Back in the 1960s and 70s when unbiblical ecumenism was at its height, most evangelicals shunned the whole area of Christian Unity lest they be accused of being on the ‘Rome-ward trend’ or suspected of not being a real evangelical. Unity is not a noticeable feature of Presbyterianism. Its history has been marked more by division and fragmentation. The number of Presbyterian denominations in Scotland, Ireland and America confirm this observation. Some of the divisions though have been necessary, for example, on grounds of upholding fundamental theological Biblical orthodoxy, and many have paid the price for their faithful stand in the face of a ‘unity at any price’ mentality.
In today’s world there is an urgent need for evangelical ecumenism and for the voice of Biblical Christianity to be heard in our nation today. John Murray wrote: “The mysterious unity of believers with one another must come to visible expression so as to be instrumental in bringing conviction to the world.” 1.Evangelicals have at times been more concerned with finding grounds for separation rather than seeking after the unity of the Spirit.
The Basis of Christian Unity
The fundamentals of Christian belief form the basis of any unity among true believers. Belief in the triune God, the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the lost condition of mankind and salvation in no other name than that of Christ Jesus, and heaven and hell being the respective two final abodes of the saved and the lost. This is not an exhaustive list of evangelical belief but indicates an evangelical identity.
Too often unity is sought among people not of like mind. Where there are divergent views on the fundamentals of the faith Christian unity cannot be attained. “Relationships can never be a substitute for embracing the truth of God.” 2 “But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his son cleanses from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ not only brings us into union with him, but with all who are Joined to him. You cannot have Christ apart from his people.” 3
The Beauty of Christian Unity
The Psalmist speaks of the loveliness of Christian unity in the sight of God. John takes up this theme in Chapter 17 of his Gospel. We see the unity between Christ and the Father and Jesus prays that his children “may be one as we are one”. This expression of unity seen in the Triune God is the example of unity that God wants to see among his people. The unity of God’s people is something that must be guarded and protected because of its unique beauty. The church of Jesus Christ is described as “the glorious body of Christ.” C H Spurgeon has commented: “When brethren can and do dwell in unity, then is their communion worthy to be gazed upon and sung of in holy psalmody.” 4The unity of God’s people is good, pleasant and precious and we must guard against those forces that seek to destroy that which is pleasing unto God. The Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of “The Communion of Saints” in describing the unity that is to be maintained among believers. Peter describes a Christian as being a “partaker of the divine nature” reminding us that Christ, by his Holy Spirit dwells within us. Every member of the body of Christ is gifted by the Holy Spirit and in our service for Christ we are to edify one another and seek to maintain “an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God.” WCF 26.2.
Yet within this unity there is diversity. Paul illustrates this by his picture of the body. It is made up of many parts but each having a different function. Every single member of the church is important and has a part to play in edifying of one another. Such expressions of love and service are beautiful to God and a testimony of his saving grace.
The Blessings of Christian Unity
Keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is Paul’s instruction of how we are to live as God’s people. It is from unity that the “blessing descends”. Unity is not something that we make, it is something that we are to maintain. For years noted liberal church leaders have sought to create a unity that is really only a uniformity. True Christian unity already exists and believers are to seek to maintain that unity.
Psalm 133 speaks of blessing that the Lord commands, showing his favour on those who display concord, peace and unity among God’s people. Paul expresses the same sentiment towards the end of 2 Corinthians: “be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” The picture of the early church in Acts 2 shows a unity – all who believed were together, and it tells of the blessing, the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. It cannot go unnoticed that time and time again the New Testament epistles stress the importance of God’s people being of one mind.
Let us endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace of Ephesians 4:3 because,
The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord:
She is his new creation
By water and the word...