“To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ …….. each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”(Ephesians 4:11-16)
How important is it for the Church to be united and pure? The answer is apparent in another question: How important are the following characteristics of God? How important is it that God be holy, separated from all defilement? How important is the righteousness of God to His nature? Again, how important is the unity of the Trinity? How important is love as a characteristic of God? The Church was designed to be both holy and united in love. When it is unholy or divided, it denies the character of God.
To the extent the Church loses this basic character of God, it loses its power. When either the unity or the purity is lost, the Body of Christ no longer has a right to expect its ministry to be fruitful. A fighting, bickering, divided church projects an image of God that can be expected to turn people away. It is when people see the love that disciples have for one another that they believe (John 13:35). When the church compromises and becomes hypocritical either in doctrine or in life, the power is drained off.
But this is not all. A disunited church or a compromising church not only denies the character of God and loses its testimony to the world but cannot adequately fulfill God’s purpose for its own members. For each member to grow into the likeness of Christ, the relations among the members ought to be right. Consider the worship experience of the church. For example, Paul (Romans 15:5-7) connects unity with the capacity to worship. Can a disunited body bring true worship to the triune One?
God designed the Church to be a true family; the eternal blood ties of Calvary are even stronger than human blood ties. It is in the context of this koinonia or loving mingling of life that God does His work of building Christians into the likeness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). This is no superficial Sunday-club relationship. God intended an intimate sharing of life on the pattern of the character of God. Furthermore, to have such family solidarity, there must be discipline. Fellowship without purity of faith and life is flawed at its core. Unity and purity are interdependent elements of a single relationship. Just as in the family so it is in the church that where either love or discipline is missing, the children will be greatly handicapped. “Love without criticism brings stagnation, criticism without love brings destruction.”
And yet, as it is difficult for theologians to balance the justice and mercy of God, and as it is difficult for parents to balance firm discipline and loving acceptance, so it is very difficult for the Church to maintain unity and purity at the same time. It is much easier to go to a consistent extreme than to stay at the center of biblical tension. Whether in the local congregation or in the Church at large, the Church of Jesus Christ seems incapable of living out both godlike oneness and godlike purity simultaneously. The result is that the reflection of God’s image is distorted, the evangelistic thrust of the church is blunted, and Christians are stunted in spiritual growth.
On a larger scale, the Church universal, there is a great polarization between the professional unifiers on the one hand and the professional purifiers on the other. It seems that a person must work at uniting all churches no matter how delinquent in doctrine or life or that he must give himself wholly to separating all the wheat from the tares. Now!
Do not misunderstand. Separation is good. This is the very meaning of the word “holy” or “sanctify.” But there is an unholy separation that begins in the neglect of the complementary characteristic of love, descends quickly into an unlawful judgmental role, and ends in the terrible sin of schism.
Unity is good, it is the ultimate character of God and is His revealed will for the church. But there is an unholy unity that begins by failing in faithfulness, quickly descends to unbiblical compromise and ends in the terrible sin of impurity, defilement of faith or life.
Is there no solution to this great dilemma? Can we have success in one characteristic only at the expense of the other? I believe God intended that we be successful in both at once. Furthermore, I believe He has given clear and rather simple instructions for achieving success in both. How do we work this out in our lives?
Consider the area in which you live out being the church. How can you balance unity and purity in your ministry? Pray for uncommon wisdom in building this intimate sharing of life together on the pattern of the character of God.
 John W. Gardner, Journal of Educational Research, “Uncritical Lovers, Unloving Critics” 5.5, 1969.