    We cannot sacrifice Truth for unity. We couldn’t even if we wanted to (for true unity) since they go together. True unity is unity around the Truth. But we cannot sacrifice Truth of doctrine at the altar of unity (false unity). That is compromising. We can’t seek unity at the expense of truth when truth is the goal and real unity will align around it.

    If we warn of heresy, we are being loving, if we don’t, we aren’t. Let that blind man fall into a ditch and injure himself and see if he thinks you were being loving by not warning him instead of warning him.

    Truth of God’s Word always comes first, even if we lose everyone else along the way. This is what the bible teaches. In Revelation, a title of Christ is the “Word of God.”

    They will hate us, they will call us the ‘haters.’ Jesus warned us of this. The days are coming when they will put us to death for not compromising on the Truth of God’s Word. Not only that, they will think they are doing God a service by doing so. Stand firm till the end!

    Mighty blessings to you Mike, and to all who stand firm in His Word!

  6. “If we warn of heresy, we are being loving, if we don’t, we aren’t. Let that blind man fall into a ditch and injure himself and see if he thinks you were being loving by not warning him instead of warning him.” Amen, Mary!

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