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Unity & Division: Bible Teaching about Ecumenical Diversity

Biblical Unity & Biblical Division
What Plan Should We Follow to Unite People Religiously?

What does the Bible teach about religious unity and fellowship instead of division? Should we be united in diversity and the ecumenical movement? How important are love, attitudes, compromise, rebuke, truth, and error?

Men have invented many plans to achieve religious unity and fellowship, yet division continues. What plan does God have to unite the church? Should we accept unity in diversity and the ecumenical movement? How important are love and proper attitudes? Should we compromise with doctrines and overlook practices that differ from the Bible, or should we rebuke and oppose error and seek unity based on truth?

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Introduction:

Most people would agree that religious unity is important.

Many plans have been proposed to unite people religiously, yet the religious world remains tragically divided. World religions are divided from one another. So-called Christian denomination are divided. The Lord's church has suffered major divisions in the first century and since.

The purpose of this lesson is to study the Bible teaching about unity and division.

We will see that the Bible has both a plan for unity and a plan for division, and we will contrast these plans with various human plans for unity.

This study is not intended to answer every question people might ask, but it should establish a foundation as the basis for further personal study.

I. Human Plans for Unity

A. Examples of Human Plans

Men have invented and promoted various methods designed to unite people religiously. Consider a few examples:

Earthly headquarters or central governing bodies

Most religious groups have a central organization. They claim this promotes unity because the central organization can settle disputes, define doctrine, etc.

Man-made creeds

Most religious groups also write official, authoritative statements of faith. These are supposed to promote unity since members can appeal to the creed when differences arise.

Miracles & Direct Revelations

Some teach that living apostles and prophets produce unity, since people can appeal to "inspired men" to settle disputes.

The ecumenical movement or "unity in diversity"

This is basically unity by compromise: differences in belief and practice are ignored. People with contradictory beliefs agree to participate in joint activities but never rebuke one another. There is little effort to seek unity based on Scripture. Instead, people just "agree to disagree" without telling one another that they need to repent and change.

In the 1970's this concept was championed in the Lord's church as a "new unity movement" initiated by Carl Ketcherside, Leroy Garret, Charles Holt, and others. They first taught that, if anyone was Scripturally baptized, we should not object to his form of worship, church organization, etc. So, they fellowshiped people who used instruments, supported church institutions, premillennialism, etc. Eventually they concluded that even baptism does not matter, so they could fellowship denominationalists.

Universalism

The ultimate conclusion of "unity in diversity" is that everyone will be saved regardless of doctrine or practice. Most ecumenical advocates will not go this far, but only because they are inconsistent. If people can disregard some of God's commands and still be saved, why not any or all of His commands? Where do you stop? Those who imbibe the "unity in diversity" spirit invariably become looser and looser in whom they accept.

B. Consider a Basic Truth: Every Plan for Unity Automatically Results in Division.

In practice, no plan will ever produce complete unity; instead, every plan always contributes to more division!

Consider the plans we have listed. Have these plans resulted in complete unity?

Central headquarters and creeds: Most denominations have them, but have they united the religious world? No, groups divide about which creed and headquarters to accept! And most denominations continue to splinter as they argue about what the creed should teach!

Prophets and miracles: Many groups claim to have them, but are they all united? No, they just divide over which prophet to follow (Smith, White, Eddy, etc.). Even groups who accept a particular prophet eventually splinter among themselves (various groups of Mormons).

"Unity in diversity": People who advocate it are divided among themselves about how much diversity to accept: homosexuals, Jews, Buddhists? Division remains because, no matter where you draw the line, some one is always on the other side of the line!

Every time two groups "unite" to form a new group, there are people from both the old groups that refuse to accept the new group. So the old groups still remain, plus there is now a new third group! People have produced division in the name of unity!

The fact is that every time someone invents a new plan for unity, there will always be some people who will not accept that plan. So the result is more division! In practice, no one ever will invent a plan that will achieve complete unity, because there will always be some people that will reject the plan!

So, every new unity movement is inherently self-defeating. The more unity plans you have, the more reasons you give people to divide! Every plan for unity automatically becomes a cause of division.

