Christian unity is one of the highest Christian goals, which is why we are always encouraging one another to grow in unity.
Toward that end, we have all heard (or said) things like this:
“We need to all grow together in unity!”
“We all must come together in unity on this subject!”
“We invite you to join us as we grow in unity with one another!”
But sometimes I wonder…. is it really unity we are after, or just keeping the peace?
Is Unity the Same as Keeping the Peace?
Often times (in my experience anyway), what is called “unity” really just boils down to a mutually agreed upon list of beliefs and behaviors that are considered “safe” by everyone within the group. The controversial activities and hot-button topics are considered “off limits” so that everyone can be “unified.” But again, is this really unity?
I have trouble thinking that “agreeing to not discuss certain topics” is what Jesus meant by “unity” when He prayed that we would be one as He and the Father are one (John 17:21). It seems that this is not true unity, but is a forced unity… a fake unity. a unity that is based not on love for other people no matter what, but is based instead on a mutual agreement to not discuss certain subjects or do certain things when we are together.
I do, of course, remember what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians about giving up some of his freedoms for the sake of other Christians, and while I understand that this is an essential part of growing in unity, I wonder if this is all that unity is…. you know… a list of rules about what not to talk about around Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins, a set of behaviors to not do when in the presence of Pastor Jim, a personal interest to keep hidden from Elder Bob, and my political leanings to stay silent about around Miss Morrell.
Is this real unity? Hiding who we really are from other people just so we can get along?
Is True Unity Possible?
I have a real hard time believe it is, but at the same time, this seems to be the most unified we Christians can get. There are so many differences of opinion on nearly ever subject under the sun and every behavior imaginable, how in the world can we ever be unified? It is impossible to think that we will all become clones of each other, thinking and behaving in exactly the same way, so how can we grow in unity if there will never be unity of thought and unity of behavior this side of heaven? (And maybe not even then???)
I have been thinking on this for a long time, and while I don’t have the answers, I think I am beginning to see a speck of light on how to grow in unity with one another, while still allowing for great disunity on a vast array of theological beliefs and Christian behaviors.
I think that unity in diversity truly is possible within the family of God, but only if we recognize something first about unity.
The Key to True Unity
The key to true unity is to make sure that unity is never the goal. I don’t think that unity can be a goal of Christian faith and practice. I think unity is a result of Christian faith and practice.
When we seek unity as a goal, we do things to try to discourage disunity, which ends up stifling and stopping the conditions required for true unity. When unity becomes the goal, we may end up with peace, but we will never find true unity. True unity requires openness and honesty, but if unity is the goal, then nobody can be fully open and honest. And without openness and honesty, any unity we end up with is fake unity.
So where does true unity come from? How do we arrive at the unity which Jesus desires for His church?
We simply change what we are seeking.
Rather than seeking unity, we seek love. Love is the key to unity. Love forgives when we are wronged. Love shrugs off differences of opinion. Love overlooks disagreements about behavior. When we truly love people, differing political opinions and theological persuasions become enjoyable topics for conversation, rather than issues for division and strife.
If I meet someone and my goal is unity, then I will soon desire conformity of beliefs and behaviors to what I think is right and proper so that the two of us can be unified. But since no two people are ever identical in everything they think and do, unity will never occur.
But if, however, I just seek to love them, then unity will be a byproduct of our friendship, because conformity is never an issue. In fact, while similar interests bring friends together, diversity of opinion keeps friendship interesting. Diversity is the seasoning that gives flavor to good friendships. Learning from others and being challenged by others is one of the things that keeps friends together. But if unity of thought and unity of behavior is the goal of friendship, then friends will not remain friends for very long for total unity is never possible.
But with love as the goal, friends can rejoice and revel in their differences and in this way, be unified despite the numerous differences.
So don’t seek unity. Seek love. Seek friendships. And as you spend time with them in their joys and sorrows, engage with them in common activities, offer help in times of need, and hang out with them in the day-to-day events of life. This is how friendships develop. This is where love grows. And as a result of loving friendships, unity blossoms and thrives.
Seek unity before love and you get neither; seek love before unity, and you discover both.
This post is part of a Chain Blog. If you’d like to write a blog post on the theme of “real relational unity”, here are the rules…
Chain blog rules:
1) If you would like to write the next blog post (link) in this chain, leave a comment stating that you would like to do so. If someone else has already requested to write the next link, then please wait for that blog post and leave a comment there requesting to write the following link.
