“…keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit…one faith…one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)
God designed the Church on the pattern of his own character. But today that pattern is twisted and distorted, sometimes beyond recognition. What is the character of God? “Hear, 0 Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut. 6:4). God is one, and he intended his church to be one. …”keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit…one faith…one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:3-6). “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty” (Rev. 4:8). What is the character of God? He is holy, and he intended his Church to be pure, undefiled in faith and in life. “Put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (1 Corinthians 5:13).
How important is it for the Church to be united and pure? The answer is apparent in another question. How important are these 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 disunited, 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 relationships 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?
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. 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, within 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, then 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.
It is significant that the New Testament emphasis on both unity and purity has to do with the local congregation. There the presence or absence of unity or purity is most visible to the world. And that is where the battle for unity or purity will be won or lost. The local congregation is also where unity and purity are most difficult to achieve and maintain.
As you finish today’s reading, ask yourself, “Is unity in your congregation seen not only in the absence of conflict, but also by caring relationships that provide a safe haven for all and a sense of family solidarity?”