Specifically, every "unity in diversity" movement in churches of Christ creates and justifies division!

Many churches have been divided by those who spread new "unity" concepts.

When members of a local church accept some new theory of unity, strife results between them and other members who reject the theory. The result often divides the congregation! There are people with whom we were once united in the Round Lake church, till they began advocating new concepts of fellowship. Now we are divided from them.

Loose views of unity gradually lead people to seek unity with almost everyone except those who reject their view of unity. The practical end result is: "Nearly everybody is all right, except those people who deny that everybody is all right! We tolerate almost everyone except those people who say we should not tolerate everyone." They claim that division can be solved by being open minded and listening to one another. But watch how long they will open mindedly listen to you, if you try to tell them doctrine does matter and we have to obey the Bible!

The result is that followers of the new unity theory become alienated from those with whom they were formerly united, and a new division results in the church - a unity sect! And again, every plan of unity results in division!

Further, in the name of condemning division, these plans really justify division.

They say that diverse and contradictory practices should be overlooked. But this fails to recognize that doctrinal differences actually do produce division. Ignoring the differences actually justifies a root cause of division.

Division is not caused just by improper attitudes. It is also caused by real doctrinal differences. Even if you believe the two go hand-in-hand, the fact remains that, to solve the division we must eliminate wrong doctrines as well as wrong attitudes. Otherwise we are not really condemning division; we are overlooking the cause of it.

Denominationalists do this regularly. They say, "It doesn't matter what you believe as long as you're sincere, so just join the church of your choice. We're all going to the same place, but by different roads." This is just an extreme form of unity in diversity views of some in Jesus' church.

Such views have not united denominations, so how can they unite the Lord's church? The approach cannot produce unity because it ignores the root causes of division.

Note: I am not criticizing these ideas simply because they have failed to produce unity. I criticize them because:

(1) They are not Scriptural. We will see that the gospel teaches a plan of unity that differs from all these plans.

(2) In the name of condemning division, they actually justify division. They say we should ignore doctrinal differences, even though these differences have always been a major cause of division. They attempt to achieve unity by justifying people who are cause division.

(3) Those who hold these doctrines are self-contradictory. They claim that we cause division because we reject other people's beliefs, but then they cause division by rejecting our beliefs! What's the difference? Ultimately they are guilty of exactly what they accuse others of.

II. The Scriptural Plan for Unity

A. God's Plan for Unity Is: Everyone Should Love God and Other People Enough to Learn, Preach, and Practice the Truth and to Oppose Error.

Those who do this will be united with everyone else who does it. Note that Biblical unity is based on faithfulness to truth and opposing error. Consider these passages:

John 17:20-23

Jesus prayed for all who believe in Him to be one. This means we have the Father and Son in us and we in them. How should we be one? As the Father and Son are one! If we can find out how They are one, and how we can have them in us, we will know how to be united. Did Jesus do this by overlooking disobedience and not rebuking sin? Let us study other passages in John to see (and see the notes on 1,2,3 John below).

John 8:26-32,40-55 - Jesus preached the truth that the Father taught Him (vv 26,28,40). He practiced what the Father taught, so the Father was with Him (vv 29,55). Note vv 40-47,54,55 - He opposed teaching that was not according to truth. Those who would be His disciples must hear God's words, know the truth, abide in and keep His words (vv 31,32,47,51).

John 12:48-50 - Jesus' word will judge us, for He preached the commandments of His Father, whose commands are life eternal. Note: He spoke just as the Father told Him (v50). [cf. 7:16]

John 14:21-24 - Father and Son will make their abode with us if we love them enough to keep their commandments. [v31; 5:19]

John 15:4-6,10 - If we do not abide in Jesus we are cast forth and burned. We abide in His love if we keep His commands, just as He kept the Father's commands and abides in His love. [cf. v15]

John 17:14-17,20-23 - Jesus gave us the Father's word (v14) so we could be sanctified by truth, which is the Father's word (v17). Then the world will hate us like it did Jesus (vv 14-17). But it hated Jesus because He testified that its works were evil (John 7:7). This is how we can be one as the Father and Son are one (vv 20-23). [Cf. v8.]