2) Feel free to leave comments here and discuss items in this blog post without taking part in the actual “chain.” Your comments and discussion are very important in this chain blog (both on this post and the other link posts in the chain).
3) When you write a link in this chain, please reply in the comments of the previous post to let everyone know that your link is ready. Also, please try to keep an updated list of links in the chain at the bottom of your post, and please include these rules at the bottom of your post.
“Links” in the “Real Relational Unity” chain blog:
- “Chain Blog: Real Relational Unity” by Alan
- “The Treasure of Unity ‘in’ our Relationships” by Jim
- “So The World May Know – Observations on the Road to Unity” by Christopher
- “Christian Unity – What it is and What it’s not” by Nathan
- “Steps to Relational Unity” by Randi
- “Learn to Live or Live to Learn” by Greg
- “The Limits on Unity” by Arthur
- “Joints of Supply” by David
- “Some Examples of Real Relational Unity” by Alan
- “An example of relational unity” by Greg
- “Relational unity begins at home” by Kathleen
- “Do not Seek Christian Unity” by Jeremy
Who will write the next link post in the chain?
Jeremy N Ang Partain on Facebook says
Great post, Jeremy! Likewise, it seems like a “break in unity” often is really more a break in love. I appreciate your thoughts here—thanks for writing this… -Jer
John Fisher says
Jeremy, as I often do when I read your thoughts I’m again finding myself a going pretty meta; I spend time thinking about the ideas you present as I read them, but then I spend even more time wondering about how you think through issues and the mental framework you use to approach the issues you discuss on this blog. I still can’t really tell if the way you express ideas here is actually the way you would think about and express them, or if finding an extra-controversial way to express something that isn’t too controversial is part of the art of blogging, catching people’s attention and sparking discussion.
In any case, reading this post took me through a common thought process I have reading your posts: Read the title – ‘hmm, he can’t really mean that, can he?’ Read the first couple of paragraphs – ‘OK, I totally agree with that premise.’ A couple paragraphs later – ‘OK, I totally disagree with that conclusion. How do we agree entirely on a premise then reach entirely opposite conclusions?’ And after finishing the article – ‘OK, never-mind, we basically agree on the most important ideas, he just approaches thinks with a philosophical framework so incongruous from mine that even the things we agree on are going to sound totally different.’
In this case, I agree entirely when you say that Christian often emphasize the goal of unity but what many end up mistakenly pursuing something else (I wouldn’t exactly call it ‘peace’ either). However, when you conclude that we need to not seek unity I say quite the opposite; instead of “Do Not Seek Christian Unity” I would say “Actually Seek Christian Unity.”
I agree with your statement that “Love is the key to unity” but disagree with “The key to true unity is to make sure that unity is never the goal.” We can’t choose not to seek unity anymore than we can choose not to seek love, when Jesus discusses a desire for unity in John 17 he would certainly find pursuing unity without love to be absurd, but as He and Paul in 1 Corinthians labored to demonstrate the two are inextricably linked an mutually necessary, your unity isn’t genuine if you are not building it on love, but neither is your love genuine if you are not growing in unity.
Jeremy Myers says
I don’t know how I write the posts or why I write them as I do. I want to make people think, and I see that Jesus often stated things in a way that challenged the status quo. I am not comparing myself to Jesus, but when I write, I try to follow this example and state things in a way that will help us all think together about what it means to follow Jesus.
Anyway, I see your point about the title of this post. We can seek unity, and should seek unity, but it is a byproduct of love. If we seek unity over love, we will get neither, but if we seek love, we get unity as well.
Maybe I could have been more careful about the title, but usually, I just write whatever title comes to mind first, and move on…
The definition of “unity” tends to be all over the map. Like you, in Christian circles I have seen it most often used to mean agreement in doctrine, Bible interpretation down to the smallest details, politics, cultural issues and of course “culture war” issues.
Many church leaders want no disagreement on these issues, no “boat-rocking”. Keep the flock calm at all costs. They mistake no visible dissent for “unity”. The majority of any group may agree on any given issue, but total agreement is rare and unusual. To make sure there are no dissenters usually means control, which in itself often means someone(s) who relishes being the controller.