So to be one with other believers, we must be one with God like Jesus was: we must love God enough to preach and practice the truth and to oppose error.

1 Corinthians 1:9-13

God called us into fellowship with His Son. We should not be divided, but have the same mind and judgment. Is Christ divided? No! But the Corinthian church was very divided. Paul was writing to help them overcome division. To know how to do this, consider what he told them:

1 Corinthians 1-4 - Paul rebuked division over preachers and human wisdom. He preached the gospel, which is God's power and wisdom - (1:17,18,24). He opposed following human wisdom because their faith should stand in God's power (the gospel), not in human wisdom (1:19-2:5). Specifically, he opposed going beyond what was written - 4:6.

1 Corinthians 5 - Paul commanded them to oppose sin in the church and withdraw from those who were guilty (5:7,8,13). Church discipline is essential to proper unity.

1 Corinthians 11:17-34 - Paul did not praise them for their division regarding the Lord's Supper (vv 17-22). He delivered to them what he had received from the Lord. He insisted that they should do as the Lord taught, and he opposed any changes in this practice (vv 23-29).

1 Corinthians 12-14 - He rebuked their division over spiritual gifts. There should be one body, and no schism in that body (12:12-26). They should care for one another, practice love, and understand that the gifts were temporary (chap. 13). Their assemblies should practice the gifts in an orderly, understandable, edifying way (chap. 14).

Observations: Paul opposed division by opposing the false practices and the improper attitudes that caused the divisions.

Some advocates of new unity theories point out that, despite the improper practices in Corinth, Paul still called it a "church of God." So we should overlook differences in practice.

But note that Corinth was also called a "church of God" despite the fact it was horribly divided! If the fact Corinth is called a "church of God" proves we should stop opposing false practices like they had, then in the same way the fact that Corinth was called a "church of God" would prove that we should quit opposing division like they had.

The truth is that Paul opposed the division and sought to correct it by opposing the wrong attitudes and the wrong practices. That's what we should do.

[See also 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1; 7:8-11; 11:13-15; 13:1,2]

Galatians 5:20

Those guilty of division will not inherit the kingdom of God. The book discusses a disagreement within the church about the Old Law. This was a major cause of division in the early churches. How did Paul teach the churches to deal with this disagreement?

He preached what had been revealed from Jesus (1:11,12; cf. chaps. 3,4).

He opposed anything different, saying those who taught differently were accursed (1:6-9).

He refused to submit to false teaching (2:5).

He opposed one who did not walk uprightly according to the truth of the gospel (2:11-14).

He said that those who followed false teaching fell from grace (5:1-6) [cf. 5:7-12; 6:1]

Again, this division was caused by a doctrinal issue. Paul's dealt with it by teaching proper attitudes and by opposing the false practice and false teaching that led to the strife.

Ephesians 4:1-6

Endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Note that not every form of unity is the unity of the Spirit. The Spirit wants a certain kind of unity. What does it involve?

Practice love and meekness (v2).

Recognize 7 things of which there is only one each that pleases God, including one body (the church - 1:22,23) and one faith (4:4-6). We should not tolerate many different faiths any more than many different Fathers. [Cf. Jude 3]

Ephesians 4:13-15 - Oppose doctrinal error and speak the truth in love. This produces the unity that Christ the Head desires.

Ephesians 5:7-11 - Refuse to practice sin or to fellowship it, but rather reprove it.

Again, true unity requires us to speak in love to oppose the error that leads to division.

1 and 2 John

1 John 1:3 - John wrote so we could have fellowship with the Father, Son, and other Christians. So, John writes about proper fellowship. How he tell us to have this fellowship?

1 John 1:5-2:2 - We must walk in the light as He is in the light, avoid sin, and confess sin when we commit it.

1 John 2:2-6 - We know Him and are in Him (cf. John 17:20f) if we keep His commands and walk as He walked.

1 John 2:7-11 - To abide in the light we must love our brethren. [Cf. 3:11-18; 4:7-21]

1 John 3:3-10,24 - If we abide in Him (v6) we must not practice sin, but purify ourselves, practice righteousness, and keep His commands.

1 John 4:1,6 - Oppose false prophets who are not from God.

1 John 5:2,3 - Love God and others so that we keep God's commands.

2 John 4-6 - Walk in truth (cf. walking in the light), according to God's command, loving one another. [Cf. 3 John 3,4 - Walking in truth]

2 John 9-11 - Abide in Jesus' doctrine and do not share with those who teach otherwise because they have not God (cf. John 17:20,21).

Note again that to have fellowship with God and one another we must teach and practice God's true doctrine in love and oppose error.

[See also Philippians 1:27; 2:2-8; 4:2; Luke 11:17,18; Romans 15:6; 12:16; Galatians 3:28; Acts 1:14; 2:1; 4:24,32; 8:6; chap. 15; 1 Peter 3:8; 4:1-4]

B. Observations about God's Plan for Unity

We have unity with one another when we are all united with God.

Unity among Christians requires being one as the Father and Son are one, being "in the Father and Son," having "fellowship" with God. But being united with God requires loving Him enough to obey His will. So, Biblical unity is achieved through obedience, not through ignoring disobedience!

We displease God when we follow a plan for unity that differs from His plan.

Galatians 1:8,9; 2 John 9; Matthew 15:9; Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 14:12; Colossians 3:17 and other passages teach us not to follow practices that differ from God's word. But God has a plan for unity, just like He has a plan for forgiveness, worship, etc. Following a humanly devised plan for unity would be just as displeasing as following a humanly devised plan of salvation, etc.

But we have discussed a number of plans for unity that are human plans and that differ from God's plan! This is the main reason we must oppose them.

God's plan for unity requires us to love God and other Christians, to learn the truth, preach the truth, practice the truth, and to oppose error.

This requires proper attitudes. But it also requires obeying truth and opposing error.

"Unity in diversity" defenders often object to preaching that rebukes sin. They say it "drives people away and causes division."

Ketcherside once told me he would never debate his brethren because he "loves them too much." But he would debate an atheist or infidel. I ask if he loves the atheist or infidel! If love means you don't debate, and he loves the atheist, why debate them? But if you can see how you can debate an atheist whom you love, why can't you debate your brother whom you love?

Many Scriptures command us to rebuke sin. To oppose the practice of rebuking sin is to oppose a divine command. But our point here is that rebuke is part of God's plan for unity. Rebuking sin in love does not violate unity; it is an act intended to produce unity, because a sinner who will not repent alienates himself from God's people. And that is division. If by rebuking him we can lead him to repent, he will be saved and unity among God's people is restored!

To oppose rebuking sin in the name of unity is to violate God's plan of unity. If we believe in God's plan of unity, we will see the need for sin to be rebuked in love.

[See Revelation 3:19; Galatians 6:1,2; James 5:19,20; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Ephesians 5:11; 2 Timothy 4:2-4]

III. The Scriptural Plan for Division

Many people speak as if unity is always good and division is always bad. But the fact is that unity and division are like love, faith, and many other Bible concepts: they are neither inherently good nor bad. Whether love is good or bad depends on what we love. Whether faith is good of bad depends on what we believe. Whether unity and/or division are good or bad depends on what we are united with or divided from.

Note a number of passages that show what God teaches about division, and what happens when God's people apply God's plan for unity.

A. Consider the Example of Jesus.

Luke 6:22:23 - When your stand for Jesus leads men to hate you and separate from you, rejoice because you have great reward in heaven. This is the same way men treated the prophets. When the prophets rebuked people for error, often the result was separation between them and others. The same will be true of us.

Luke 12:51-53 - Jesus did not come to bring peace but division. Jesus' word will divide families and set them at variance with one another. Matthew 10:34-37 adds that, if we are not willing to accept this consequence and remain loyal to Jesus, we are not worthy of Him.

John 7:7 - The world does not hate those who do not follow Jesus (v5), but it hated Jesus because He testified that its works were evil.

John 7:40-43 - Jesus' preaching led to division because some people believed in Him and some did not.

John 9:13-16 - The Pharisees were divided because Jesus healed on the Sabbath.

John 10:19-21 - The Jews were divided over Jesus' words.

Note that Jesus' teaching led to division, but not because He had an unloving attitude nor because He did not want unity. Division occurred because He stood firmly for the truth and opposed error, but many people did not want to accept the truth and repent of their sins.