I often tell people “I don’t need you to agree with me”. Few will say “But I need you to agree with me”, not in those words, but will give a long explanation that says exactly that.
We avoid people and groups who want to brainwash us so we will be part of their “group-think” mentality. We seek love, not conformity.
Jeremy Myers says
Love, not conformity. Yep! We are not the “Borg” from that Star Trek: First Contact. “Resistance if Futile! You will be assimilated!” so that we all think alike and look alike.
Ironically, many of us still think this way about the future “new heavens and new earth.” I wonder however if there will be room for debate even then? Or will we all be assimilated?
Michael McLean says
The motto I was taught is this:
In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things charity. (credit to Dr. Norm Geisler)
In other words, there are some non-negotiables (the trinity, the divinity of Jesus, etc). But most of the fights are over nonessentials (age of the earth, method of baptism, eschatology, etc). I do agree that the key is love. Remembering that the Calvinist with whom you’re arguing is also your brother and someone for whom Christ died is essential to being able to argue without breaking fellowship. That, I believe, is true unity.
Jeremy Myers says
That’s a great motto and you are right about the centrality of love.
Of course, we can even be friends with people who do not agree on the trinity, the divinity of Jesus, etc, but as friends, not as members of God’s family.
Michael McLean says
I totally agree. We can and should be friendly towards everyone, regardless of their belief system. I think somehow our society has lost that ability over the last 20-30 years, or so it seems. I remember as a child hearing adults have very animated discussions over various points of theology, then sit down and eat together once the argument was over. That’s rare anymore. It seems increasingly that people want to either avoid certain topics altogether or refuse to fellowship with anyone with whom they disagree.
Very sad – and something that needs to have a light shone on it more often. Thanks, Jeremy.
John Fisher says
I certainly wouldn’t argue with the “in all thing’s charity” part, but I don’t know if the rest of the Geisler quote is really illuminating. Because, while of course it should be in love that we maintain any discourse with others whether we are of like mind or not, how do we really determine what are and are not ‘essentials’ that determine whether we are truly in communion with one another.
Just using your examples, I would point out that one could reasonably make a sound argument that when examining the Scriptures a Baptism’s precise meaning and effectatiousness might be up for debate, but the method is clearly intended to via full immersion, so it must be essential; on the other hand the Trinity is never explicitly described, it’s precise nature must be interpreted by examining the Scripture as a whole and it’s nature was not explicitly defined until 3-4 centuries after Christ’s death after extensive debate by leaders that many today consider far from infalliable.
Given this, how can you consider method of baptism non-essential but the nature of the Trinity essential? Note that I do agree with you on these particular issues, but I very much struggle myself on what I would consider ‘essential’ to being truly being united in and what isn’t.
Jeremy Myers says
Yeah, we do argue over some crazy stuff in Christianity. Of course, as they say, “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure” and I think this is true in theology as well. “One person’s nonessential is another person’s nonnegotiable.”
Clive Clifton says
There is no chance of unity this side of heaven inside or outside the Church, as it’s always about the Me in our lives. Unity can only be achieved by unconditional love.
You said would there be debate in heaven, why on earth would you want demonic debate in a Kingdom where there is no need of it.
All religions spend their life debating the truth instead of accepting it.
My friend thinks he will still be doing DIY when he gets to Heaven (bit of an assumption there) otherwise he would be bored. There will be no solicitors, doctors, judges, refuse collection, joiners, plumbers etc.
Heaven will be like a luxury liner where God is the liner and the crew. The work ethic on earth is not applicable in heaven, as it was never intended to be on earth. Have a look at Eden.
Independence is an earthly thing, not Heavenly.
On earth God lives in us, in heaven we live in God.
Jeremy Myers says
Right on, Clive! Love is the key to unity, and we grow together as a body, not in independence.
Agreed! 🙂 God’s love flowing through us is the primary goal. Unity will follow! Give up trying to get it for yourself – and it will be given to you — type thing. Stop striving for it and surrender to Him and then we can receive it! So true. If we focus on trying to have unity, it will be a fake unity and we will be afraid to disagree and will eventually just be people pleasers. But if we are focused on allowing God’s love to flow through us onto others — our motive & focus will be right. we will be able to disagree & still love. Disagree and not separate. Love is what binds!!!!
Jeremy Myers says
Love, love, love! It was modeled by Jesus as He became friends with all people, especially the sinners! I think He could have even been friends with the Pharisees if they had also wanted to befriend them. In fact, Nicodemus is a great example…
I believe the delineation you’ve made between seeking unity vs love is more than blog fodder.
This is, for those thus inclined, pulpit and living room meat and potatoes, and there could be at least one book or seminar within its wrappings.
The practice of loving our neighbor in its many forms of respect, patience, listening, teaching, etc, shrouded within healthy debate and consensus, has been displaced in the public square by clever innuendo, diatribes and opinions. And if I’m reading my history correctly, the fault lays at the feet of the church, who generally have dropped the ball on tolerance and unity in diversity.
As a matter of fact, there seems to be a secular ecumenism developing in the public square, but based upon mass capitulation to pagan values.
I’ve experienced loving, uncompromising, non conformity unity, within deep christian relationships over 4 decades, so far.
It’s been messier than the federal Budget and cost me about as much, but I’d do it over again, because having lost almost everything and almost everyone at one point or another, I gained the fellowship of Jesus sufferings. That sounds morbid when I read it back to myself, but its not at all.
I think its the narrow gate we must go through if we will enter the kingdom in this life.
Anyway, thanks for unlocking this gem.
Jeremy Myers says
Thanks, Greg! I didn’t think the post was THAT groundbreaking, but I think you are on to something about the church’s involvement (or lack thereof) in the current state of affairs in the world. This requires more thought!
Max Armstrong says
Like the immature pre teen who has a vocabulary littered with the word, “mature”, is the Christian who has a vocabulary littered with the word “unity”. When one reaches a true state of maturity or unity the word itself is often dropped from ones vocabulary.
Jeremy Myers says
Hmm, interesting point. The more people talk about unity, often the less unified they are!
Ntjufen Rostand says
A reader from France.
This is indeed a great post, Jeremy. You sometimes make me think it would be great for you to write fictions on Bible stories like Gene Edwards did, and sometimes puzzle me with the depth of your thoughts. And as I praise the Almighty who have bestowed you these insights, I can’t help send you my best feelings. Great.
The theme of Unity is one of the favorite ones that the so-called “Christian Leaders” use to beat down the saints with, making them shy and guilty, leading them on the wrong direction. Now it’s time to spread this inspired thought and let Elohim’s people know they are on the wrong way. Love, first, and unity must derive from that love. Let me finish with this quote: “There is perhaps nothing worse than
reaching the top of the ladder and discovering that you’re on the wrong wall.” —Joseph Campbell.
Justin Steckbauer says
Excellent post! Great job.
Ephesians 4:3-16 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it[a] says:
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”[b]
9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions[c]? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Seems like a great scripture on unity. I think the issue here is that in the body of Christ two things are lacking, a humble attitude and a loving heart to serve. The arm, say, the preacher condemns the leg, say an apologist because he doesn’t conduct business like the arm, the leg condemns the arm because it won’t act as the leg does. But the leg has it’s duty, so does the arm, they both have their ways, both correct, but both are so self righteous, they attack one another. Pure foolishness.
In addition,many are so busy making a point, for personal glory, they fail to make a difference, which is the sacrifice for the good of the body.
Sometimes I have to lose the argument for the sake of winning the person.
Jeremy Myers says
Yes, humility is the beginning point of unity.
Thank you for these thoughts; they were instrumental in helping me form a sermon this evening – I quoted from you quite a bit, so thought you should know!
If you’re interested, the link is here:
Jeremy Myers says
Thank you very much. I will share the sermon on my social sites.
Thank you! I’m glad you think it’s worth sharing
Godfrey E. McAllister aka Doctor Perspective says
Thank you for taking the time to opine on this critical issue of Christian Unity. I found your contribution extremely stipulating, and as a result, I would like to write the next blog in that chain, in part, in response to yours.
I am a total novice as it relates to maneuvering on this website, although I am a seasoned blogger on Our Daily Bread’s site. I would appreciate any guidance you can give concerning obtaining permission to continue this chain on the subject on which you so eminently wrote
James Taiwo says
Thank you Jeremy for a thoughtful article on Christian Unity. This is indeed get someone to think about how to be committed to other people for the sake of Christ and God’s kingdom.