[John 6:66-68; 11:45-47,53; 9:22; 12:42; 16:2]

B. Consider the Example of the Apostles.

Acts 14:1-4 - People at Iconium were divided over the preaching of the gospel, because many believed but many others were disobedient.

Acts 17:1-5 - When Paul reasoned from the Scriptures at Thessalonica, some were persuaded but others became jealous and persecuted him.

Acts 17:32-34 - At Athens Paul preached the resurrection. Some mocked, but others believed.

Acts 19:8,9 - Paul reasoned in the synagogue at Ephesus. When some were hardened and spoke evil of the way, he separated the disciples.

Acts 28:22-25 - The gospel was everywhere spoken against. Paul testified to the Jews in Rome about the kingdom. Some believed, but others disbelieved. They agreed not among themselves.

In every case, what was it that caused the people to be alienated from one another when the gospel was preached? It was always because some people accepted the message and others rejected it. That will always be the effect of gospel preaching. There will never come a time when everyone accepts the gospel, so those who reject it will be divided from those who accept it.

[Acts 5:14-18; 6:7; 7:51-59; 18:8-12; 20:20,26-32; 23:7; 24:5,14]

C. Consider the Teaching of the Inspired Epistles.

1 Corinthians 1:18-24 - Paul rebuked division at Corinth and urged them to achieve unity by following just the gospel. But doing this will cause separation because some think the gospel is the power of God, while others think it is foolishness. The very passages, that teach how to pursue unity, show that when we do so, the result will lead to separation!

1 Corinthians 10:16-21 - If we are in the one body and have fellowship with Jesus' body and blood, we must not have communion (fellowship) with idols. Unity with Christ demands separation from sin!

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 - We must not have fellowship, agreement, etc., with darkness, idols, iniquity, etc. If we do this, God will dwell in us; remember, this is the unity Jesus prayed for - John 17:20-23. So to have the unity that Jesus taught, we must separate ourselves, come out from among, and not touch what is unclean. We must cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit. Unity with God and His people requires separation from sin!

[Romans 16:17; 1 Timothy 5:20,22; 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:13-4:4; Titus 3:10; Hebrews 7:26; Jude 3; 1 Peter 3:15; Revelation 18:4]

IV. Observations about God's Plan for Division and His Plan for Unity.

A. The Bible Has a Plan for Division Just as Surely as It Has a Plan for Unity.

God's plans must be respected, whether it is His plan for salvation, for worship, for church organization, for unity, or for division. We may no more disregard His plan for division than we may disregard His plan for unity or His plan for salvation, etc. Many people talk much about New Testament passages that require unity, but say little or nothing about the passages showing that God requires separation!

Is it right to refuse to fellowship people who are serving God faithfully? No! To condemn other people when we cannot prove by the Bible that they are in sin, is to violate God's plan of unity. We must love God, love others, and love the truth so much that we do not allow our personal opinions and desires to hinder our unity with those who are following God's will.

But it is equally sinful to promote unity by refusing to rebuke that which is really sinful! It is good to emphasize God's plan of unity. But God's word is just as clear in requiring us to separate from sin as it is in requiring us to be united with righteousness. [Proverbs 17:15]

To seek unity, without rebuking and opposing sin, is to violate both God's plan for unity and His plan for division. Yet, that is exactly the effect of the unity-in-diversity approach.

B. The Bible Plan for Unity Also Results in Division, Just as Surely as Other Plans For Unity Do.

No plan will achieve total unity unless everyone is willing to accept it.

When Jesus, His apostles, and other Christians practiced God's plan of unity - when in love they preached and practiced truth and opposed error - the result was division in almost every city! God's plan for unity is one of the most divisive forces on earth!

Like other plans of unity, God's plan results in division because some will accept it and some will not. God knew this and intended His plan to produce separation. As long as sin remains on the earth, the gospel will separate righteous people from sinners. We have seen that this truth is clearly stated even in passages that require God's people to practice unity.

Some people criticize the gospel and the Lord's church because we are divided from other religious people.

Sometimes this division and these criticisms are so discouraging to Christians that we are tempted to compromise to achieve peace. We tend to become ashamed and feel guilty because our stand for truth produces separation.

(1) But remember that all other plans of unity also result in division!

Ketcherside said that, by strict doctrinal preaching, we "build walls around ourselves," exclude other people, and put ourselves "in jail." But Ketcherside also has walls. Outside his walls are atheists and infidels, idol worshippers, Jews, Moslems, hypocrites, and immoral people. He is in jail too; he just has a bigger cell!

Those who criticize God's plan because it results in division need to face the fact that their plans also result in division.

(2) Also remember that unity is an ideal that should be pursued, but in practice only a minority of people will achieve it.

We should preach that all men ought to be united, just like all should believe, be baptized, and live faithfully. That is the ideal of the gospel, and that is what we should preach. But in practice most people will not be obedient to God, and this is why absolute unity will never be achieved by any plan.

The only way to have total unity would be for everybody to be united on the truth or everybody to be united in error! As long as some people persist in doing right and some people persist in doing wrong, we will have division!

(3) Then remember that, when we preach the truth in love but division results, we have done exactly what God intended. This is in harmony with His will and He is pleased with us.

If others reject His will, He wants us to separate from them; but they are the ones that He is displeased with. Not all separation is bad. God requires us to be separated from error, just as surely as He requires us to be united with truth. We need to grieve for those who displease God, but do not grieve for the fact we are separated from them. The only way we could be united with them would be for us to leave the truth and practice error like they do!

2 John 9-11 - If we want to have the Father and Son (be united with them), we must abide in Jesus' teachings and not partake with those who fail to do so. Unity requires separation!

The people who should be ashamed are those who follow human plans of unity. Their plans not only promote division, but they also displease God because they are not the plan God authorized.

Other people conclude that, whenever division occurs, both sides must be wrong so they refuse to stand with either side.

It is possible for both sides to be wrong. But it is also possible that one side is wrong and the other is right.

Were Jesus and His apostles wrong when their preaching divided them from other people? Had we lived then, would we have been wrong to stand with them, even though that would divide from those in sin? No, what we should have done then - and what we should do now - is to decide who is right according to God's will and take our stand with them in love.

When two groups are divided, if we refuse to stand with either party, that just creates a third group - that means more division! If both groups were wrong according to the Bible, this is what must be done. But creating a third group does not solve the problem of division.

C. Scriptural Unity and Scriptural Division Are Both Achieved by the Very Same Plan of Action!

For many, the issue of unity vs. division is a dilemma. They see the concepts as contradictory. If you stand firm for what you believe, you are condemned for causing division. But if you compromise truth, then you are condemned for encouraging error.

But when you speak the truth and oppose error in love, you are following God's plan to achieve Scriptural unity and Scriptural division at the same time!

Examining what the Bible says about unity that pleases God and division that pleases God shows that what we do to achieve the one is exactly the same thing we do to achieve the other! There is no conflict.

We should study till we know God's will on the issue in question. Then teach and practice God's will, and oppose what conflicts with God's will. You will then be working for Scriptural unity and Scriptural division at the same time!

The most basic considerations are neither unity nor division, but rather truth and love! Stand for the truth in love, and the issues of division and unity will resolve themselves. You will be united with those who stand for truth and you will be separated from those who do not. [cf. James 3:17]

This does not mean it is always easy in practice to know the truth on any given issue or to have the courage to stand for it. But it is possible to stand for the truth in love, and doing so will tend to resolve both the issue of unity and the issue of division.

It follows that preaching and practicing truth in love, while opposing error, simplifies the question of "whom should we fellowship."

Unity and division are both byproducts of standing for the truth in love.

Some people are very concerned with formulating rules about whom we should or should not consider ourselves in fellowship with. These questions are worthy of study, but practicing the Bible plan of unity and division will make them far simpler in application.

In practice, we should never even attempt to decide the question of whether we are or are not in fellowship with a group of people until we know they are in error and their error has been plainly rebuked. Historically, this has already been done with various denominations, and with issues such as instrumental music, missionary societies, church support of institutions, etc.

As new issues or controversies arise in the church, if we will teach and obey truth and oppose error in love, fellowship will eventually become obvious.

* Some people will repent and correct their errors, so we will be united with them.

* Other people will resist the teaching and make it clear they have no intention of changing. Often they refuse to even discuss or consider Bible evidence. Often they break the relationship and make it clear that they don't want anything to do with us anymore.

In short, people's reaction, when we stand for the truth in love, often helps resolve the issue of fellowship.

One of the main problems with new unity theories is that they seek to "re-open the lines of fellowship" with people in error without rebuking the error!

We do not oppose the fact people desire unity. The problem is that some are willing to fellowship people who continue to practice error, yet the error is never rebuked! The result is unity by compromise - by failing to stand for truth and oppose error.

Ephesians 5:6-11 - This book commands unity (4:3-6) and tells us to "walk as children of light." Remember, walking in the light is essential to have fellowship with God - 1 John 1:5-7. But it also demands that we not partake of sin, have no fellowship with it, but rather reprove it.

All of us should be willing to discuss our differences with those from whom we have been divided provided those people are willing to honestly consider the teaching of the Bible as the basis of unity. But this is not the "unity" that many today are advocating. Many want to "dialog" with those from whom we have been divided, treat them as brethren, participate in their worship, write articles in their papers, but never rebuke their false practices.

If such people would speak out against error like Jesus and the apostles did, they would not find themselves in fellowship with error for long. Either the people in error would repent, or they would soon let it be known that those who are rebuking them are not welcome!

[Revelation 3:19; Galatians 6:1,2; James 5:19,20; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Timothy 4:2-4; 1 Timothy 5:20; Titus 1:10-13; Proverbs 28:4]

D. God's Plan For Unity Will Never Unite Everybody, but It Will Unite All Who Are Willing To Humbly Submit To Him!

God never anticipated that His plan for unity would unite everybody on the face of the earth. The only way that could happen would be if everybody would turn from sin and humbly submit to God's will. But Jesus plainly stated that would not happen - Matthew 7:13,14.

When God formulated His gospel, He knew there would be people who would be willing to obey and people who would not. He provided a plan whereby all people could be forgiven and united in Christ provided they were humble enough to submit to God's will. But He also provided that people unwilling to submit to His will would reject the plan and be lost. The result would separate the righteous from the unrighteous.

Mark 16:15,16 - Jesus commands us to preach the gospel to the whole world. This will result in some obeying and being saved but others disbelieving and being lost. So those who obey are saved and become united with God and will all who serve God. But those who disobey are lost, which separates them from God and His people.

So, God's plan for unity is not a plan that we should expect to unite everybody on earth or even all religious people. God's plan for unity is designed to unite all who are willing to turn from sin and humbly submit to God's will. In doing so, it will simultaneously separate God's people spiritually from those who persist in sin!

So since every plan of unity results in division, why not just accept God's plan? Accept it, not because in practice it will unite everybody, but because it is the only plan that pleases God. If you follow it, you will please Him, but you will be separated from those who do not follow His will.

Conclusion

Good attitudes are necessary to unity, but there is much more to God's plan for unity than just our attitudes. And a willingness to compromise Divine requirements is not a good attitude!

Let us pursue unity, and let us separate ourselves from sin, but let all be done in love according to God's plan. Let us accept that which pleases God and make sure that all our practices are according to His will. Let us speak from motives of genuine concern for the lost. But let us also love the lost enough to tell them when they are wrong and urge them to repent.

When we do this, we will simultaneously accomplish the following things:

(1) We will respect and obey God's commands.

(2) We will diligently work to save lost souls.

(3) We will follow God's plan for unity among His faithful servants.

(4) We will keep ourselves pure and separate from error.

Whether unity results or whether division results, either way we will be pleasing to God.

(C) Copyright 2011, David E. Pratte
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The Importance of Jesus' Church
Why So Much Religious Confusion and Disagreement?
The Importance of Bible Knowledge
The Bible vs. Denominational Creeds
Name of Jesus' Church
What Does God Think about Denominationalism?
Origin of Jesus' Church & Denominations
The Nature and Meaning of the Church
How Can You Find & Identify Jesus' Church?

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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.

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